Dealing With Knee Pain

Using trekking poles especially on uneven and rocky terrain is a preventative measure against unwanted pain.
Using trekking poles especially on uneven and rocky terrain is a preventative measure against unwanted pain.

For the last three months I’ve been dealing with often debilitating knee pain after hikes. It happened in October after coming off of Gothic Basin and it happened again two weeks ago at Rattlesnake Ledge. The uphill for me is always the easiest as I’m putting less pressure on my joints, but after the break, it would swell and then the downhill where I’m putting a ton of pressure on my knee would make it become stiff, unbearable, and the symptoms were often lasting for days. It’s safe to say that the last few days were a bit worrying as I began to think of the consequences of missing out on the upcoming climbing and hiking season. Remarkably as I write this the pain seems to have mostly subsided and I’m feeling optimistic again, so I wanted to share my experience in dealing with this common injury.

When I came home from that hike back in mid-October, I was in such tremendous pain that my roommates had to help me walk up the four steps in the stairway of our home. My leg felt stiff, wooden like, and bending my knee with the amount of swelling would shoot a jolt of discomfort up my body. I didn’t have any immediate access to any pain relievers so the first thing I did was to sit in the shower with the hot water running. Within minutes it was soothing and relieved a majority of the pain, and although it wasn’t a cure-all, it provided a temporary respite from the wincing.

At the time, my job required me to walk up and down the hilly streets of Downtown Seattle, and walking downwards caused the muscle to collapse into itself causing me to stop and catch my breath often. The next step here was to buy a knee brace, a simple wrap around band with the opening for the patella. I’ve tried two different kinds: The first which was a simple elastic band was better meant for athletic activity however it felt loose and slipped down my shin often when I was walking. The second which I’ve used in the last week or so has the tightening velcro bands which ensure a secure fit. Here I did make another error which my climbing partner graciously pointed out: I was focused on such a secure fit with the velcro bands that I wasn’t allowing any space for natural swelling, and so the swelling was being pushed back inward uncomfortably so. I’ve since learned to leave the straps secure, but not compression-like.

Using a knee brace with velcro straps (purchased at Target)
Using a knee brace with velcro straps (purchased at Target)

In addition to keeping the knee stable, I’ve also been remedying myself with a cocktail of anti pain relievers, creams, and balms to at least temporarily remove the pain for climbing. The first was CrossFixe from ClimbOn products which comes in a paste that easily rubs into sore muscle areas. I found this effective in softening the joint and making it feel more flexible to the point where I could bend without the pain. The other has been IcyHot Advanced Relief which I’ve been using in the last few days. It worked wonders in numbing the discomfort and I was able to climb within minutes of the cooling. For me, the difference was that CrossFixe softened the muscle while IcyHot made it numb out completely. Along with the creams, I supplemented with a dosage of Aleve which as my hiking friends have let me know, takes a bit of “acclimatizing” to before it kicks in completely.

In looking back on the last three months, I’ve become aware of glaring problems in my hiking technique. The first preventable measure is the use of trekking poles which I am planning to adopt as especially in the downhill portions, they take a majority of the weight off and add a sense of balance and stability. The second preventable measure is adjusting my gait and avoiding a heavier footfall especially on my right side where a majority of the pain has afflicted me. I feel that although knee pain is a common problem, I could have taken better preventative measures in making it more manageable.

I’m not offering 100% proven advice on how to treat hiking knee pains but I wanted to share my experience in hopes that it would give someone a starting point in trying to relieve frustrating troubles. The best thing for me during the last three months was staying as active as possible, continuing to walk, even with the brace, and keeping the pain at bay until the knee repaired itself. I do urge seeking professional help if the pains become too much to bear but keeping a steady regimine of creams and relievers along with taking preventative measures during hikes can make the recovery process easier to handle.

I wholly accept any advice/criticism about my treatment in the comments below.

10 thoughts on “Dealing With Knee Pain

    1. Thank you! I’ll keep it in mind. I didn’t use any cold compressing at the time but I did see that going under warm water was really soothing. I imagine that the cold takes away a majority of the swelling. Much appreciated.

      1. Hi Mike,
        I’m glad you invested in a brace. I actually have found that the all one piece (no velcro straps, but with an opening for the patella) holds my knee the best, but might just be personal preference. I can do pretty much anything I want, except the pounding of running. Have you had it checked out? They might be able to do arthroscopic surgery for you. If it’s any consolation, I blew mine out @30 yrs ago skiing and I’m still going strong. It gets sore, but that’s the price I pay. I should have had it taken care of at the time, but I was strong and figured I could heal myself. Anyhow, I’m sorry it’s still giving you trouble, but glad you conceded to the poles, they do help and sounds like you’re being smart about it. Take care and hope we can go hiking again soon.

      2. Hey Sue,

        The knee seems to be holding up. I skied last night and felt no pain so it seems like something that could hold steady. Thank you though and yes lets go hiking again soon 🙂

  1. Hey Mike!

    Thanks so much for the crossFIXE MUSCLE Shout-out. Your knee pain sucks but I am glad I stumbled upon the tweet about it. I am glad it helped provide some relief to you!

    Keep crossFIXEing those MUSCLES! climbOn.

  2. I can’t claim to be an expert either, but that much swelling sounds like a good excuse to see a physical therapist (if it persists). I brushed off intermittent hip pain for years and then discovered I was risking super early arthritis. Best case scenario: They help you identify areas of weakness causing extra trauma. Worst case: you catch something more serious early before you destroy the joint. Not a doctor, could be wrong, but food for thought. Good luck and my sympathies!

    1. Thank you Sarah! Actually the knee feels fantastic now, the swelling has gone down and it’s feeling back to normal. I’m not running yet but skiing and climbing are natural again.

      Thank you for the insight!

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