Knee Pain is a common symptom in hikers, runners, skiers, and cyclists. One of the most common types is pain around or behind the kneecaps, which is often diagnosed as Chondromalacia, Patellofemoral Stress Syndrome, or more commonly “runner’s knee.” The symptoms of this type of knee pain worsen when walking up or downstairs, walking uphill, running, jumping, or activities that force the knee to bear weight as it is straightened, like rock climbing.
In older hikers, Chondromalacia is often caused by overpronation where the lower leg twists inward when walking or running. This can be caused by worn hiking boots or muscular weakness in the quadriceps and hamstrings. In younger hikers, the pain is often caused by trauma or overuse.
As a hiker, I have suffered from knee pain for the past 20 years and manage my condition by avoiding activities that require jumping, running, and the breaststroke where my quadriceps rotate in the opposite direction as my lower legs. I use hiking poles to reduce the impact of my backpack weight going downhill and I make sure that my shoe soles are not worn and prone to the inward rotation of my foot.
I discovered these preventative measures after a very successful round of treatment by a physical therapist. I injured my left knee very badly on a hiking trip in Scotland about 25 years ago to the point where it locked up on me for about 8 weeks. I visited several medical specialists who all wanted to perform surgery but couldn’t tell me for certain what was wrong or whether surgical intervention would work. Instead, I opted for physical therapy and I was lucky to find a therapist who not only cured me but educated me about the functional mechanics of human movement. Be skeptical if you have knee pain and your doctor recommends surgery. Physical therapy can provide you with an alternative cure and help you understand how to prevent a recurrence.
If you experience pain on the trail after a hard day of walking, bring along some ibuprofen to reduce the inflammation and pain at night and stretch your quadriceps before sleep You may also find that wearing a knee brace is helpful. Many of my older hiking buddies, like Paul (above), use hiking poles and Cho-Pat knee braces and swear by them.
Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, so if your knee pain or swelling persists, please seek medical advice.
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