Top 5 reasons why you should consider hiking with osteoarthritis

hiking with osteoarthritis

You will be able to reap more benefits from hiking with osteoarthritis versus walking on flat ground. These benefits include: strengthening your muscles, preventing mental illness, improving your balance, and burning more calories when compared to walking on flat ground. Hiking can actually help you find osteoarthritis relief if we do it the right way! Instead of fearing adventure, here you can find the confidence to keep your adventure alive!

Walking is a common form of physical activity in people that are dealing with osteoarthritis. But have you ever thought about hiking? You don’t even need to live in the mountains to go hiking (although it does bring about some awesome views!).

Hiking is a form of walking but is completed in nature on uneven terrain, usually on trails. Hiking challenges your body differently than walking on a flat surface does. There are actually very important benefits that hiking can offer over traditional walking.

If you are dealing with joint pain, hiking can be challenging at times especially when going up and down steeper hills. Many times it isn’t the pain that limits us though. Usually fear takes over and we become scared, whether its lack of confidence in our balance, in our legs, or in our strength to get up the hills. Hiking with osteoarthritis is actually recommended once we have the appropriate strength and balance!

Before we look at the top 5 reasons you should hike, I want to share a video with you from my last year here in Utah and all the adventures we have been on. I’d love in the comments if you would let me know where your favorite hikes are! 

Here are 5 reasons you should consider hiking with osteoarthritis

Before we get started though, having the appropriate equipment can make your experience so much better. We have outlined the TOP 15 things you need to improve your hiking experience with osteoarthritis! 
  1. You can make serious improvements in your balance when you are hiking. Walking on constantly changing and unpredictable ground, forces your muscles that are in charge of stabilizing you to work in overdrive, but in a good way. These muscles are not challenged very much when on flat ground. Balance thrives on variation too. The more variable the trail is, the more you have to think and react to keep your balance. This then carries over to daily life when you take a misstep or trip over an object on the floor, you are more likely to react much faster if those muscles are appropriately trained! 
  2. Hiking can actually make you feel happier. Joint pain can be overwhelming, frustrating, and stressful. A 2015 study from Stanford University found that time spent in natural environments (as opposed to busy city settings) calmed activity in a part of the brain that research has linked to mental illness. Hanging out with Mother Nature also seems to reduce your mind’s propensity to “ruminate”—a word psychologists use for negative, self-focused patterns of thought that are linked with anxiety and depression”. Hiking with osteoarthritis can release some positive vibes and actually help to make you feel better about the condition! The combination of fresh air, relaxing sounds of nature, and beautiful scenery can truly help to improve our mood and fend off negative thoughts.
  3. Weight loss can make a huge difference to your osteoarthritis pain. It turns out, you burn more calories than walking on flat ground! “…hiking on uneven terrain increases the amount of energy your body uses by 28% compared to walking on flat ground” according to TIME magazine. This is because you are using more of your muscles and possibly even different muscles than you usually would walking on flat, predictable ground. You also may feel more fluctuations in your heart rate due to increased intensity when you are going up and down hills. This change in intensity also contributes to a higher calorie burn.
  4. You can improve your leg strength. The more muscular strength we have, the more supported our joints are. Especially for knee arthritis, one of the most important treatment tools is increasing your knee support with your own muscles! When walking on flat ground, we are using the same muscles over and over again. When hiking, we are moving in different directions to avoid obstacles and to fit through odd spaces. This variety in our movement can help to work different muscles that are rarely challenged when walking on flat ground or in daily life. This is especially common in muscles that control side to side movement. Each step may be different, you never know what you will encounter and your body has to continue to react, thus recruiting muscles it doesn’t normally use in simple movements of daily life.
  5. You can actually reduce your risk of injury. Many times, injuries to muscles in our hips, knees, or ankles are common with repetitive movements. Osteoarthritis puts us at a slightly higher risk for other injuries because pain can change the way we move. When we add variety to terrain and which muscles we are using, it helps to prevent the risk of overuse. Running and walking on flat ground tend to be very repetitive. Our mechanics don’t change a whole lot because the terrain is relatively consistent. We usually only have to recruit the same muscles for each step. When we are hiking with osteoarthritis, we add variety to our stepping patterns and movements and tend to use other muscles like we discussed in #4.

What to think about before your hiking adventure:

Aside from all of these benefits explained above, there are some risks when hiking, especially when dealing with joint pains. Here are a few considerations you should make before going hiking with osteoarthritis:

  • Start slow. Going 0-100 can be irritating to our joints so we want to make sure we aren’t asking too much of them. In order to get the most enjoyment out of hiking, start with minimal hills. Do some research on Alltrails (my favorite, free hiking guide that has information trails all over the world) to find out the elevation gain (how steep the trail is) and the level of difficulty. If the trails you start with have steep hills, you may cause more joint irritation- especially with knee arthritis.
  • Make sure you are confident in your balance. If you don’t feel confident in your balance, hiking might seem scary. Osteoarthritis can impact your balance, as we said before- pain can change the way we move. With the unpredictable terrain, you have to make sure your balance is adequate to avoid any falls or other injuries. I highly recommend checking out this post to find ideas on how to improve your balance before you start your hiking adventure. You can also use hiking poles, which can not only help you feel more stable but give you more confidence too!
  • Make sure you have the right shoes. When walking on unstable surfaces, you need more support from your shoes. When hiking with osteoarthritis, hiking shoes are a necessity. My favorite brand is Salomon but I also like these boots from Columbia. It is worth investing good shoes, especially if you will be hiking at least 3-5 times a month. There is nothing worse than hiking in uncomfortable shoes. You have to take care of your feet, especially if you have arthritis. Hiking boots will give you more support, more stability, and more traction.
  • Nature is unpredictable. This goes with general hiking guidelines that nature is unpredictable so we have to be prepared. Depending on where you live, trails could include a variety of wildlife, weather conditions, and terrain. Making sure you have appropriate hydration, food, and clothing is important. Arthritis pain does have a tendency to increase in colder temperatures. Find out tips here on how to keep your joints warm and happy.

If you are convinced that you want to start hiking, the first step is understanding a little more about your arthritis so you can feel better prepared. This free ebook below will give you the top 5 secrets you need to know to thrive with osteoarthritis.

These are the facts we have gathered over the years and the misconceptions we hear over and over again. If you can expand your understanding about your osteoarthritis that is one more step in the direction of keeping your adventure alive! Download it for free today!

Disclaimer: This post is for general informational purposes only. It should not be used to self-diagnose and it is not a substitute for a medical exam, cure, treatment, diagnosis, and prescription or recommendation. It does not create a doctor-patient relationship between Dr. Kuhn and you. You should not make any change in your health regimen or diet before first consulting a physician and obtaining a medical exam, diagnosis, and recommendation. Move Well Age Well, LLC and Dr. Alyssa Kuhn, PT, DPT are not liable or responsible for any advice, course of treatment, diagnosis or any conclusions drawn, services or product you obtain through this video or site. This post may contain affiliate links that give us a small commission with no extra cost to you.