Sunday, November 3, 2013

Protect your Knees

Steep going down Aconcagua's peak. Downhills
are normal knee challenges in climbing.
 I started my mountaineering (1991) during an era when our seniors (or maybe the community in general) see the use of protections/ aids (like trekking poles or neoprene knee support) as signs of weakness!

So following the ‘macho path’, I blazed trails, climbed many mountains, and ran down mountains with heavy packs with ‘bare knees’ and no support poles thinking an endlessly-healthy knee joint would support my long-term macho-climbing career!

After several years, I started to feel knee pains. Part of it was caused by my youthful desire to emulate Jacky Chan doing kicks and what-nots (which had caused a minor tear in my collateral ligaments). Followed that up with repeated downhill runs with heavy pack – I got what I (didn’t) wish for, bad knees!

Later in my career, I suffered this nuisance of putting heavy (and smelly) neoprene-based knee braces – the one with metal on each side, climbing steep terrains. Knee braces were good knee support, part of the ‘pressure’ on the knees were transferred to other parts – but it limits one’s flexibility, gives one (like me) bad skin rashes after prolonged use, and overall – an extra nuisance while climbing a difficult mountain. I climbed Everest wearing a pair, every single climb-day.

Now, here are some knee tips to make your climbing days last a bit longer….

1. Use trekking poles! While sometimes, this tool impedes our movement or make us somehow slower – the value that a 3rd’ or 4th’ leg provides greatly lessen stress in our knees. Best used if you are trekking or climbing for several days (think cumulative daily stress to your knees) and/or carrying very heavy packs. I used one in long treks even if my pack weight is just around 10kg.

2. Use knee support. There are several versions, depending on the gravity of your injury. My knee issues are tears on the collateral ligaments (not ACL/PCL) and abused worn-out menisci. In worst times (where I feel pain after every long hikes or long runs), I used the metal-brace version, sometimes I just use the normal neoprene wrap-around, or neoprene tubular version. Not very good if one has a bad knee and is planning to walk through a rocky steep terrain. My side issue with the use of neoprene is rashes. In long trips, I use Tegaderm (breathable plastic oversized ‘band-aids’) to ‘layer’ my skin to avoid direct neoprene contact.

3. Don’t follow the macho path. You don’t have to run downhills especially with heavy packs, unless you need to. You don’t have to hide your trekking poles or avoid knee support just because your colleagues were teasing you (that you’re a weakling). In actual expedition, especially the long-running ones – use porters if possible. For sure, there will be days that you’ll have to carry ALL your stuff (yes the whole 100lbs of it), so when help is available – go get one!

4. Know your injuries. With knowledge, comes the right fix.

5. Protect both knees. I realized that if one knee is damaged, the other one will soon follow. Why? Because subconsciously, your body is ‘favoring’ the stronger knee (meaning more stress for the healthy joint). I started just putting a support on one knee and realized that my other one was also experiencing pain even if I knew that it was (supposedly) ok.

6. Avoid fast downhill with heavy packs especially without trekking poles. If you are on a training trip, use water as ‘weight/load’. Ditch them once on top for a lighter load downwards.

7. Respect your ‘season’. There’s a time for action, and a time for rest and recovery. Joints / ligaments/ tendons/ bones heal with enough rest time. I find this easy to do given my highly seasonal mountaineering (and natural laziness) – i.e. unlike most endurance athletes, I can rest for months after a trip and not ‘feel bad’ about it. Some folks can’t last 2 weeks without doing a routine.

8. If it works for you, take supplements. I tried both Glucosamine sulfate and Chondroitin, I can’t say it worked for me (so I stopped) but you may want to try it.

9. Eat the right food. If we eat protein, protein is what we get. Maybe – if we eat cartilage, tendons and edible bones – we get stronger joints/bones? After all, that’s where most Chondroitin were sourced from. Just avoid the fats that surrounds the tendons or cartilage – I’m talking about a nice yummy eat like Bulalo (beef bone soup something).

10. Strengthen your quads, hams and leg muscles. With stronger surrounding muscles, one may lessen stress in his/her joints.

11. When it hurts, stop! Go see a doctor if you need to.

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