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How to Deal With Hiking Knee Pain

July 27, 2021

Most active people eventually have to deal with aches and pains. A common pain almost all hikers have is knee pain. All the wear and tear of climbing, bending, weather, and age can contribute to pain. Well, the good news is that you have many options to overcome your knee pains! Knee pain is caused by swelling of the joints. This can be from the damage you have incurred, age has a lot to do with it or even the early onset of arthritis. Regardless of the cause, we have 2 basic options. First, we can try and mask the pain. This will give you quick relief and should be the first option. The second option is a more long-term option that includes therapy, vitamins, homeopathic medications, and even acupuncture.

For now, I want to focus on controlling pain while on the trail. Most hikers understand that pain is a natural part of the sport even if you relieve knee pain using trekking poles. Knee pain usually starts later in life after years of wear and tear. Here are some options you can take to quickly give yourself relief. Some of the options I recommend are over the counter painkillers like Ibuprofen, naproxen, aspirin, and Capsaicin Creams.

Willow Tree Tea

If you find yourself on the trail without some of these pain medications, then we can use some natural options you can find in mother nature. Did you know that aspirin was created from the bark of willow trees? The bark has acetylsalicylic acid and controls pain. A tea can be made from the bark and is actually probably safer than taking aspirin which is a much more concentrated version.

If you do not know how to identify a willow tree then don’t use this option. It is easy to identify a willow tree but there are 4 basic types and they all work. If you have positively identified the tree it’s time to start to cut. Cut about a 2”x3” section all the way through the inner layer of bark. You will know if you have it right if you see the pink inner layer of bark come off with the outer layer of bark. Harvest all the pink layer of the tree and don’t worry this wound will heal and won’t cause any long-term damage to the tree.

I find that the best way to get all the medicine out of the bark isn’t to boil the bark. Boil a cup of water first and pour it into a drinking cup. Now put your bark in it and cover the cup for 20 minutes. This will work the acetylsalicylic acid out of the bark without damaging the medicine. You can actually cook the medicine out of the bark making it useless. Now either strain out the bark or just sip it carefully. You don’t want to end up choking on your willow bark tea! Sip it slowly and you should soon feel some relief. You can drink these 3 times a day but don’t go over that. Acetylsalicylic acid just like aspirin can cause stomach bleeding if overused.

Wild Lettuce

Wild lettuce (opium lettuce) is a great pain reliever. This has no relation to opium but has the name because of how well it treats pain. I will warn you that this is really hard to swallow. Wild lettuce tastes like latex and is really bitter. In the 19th-century people were hired to collect the leaching liquid for healers to use on patients.

This plant is easy to identify especially when you run your nail across the stem and it starts leaching a milky substance. It is tall and has small dandelion type flowers all along the plant. You can find this all along roads and trails. It likes disturbed areas and construction areas. It is a cousin of the common lettuce. The difference here is that the wild lettuce contains lactucopicrin and lactucin which are both pain relievers. This plant has been studied and proven to relieve menstrual cramps, headaches, muscle pain, and knee pain. This is a great plant to help us relieve the knee pain that we are talking about.

So, we have 2 ways to use this plant. One is by drinking the liquid either by chewing on a stem or putting about 2 oz. of the stem in hot water to steep for 20 minutes. I find this really hard to drink because of all the bitterness. The preferred way to use it is to smoke it. If you can chop it up and leave it to dry then smoke it in a pipe. You could make a pipe if you are already hiking or construct one. The pain should lessen shortly and if needed you can use this process up to 3 times a day.

Burdock Root Tea

Burdock is known to just about any hiker. It’s that plant that has the balls that stick to you when you walk through the woods. It’s also the plant that Velcro was modeled after. This plant is a really important medicinal plant. I won’t get into all the best but will talk about its pain relieving properties.

Burdock root tea has been used by the Chinese and American Indians since man has made teas. It may not be as quick a response as the above-mentioned options but it should be an option. Burdock root tea should be taken daily to help with swelling and knee pain. The tea is made by boiling water and adding about 2oz of sliced burdock root in a cup of boiled water. Let it steep for 20 minutes to extract but not kill the medication.

You can also chop or mash the root and steep in just a bit of water for 20 minutes like the tea. Put the mashed burdock root into a cloth and while still warm apply it to the affected area with swelling or pain. This will bring down the swelling and help control some of the pain.

These 3 plants are easy to find almost anywhere and are a must to learn. If you find yourself in a situation where you need help with pain, you will be able to treat yourself or a loved one just by heating some water and getting some help from mother nature!

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    September 15, 2018 at 12:49 pm

    Joseph, I’m 68 and have been bone on bone on my left knee for over 50 years. I use a knee warmer when hiking and a stabilizer below the knee when going down steep unstable trails. Just passed 860 miles so far this year.

    Mark Joseph
    July 8, 2018 at 4:46 pm

    The pain, however, is an issue that is masked by as you mention in your article – wear and tear – I was hoping the article could cover remedies to allow your knees to last longer if you are older. I’m over fifty and can still trek longer than many men half my age. Knee bands for example? Collagen building – joint building or retaining remedies? What was offered here – at least for me – was a band aid to cover the pain but not the cause .. luv ya buddy but just being authentic to expectations of feedback. Buen Camino!

    Dwayne Sargent
    May 18, 2018 at 11:10 pm

    Hi, Joseph!

    What would you say about someone (definitely a hiker) who already has chronic knee pain.

    What do suggest the person do?

    Fotini Anel
    April 7, 2018 at 6:41 am

    HELLO Joseph. Nice article. I Just wanna say I know aspirin.Its good also for the people white problems in heart.But it’s very strong for the stomach. So must be careful. Did you try the aspirin for kids?It’s good for the knee pain?And before hiking we must worm our muscles and in the end must make some exercises.
    Ps.Forgive me ad out my English I know it’s not good .
    Thank you