If you have been venturing through the great outdoors for long enough, then there is no doubt that you have felt some amount of pain in your knees, if you haven’t statistics state that most likely you will. It is a pretty common problem that can occur from carrying too much weight, having a previous injury, utilizing improper form, or just from spending a long time hiking. However, once you develop this pain, it often takes intervention to prevent it from worsening.
While it may not be possible to completely get rid of this pain, knee braces can help you deal with the pain and keep you on the trail longer, or provide support and awareness to prevent further injuries.
So when should you be considering a knee brace for hiking?
What Is Hiker’s Knee?
Hiker’s knee isn’t very well defined, and truthfully, can be grouped into any knee pain while hiking. Most commonly, it is a dull pain around the knee cap that develops while hiking. This pain is often worsened by downhill travel. Determining where your pain is, and what is causing it, is essential to treating it, utilizing the correct style brace, and preventing future pain. There are a number of reasons behind the cause of this pain such as weak glutes, weak quads, ACL, MCL, LCL damage, arthritis, tight hip flexors, etc. Hikers’ knee can also be caused by just hiking for a prolonged period. This pain can be aggravated by kneeling, squatting, hiking long distances, and going up and down inclines. It is especially noticeable when you are hiking downhill as a lot of pressure is exerted on your knees during downhill travel.
Tips To Prevent Hiker’s Knee
Proper footwear is essential to safe hiking. Footwear that doesn’t fit well for you can result in a variety of problems, one of those could be knee pain. Having supportive, protective, and comfortable footwear that allows you to walk naturally, and avoid injuries is essential to preventing, treating, and dealing with knee pain.
Poles can significantly reduce stress on knees and also prevent fall risk. The reduction of force from utilizing poles can prevent, delay, or lessen knee pain. See our science backed debate on the use of hiking poles here.
Being in better condition, and having your legs used to substantial effort, or long duration days can make a major difference with knee pain. While overuse can also cause pain, individuals not conditioned well can also experience pain on hikes above their normal threshold for exercise. Running, smaller hikers, a stairmaster, and other methods of training can all help build endurance.
Proper Hiking Form
This one is hard to narrow down, but improper gait (walking technique) can result in knee problems. If you suspect you may have improper gait, you should consult a doctor to see if corrections may be recommended.
When A Knee Brace Make Sense
Any cause of hiker’s knee can potentially be aided by a knee brace. While it may not always make a difference, knee braces often can, and most likely won’t have negative side effects.
Common Times When Knee Braces Should Be Considered
- After any type of injury of the muscles or ligaments around the knee
- After any type of surgery or operation on the knee
- When knee pain is present
Types Of Knee Braces
There are quite a few ways types and designs of knee braces to choose from:
- Sleeve-style braces – These braces are often slid over and are often called “compression sleeves”. These are often used for strains, sprains and early osteoarthritis.
- Band/Strap-style braces – These low-profile straps that fit may be able to fit under clothing to stabilize the knee. These are often used for runner’s knee pain, patellar tendonitis (jumper’s knee) or acute knee pain.
- Wraparound braces – These use two straps that wrap around the knee to provide support. These are often used by athletes during performance after an injury to add support.
- Unloader braces (Single or Double Hinged Knee Braces) – These braces are designed to take pressure off the knee joint. These braces often utilize a metal rod and pivot point to provide added support. They are bulkier than sleeve style braces but provide more support. These are commonly used in recovery from knee injuries like ACL, MCL, or Meniscus injuries.
- Open vs closed patellar braces – Open braces have a hole for the patella (kneecap) to sit in. An open brace can relieve pressure while still guiding the knee, where a closed brace can add compression and support.
- Open & closed popliteal braces – The popliteal is located on the back on the knee brace between the hamstring and calf. An open popliteal has a small opening behind the knee, and a closed brace doesn’t have this opening. This is mostly about regulating temperature (open for warm environments, closed for cold).
Knee Brace Tips
- If your brace is too loose, it won’t provide the necessary support or compression for your knee. This can lead to future complications as you can end up further injuring your knee if your brace is too loose as it may not be doing the job it is meant to do.
- On the other hand, if your brace is too tight, it can cut off blood circulation to your knee. Wearing a knee brace for too long and/or to tight can cause swelling or numbness in your knee.
- Refer to a sizing chart before buying a knee brace. You can choose which brace is the best fit by measuring the circumference of your knee at the joint line. To check the tightness of your knee brace, take two of your fingers and see if it fits between your leg and the strap. If you can’t put your fingers in between, then your brace is likely too tight. On the other hand, if you can fit your fingers in but can also add another finger, then your brace is too loose. Simply follow your particular knee brace’s or doctor’s directions for sizing.
- And finally, when you do purchase a knee brace, go revisit your physician so that they can check if your brace is fitting you correctly. Once you get the green light that everything is okay from the doctor, you are free to go hit the trails again.
Max DesMarais is the founder of Hiking & Fishing. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. You can read more about him here: hikingandfishing/about