How To Prevent Hurting Your Knees When You Walk Downhill

When it comes to easy, beneficial exercises, you can't beat walking. By taking a brisk walk several times a week, you can improve your heart health, strengthen your bones and muscles, and reduce your risks of developing heart diseases, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure, per the Mayo Clinic. Walking on a flat surface is relatively easy, but hills can be problematic, especially if you have problems with your knees. In fact, sometimes, going downhill can be downright painful.

The reason why walking downhill hurts your knees is because gravity places additional force on them. Physical therapist Jason Schuster explains to Well+Good that since our legs are angled downward while we walk downhill, the bottom of the knee joint — the tibial plateau — wants to move forward. The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) generally stops this from happening, but if it is not in good shape, pain results. In addition, walking downhill puts force on the cartilage in the knee — the menisci — and that can also hurt.

Take extra precautions and strengthen your knees

To make walking downhill a little less painful, it's best to work up to it. If you're out of shape or have recently picked up walking as an exercise, Schuster recommends starting with walking on flat surfaces and gradually working your way up to more hilly terrain. You should also increase your speed slowly to avoid injury (via Well+Good). Other tips from Verywell Fit include relaxing when walking downhill. If your knees hurt, shorten your stride. Keeping your knees slightly bent on steep areas might help reduce pain and the risk of injury. You may also want to consider investing in trekking poles — using them can help take the weight off your knees.  

You don't have to live with the pain, however. By strengthening your knees, you can reduce and possibly eliminate pain. Bodyweight exercises, such as squats, hamstring curls, single-leg deadlifts, planks, and bird dogs, help build muscles in the knees. In addition, you should also add stretching to any exercise routine, per Well+Good.