Hiker's knee, or patellofemoral pain syndrome, is an overuse injury of the knee that results in pain around or behind your knee cap. This pain is often intensified when hiking down hill. To prevent hiker's knee, an article in the journal American Family Physician recommends strengthening your quadriceps because the quadricep muscles play a significant role in patellar movement. Stretching your hamstrings, calves and iliotibial band may also help.
Riding a stationary bike or mobile bike is an excellent way to condition your knees and the supporting muscles. Biking builds strength and endurance in your quadriceps and hamstrings, thereby strengthening your knees. Begin to bike two to three months before you plan to begin hiking. Try riding at least 20 minutes a day, three to five days a week to condition your legs and prevent hiker's knee.
Leg extensions specifically target the quadriceps muscles on the front of your thighs. You can perform this exercise with body weight only or with added resistance from an exercise band or a leg extension machine. Sit at a machine, bend your knees and place your ankles under the roller pads. Grasp the handles or the side of the seat to hold your torso immobile. Press your shins against the pads to lift your legs to horizontal. Squeeze your quadriceps at the top of the movement and then return to the starting position. Perform one to three sets of 10 repetitions.
Wall squats work your quadriceps in an isometric contraction. This exercise will improve your muscular endurance, which will really benefit your knees on long hikes. Lean your back against a wall with your heels two to three feet away from the wall. Slowly slide your back and buttocks down the wall until your knees reach a 90-degree bend. Adjust your feet so that your ankles are directly below your knees. Hold this position for 10 seconds to one minute and then relax. Repeat the squat five times. Each time you practice wall squats, try to hold the position longer than the previous time until you are able to maintain the squat for five minutes.
Keeping your hamstrings flexible will keep your knees healthy and help prevent hiker's knee. Sit at the edge of a chair with your left leg bent and your right leg extended with your heel on the floor and your toes pointing up. Take a deep breath in. As you exhale, keep your back straight and slowly bend forward at the waist until you feel a stretch in the back of your right leg. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and then repeat the movement with your left leg. Repeat the stretch twice on each leg.
Stretch your calves on a daily basis to prevent any unnecessary tightness that may lead to hiker's knee. Stand facing a wall and place your hands flat against the wall. Step backward with your left leg and forward with your right. Keeping your left knee straight, bend your right knee and lean into the wall until you feel a stretch in your left calf muscle. Hold this position for 30 seconds and then repeat the stretch with your right leg. Complete this stretch two times with each leg.
Iliotibial Band Stretch
Your iliotibial band is a tendon that runs along the outside of your legs from your hips to your knees. When this tissue becomes tight, it may lead to knee pain. To stretch your iliotibial band, sit in a chair with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Cross your right leg over your left leg and then clasp your hands around your right knee. Gently pull your knee toward your left shoulder until you feel a stretch. Hold here for 30 seconds and then lower your foot back to the floor. Perform the stretch with your left leg. Repeat the stretch twice with each leg.