The ravages of time – when your body starts to complain!

Self help for aches and pains !!

For anyone who is approaching their fifties and for people who are past this age, it may be that the ravages of time are starting to play with your body.  I have read several posts recently about dodgy knees, hips and legs in the backpacking community.  It may be that you are younger than this or older and don’t suffer from these issues, well done I hope it doesn’t happen to you!

I have two issues that come out during walking.   If I am doing a lot of steep down-hill, my right knee can become painful and sometimes my left knee as well,  and if I am walking over a lot of  rocky ground  I can get burning pain under the sole of my feet.

I first notice this about a year ago on a backpack in the Southern Uplands in Scotland coming steeply down past the Grey Mares tail waterfall to the road below.   My doctor suggested that I may have some osteo-arthritis in my knees.  When he told me this I was pretty worried, would I have to finish my walking at an early age? would it get worse?  He gave my some simple quad strengthening exercises and said to me that to take some ibuprofen before exercise.

Now I have found that sometimes I am OK and other times it can be really painful.  So I am offering some background, experience and suggestions to people who may be suffering like I am from painful knees when out walking.

I want to carry on what I love doing, so I am putting in some real effort to try and combat this.

Why are my knees painful?

Walking downhill can be painful for me. My understanding is that when walking uphill muscles will work hard to lift up your legs, but walking down hill, gravity is pulling your leg down with your muscles not taking much of the strain, but with my knees are taking much of the impact.  This constant stress will cause the joint in my knees to wear giving me pain.

What can I do to avoid painful knees

  • Strengthen up my muscles.  By having stronger quads, hamstrings and calves, I should reduce the impact on my knees.

Here is my current exercise programme from my PT at the gym.  This programme is devised to achieve three goals related to walking and backpacking, namely knees, stamina and loss of body fat.  I have starred those aspects relating directly to strengthening my leg muscles.

Exercises which involves weights, I start off at a weight where I can just about manage the weight and then work up as the weeks go on.  Each exercise is completed with 2 sets x 12 reps working up to 2 x  15 reps unless stated.

*Warm –up 5 minutes on exercise bike

Chest –press with 10 kg dumbbells lying on a Swiss ball.

*Leg press machine

Shoulder press machine

*Leg extension machine – use on one leg at a time

Bicep curl machine

* One legged squats on a wobble board – very good for quads and strengthening by balancing on one leg on an unstable platform whilst doing squats – not easy to do!!

*Abductor machine

*Adductor machine

Cable chop machine

* Cross Trainer machine using the following programme:-

30 seconds flat out then  30 seconds at a gentle pace- repeat these twice. Then 1 minute at 80% of your maximum speed followed with 1 minute at 50% of your maximum speed and repeat twice. This is one set.  Do six sets (6 minutes for each set).  Total time on Cross trainer is 36 minutes.

This is a bit of a killer, but helps with all three goals.

Finally some stretching exercises to cool down.

What else can be done to help?

  • Walk down hill slower than you use to.  This will help with the impact on your knees. It may be useful to side step down slopes or even to go backwards for short distances.
  • Use trekking poles, this will take pressure off knees.
  • Walk less miles.
  • Look to visit a podiatrist, I have some orthotics inserts which help with my slight pronation.
  • Wear shock absorbing trail shoes or boots. I cannot go very far with my Inov-8 shoes without problems. I am experimenting on different footwear to see what is best for me
  • Take ibuprofen to help with pain and inflammation

Other suggestions

A future reference for others who may get problems with their body !   Robin at blogpackinglight suggested a book to get which I believe has helped him in the past. Keep Your Joints Young by Sarah Key An in depth book on all areas of the body not just knees.  I got it on Amazon for £7.29 together with an excellent little book just on knees – Treat Your Own Knees by Jim Johnson priced at £4.92 with some simple exercises to strengthen the quads, and daily regimes.

A knee brace or bandage when things get bad, may help you to finish the walk – but don’t use all the time. I have not used one of these before. Has anyone? I would be interested to hear from anyone who has.

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19 Responses to The ravages of time – when your body starts to complain!

  1. Blogger Zed says:

    My leg pains turned out to be back trouble. Only when things became agonising did I go to the doctor and find out the truth. I have Sarah Keys back book and it is quite good. Don’t really like her writing style – far too repetitious for one thing – but the pictures and exercises make it useful.

  2. swanscot says:

    I have intermittent knee problems – sometimes they are really painful on descents and sometimes (like today) I don’t get more that ‘jelly knees’. I find trekking poles help take some of the strain, I only use them on the descents and carry them uphill and I really ought to buy some lightweight poles! Mine are old and weigh far too much.

    I need to get back into a regular exercise routine. In the past I’ve found even simple yoga leg exercise helps (some yoga moves involve using your body weight for ‘weight-training’). In fact some of the exercises hubby got from the physiotherapist following his broken knee (now held together with 6 screws) are similar to the yoga. They involve a mixture of repetitive moves and exercises which involve holding a position for a while, so strengthening different muscles,

  3. You touched a nerve there, Mark, in every sense!
    Actually, I can put up with the occassional knee pain that I get, but for the past few months I’ve started to have problems with my achilles tendons – reading on t’internet I suspect that I have achilles tendinosis, which is a long-term, chronic form of tendinitis. If I’m right it will take ages to sort out.
    In the best traditions of the British male, I’m tackling the problem by sticking my head in the sand! Reading your post has inspired me to take some form of action before I do too much damage.
    The annoying thing is, I don’t really suffer too much from the aging process otherwise – whoops, there’s another pile of sand to stick me head in!
    Good luck with your knees.

  4. GeoffC says:

    Knee pain on descent is probably the commonest complaint we hear about. I had it myself a few years ago and had to tape up my knee area and gently ease back into hard walking over a few weeks (but I carried a much heavier pack then).
    I’m not surprised that walkers develop the problem when I see how some of them move:- I don’t know if they just want to look hard or cool with the bravado of youth, but they clearly make far too much jarring impact with heavily booted feet bashing on the ground when e.g. zooming down rocky paths – not at all good for knees or anything else. Slow it down and buffer those impacts!.
    I just passed a big birthday this very week and I’m good so far…
    I’ll look up those references for interest. Incidentally we are both taking Glucosamine regularly since it may help in prevention (the evidence in its favour was thought to be merely ‘suggestive’ last time I checked).

  5. Chris Grogan says:

    My dad was a shepherd and spent his life in the hills. He was with you Geoff – he walked slowly and gently – very low imact – and he could keep going for hours with no ill effects. I sometimes feel it in my knees and hips on steep descents but find that keeping the weight down (me and the pack) makes the biggest difference.

  6. Gareth says:

    Really practical useful post Mark. Starting to get the odd twinge in my knee which with badminton probably means I am in for a tougher time in old age!

  7. good practical advice Mark. Was getting recurring knee/leg trouble up until this year myself but since switching from heavy boots to running shoes this year I’ve had no pain at all. This isnt the only change I made though. Daily cod liver oil, walking with poles, taking it slowly and lightening up my load have all contributed to zero pain now. “Prevention is better than cure”

  8. surfnslide says:

    Excellent post Mark and some great advice there. I’m sure all of us have knee twinges to a greater or lesser extent. I’ve had a couple of bouts of keyhole surgery on my right knee to correct cartilage damage. I had an MRI scan before the second one that also revealed my keecap was out of alignment and I had damage to my anterior cruciate. Apparently they grade your knee wear from 1 (good) to 4 (very bad). I’m a 3! His basic advice was take it slower downhill, reduce the pressure by using poles and carry less weight (including my own!)

    I’d recommend getting your GP to refer you for Physiotherapy. I got a lot of useful advice on exercises to strengthen the correct leg muscles, which I back up with yoga and exercises on my Wii iif you can believe it!

    Surgery has worked for me but it’s defintely not the only answer

  9. Jules says:

    I too am getting closer to the big five-oh than I would care to consider, and know what you mean about the increasing number of niggles experienced!

    I hurt both my knees – not badly, just a bit of iliotibial band pain (downhill knee, to the layman) to first one knee, then the other – in my early 30’s, and have adopted a low impact strategy since then, along with using walking poles. Even though I’m not a tent-carrying backpacker, I’ve also tried to carry a bit less. It seems to work quite well as a preventitive measure and, as David S said, prevention is better than cure.

    Sadly, the only load I haven’t really reduced in recent times is me!

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