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5 Ways to Combat Downhill Knee Pain

I inherited my great grandfather’s knees, they’re 143 years old and they felt it coming down Place Fell last week. I can walk forever on the flat (slight exaggeration) and for days uphill (massive exaggeration) but coming down, some days it feels like someone’s shoved a load of broken glass under my knee caps (no exaggeration, I’m a man and men never exaggerate their ailments…)

So what’s the best thing to do if your knees hurt walking downhill?

1. Don’t do too much too fast (a motto of mine for the last thirty years). Walking downhill is stressful for the knees. The tissues around the knee need time to repair after a good walk. If you do too much and you’re not used to it, micro-tears can occur which will cause you pain. Build up your hill walking slowly.

2. Strengthen the muscles around your knees. Great demands are put on the muscles around the knee when descending. The muscles help to protect and stabilize the knee, the stronger they are the more stable and protected the knee will be.

When I had an operation on my knee cartilage a few years ago these are the exercises I was given to strengthen the knee muscles.

Straight Leg Lift – Lie on your back with right leg straight and extended, left knee bent and foot flat on the floor. Contract right thigh muscle and raise the leg off the ground about twelve inches. Hold it there for twenty seconds and then lower. Repeat ten times and then do the other leg.

Wall Sit – Stand with your back against a wall then lower yourself onto an invisible chair. Stop when your thighs are parallel to the ground. Pause for a while and then stand up. Repeat ten times. Once you get good at this throw all your chairs away.

3. Stretching. I know a bloke at the swimming pool who swims 25 metres and then stretches for about twenty minutes in his speedos at the side of the pool. These people give stretching a bad name. Stretching increases the range of movement in a joint. This means your creaky old joints can move further before they snap. The older you get the more important this is.

Here’s a couple of basic knee stretches for you to try.

Quadricep Stretch – While standing, grab your right ankle and bend your knee back towards your bum. Hold for 5 seconds and then repeat 5 times. Do the same for the other leg. You should feel a stretch at the front of your leg.

Hamstring Stretch – Sit on the floor with both legs in front of you (if they’re behind you have more problems than I can advise you on). Reach forward and bend at the waist as far as possible. You should feel a stretch on the back of your leg.

4. Walking Poles. In the last five years I’ve become a big fan of walking poles. Boffins have calculated that poles reduce the stress on the knees by a massive 25% and quite a significant portion of this is downhill. If you can’t be bothered with all the exercises and stretching get a pair of poles, you’ll notice the difference.

5. Orthotics – that’s not me sneezing it’s a medical term for a device that helps to guide your joints and body in a particular way. For hiking it’s a footwear insert. Your foot can roll in or out as you walk, this puts unwanted stresses on the knee, orthotics can help correct this. See websites like Superfeet or Profeet.

I don’t know about you but I still want to be able to climb Scafell Pike when I’m 85 years old, by then my knees will be 183, that’s why I am doing all of the above. Give it a try.

Thanks for reading.

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