The knees are the second thing to go...
May 3, 2006 6:25 AM   Subscribe

Best knee braces for backpacking on the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire?

44 years old, male. 6'2" tall. 188 lbs. and on my way to "ideal" (per doctor) weight of 180 lbs. Use trekking poles religiously. Last year at 210 lbs. I suffered a lot of strain and pain in my knees during 4 days in the White Mountains over strenuous terrain. Had a knee brace (Ace?), but am very interested in others' experiences good and bad.
posted by ZenMasterThis to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (5 answers total)
First, I salute your stats. Mine are similar (38, 6'2.5" but more than just 8lbs of the ideal 180 *:^) and I've been doing a ton of hiking in the past three months for the Lukemia & Lymphoma Society's Hike for Discovery. We've been doing our training hikes in Pennsylvania and we hit the AT quite a bit (and you *know* when you're on the AT in PA).

I guess my first question would be: what type of poles and hiking shoes are you using? I use a set of anti-shock Leki's that have made all the difference in terms of support. I found that they help the upper body take the strain off the legs/knees way better than "standard" poles. If you aren't using the anti-shock ones, first try these out.

Since you are doing decent hikes, I'm betting you know how important the footwear part is as well, but have you looked into using different hiking boots that may provide more overall support and cushioning? If you are just using hiking shoes, moving up to a full boot may help with side-stability enough (along with the anti-shock poles) to take sufficient strain off the knees.

I had to wear a knee brace for a while (after an accident) and it made hiking more annoying than comfortable. I tried all that were available @ CVS/Walgreens/etc. There may be more custom "sport" braces that I'm not aware of, though.

One thing that I'm pretty sure has helped me is that I augment the hiking with cycling. I'm no Lance Armstrong, but I started with comfort bike and now switch between that and a mid-grade roadster. It has really strengthened my legs/knees and no amount of standing/walking/hiking I manage to get in causes any distress.

Finally, while efficacy varies in folks, I also find that supplementing my diet with glucosamine/chondroitin has made joint pain in general a thing of the past.

So, while I can't give you any real advice on the knee brace front, hopefully at least some of this mini-tome was somewhat useful...
posted by hrbrmstr at 8:12 AM on May 3, 2006

Response by poster: hrbrmstr: thanks. I do use anti-shock poles and real hiking boots. Also use the glucosamine/chondroitin. Could bike more.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:38 AM on May 3, 2006

I feel your pain-- at least in memory. When I was hiking the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire, one of the local counterparts of Sherpas, a very strong young man carrying a 90(!) lb. pack of supplies for one of the lodges which could only be reached on foot, told me that many trails there had been built by the WPA in the wake of the Great Depression. Instead of making the trails along paths already established by humans and animals, which were often some yards below the ridge line on the lee side on relatively level ground with gentle up and down grades, they built them directly on the ridge top, out of quarried stone blocks 6 to 12in. on a side. Those ridge tops were very ragged. Hiking them was like endless irregular stadium stairs. The 10 miles I put in that day was the most punishing hike I have ever done. My knees took a week to recover.

So, are you absolutely determined to do the Trail...there?
posted by jamjam at 9:21 AM on May 3, 2006

Response by poster: Hiking with some friends, same as last year.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:54 AM on May 3, 2006

I've also had very bad knee pain from hiking. What got me sorted was a hip abductor exercise as follows: Lying on the side with the bottom leg bent, top leg straight, lift the top leg toward the ceiling and lower slowly. (source)

I did this to exhaustion a few times a week and the pain was gone like magic. I can't swear to cause and effect but I think it must have helped. Good luck.
posted by exogenous at 11:54 AM on May 3, 2006

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