Hiking season is Here – Physio Advice to Make Sure Your Knees are Ready.

It’s like clockwork: every summer in Vancouver we start seeing the knee injuries rolling into the clinic as hiking season arrives.

The typical presentation: Young women in their 20-30’s with anterior (front) knee pain.

You might ask why this happens?

Most of our clients work at a computer through the day – either sitting or standing for long periods. For their exercise, they often run or do a spin class, maybe a HIIT class at their favourite studio.

These are all great ways to get some quick exercise, strengthening and community, however they often leave some of the important foundational muscles groups in the body weak, usually the core and the gluts.

Many of my clients insist that their HIIT classes DO target these muscles, but when we break down HOW they are doing the exercises in these classes they are often using their quadriceps and hip flexors to stabilize and not actually engaging their gluteals (buttocks) enough to strengthen them.

They also haven’t done enough specific preparation for the eccentric loading required of the legs during the long downhills at the end of many popular hikes in our local mountains.

The common result: bilateral knee pain that has them in the clinic and often having to cancel plans for further hikes.

I wrote this Blog Post in hopes to provide some options to help avoid so many of these clients coming in…it’s only May, there is still time!

Here are three pieces of advice to help avoid knee pain after longer hikes this summer:

1. See a physiotherapist preventatively.

Having a skilled orthopaedic physiotherapist assess your hip and core strength as well as  the flexibility of a number of key muscles that tend to get overused and tight during daily life can be an excellent option to avoiding injury during summer hikes. You don’t need to spend an hour at the gym, just a handful of exercises(usually 4-6) that are specific to your needs and previous injury history can be enough to make a substantial difference.

If you have already had the experience of your knees being injured following a hike, this is an especially good idea.

2. Schedule some regular massage through the summer – especially before and after longer hikes.

I often advise our runners who are in heavier training periods preparing for races to book regular massage to help manage muscles tightness that builds up during the season and the same advice applies to those regularly hiking through the summer.

Especially following a longer hike with a pack or a long downhill, getting the resulting tightness released by an excellent RMT can be a game changer.

So consider looking ahead in your hiking schedule and booking these in advance. I recommend one a few days before and a few days after a longer hike. Or booking a massage every two weeks through the summer as maintenance is a great option as well.

3. Have a set of stretches that you can do during breaks on your hikes.

Having a set of a few stretches that you can easily do during breaks in your hikes that target the quadriceps and hip flexors can help immensely with taking some of the pull off of the joint at the front of the knee and manage some of the risk of this tension building.

Your physiotherapist or RMT can easily teach you a few.

4. Get a set of hiking poles.

They are NOT “just for old people”. I’m actually amazed now how many young people I see using poles on the local mountains and I think it’s fantastic. Poles can help take 20-30% of the load off of your lower body and also give your upper body a bit of a workout during the hike.

There are so many options now with types of poles. I recommend investing in a light pair that can fold down to pack inside your backpack to be used on the way down.

If you live in Vancouver, there are many great options available at Valhalla Pure and MEC.

Lastly, if you do start getting pain in your knees (or anywhere else in you body) following a big hike that has not resolved within a few days, please get it looked at by a physiotherapist as soon as possible. It is always much easier for us to help resolve these issues when we see you as soon as they happen, rather than when they have been present for a few months.

Happy hiking!

And remember: we are here for you if you need us and happy to help.


Katrina Sovio

Registered Physiotherapist & Clinic Director