Backpacking with arthritis?

8:28 a.m. on May 14, 2013 (EDT)
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My "Hiker's knees" from my last trip are still with me two months after my last trip. On Friday my doctor called to tell me I have the early stages of arthritis. I'm seeing a physical therapist tomorrow to start on a pain management plan.

I have to say I'm filling a bit crushed over this. I'm only 45. I'm currently saving money to thru-hike the AT in 10-years, when I'm 55. I feel like all those plans are going up in smoke and that I'm just going to have to resign myself to car camping and short weekend treks. If not for 3-kids & a mortgage, I'd hit the AT next March so that I could at least say I did it.

Is this the end of my backpacking (and caving) days?

Is anyone on this forum hiking with arthritic joints? (I just bought my first set of UL trekking poles, but I know I have it in my elbows as well.)

9:20 a.m. on May 14, 2013 (EDT)
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The best things you can do to make your experiences more enjoyable are: 1)reduce your pack weight as much as possible. the lighter your pack the less wear and tear and stress on your joints. 2) wear proper and good supportive footwear 3) exercise those joints, ie go for walks routinely etc. Having those joints sit idle only causes the problem to be more severe when you begin stressing them. 4) use those trekking poles! 5) keep a nice slow and relaxed pace when hiking

The pain will never go away completely, you will have to learn how to deal with It to an extent. All of the above will help greatly, and taking pain killers/ anti inflammatory meds will also help take the edge off.

If you can get your base weight down to below 20lbs so that a full load with food and water is only like 35lbs then you will be much better off than trying to deal with your problem and carrying a 50+ lbs pack. The lighter you can go the happier you will be. I have seen many people with arthritis transition to ultralight backpacking and have been able to continue backpacking ad are much happier because of it.

Hope that helps some, and best of luck finding some sort of middle ground to reduce the discomfort as much as possible.

9:59 a.m. on May 14, 2013 (EDT)
Seth Levy @Seth
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Jeffrey - I've seen hikers with advanced arthritis, missing limbs, and blindness complete the AT. I'd bet that half the thru-hikers in any given year have a degree of knee pain comparable to yours.

TheRambler's advice is very good. Lighten up, use trekking poles and work with your doctor.  You might be surprised to find that travel with a light pack and moderate arthritis is less painful than travel with a heavy pack and no knee pain!

There are a lot of modifications people learn to make. Some folks with bad hips and backs sleep in hammocks, for example.

I've suffered moderate knee pain for a few years, despite being a lot younger than you.  I take ginger and glucosamine, and try to follow an "anti-inflammatory" diet. Talk to your Dr!

Happy hiking!

10:34 a.m. on May 14, 2013 (EDT)
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Good advice here.  Lose weight and stay active.  I have found that arthritis at 63 is much improved by lots more walking.  It is counter intuitive but true.

11:33 a.m. on May 14, 2013 (EDT)
Bill S
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First thing is - do NOT take medical advice offered on the web (except maybe WebMD).

Second thing is - you are wanting to continue athletic, challenging activities into a ripe old age. So go to an MD specializing in Sports Medicine. One thing s/he will advise you is to to use the joints. S/he will probably have you work with a PT who will give you appropriate exercises (mostly flexibility and stretching). These folks specialize in getting people back active in their sports.

A number of my climbing mentors have had bouts with arthritis in arm and leg joints, as well as back. By working with sports medicine specialists, many of them have reduced the pain by huge amounts and continued to be climbing 5.9 to 5.11 routes into their 80s (one very famous one did the NA Wall and Nose on El Cap in a day each, when he was into his 80s, with his son).

8:46 a.m. on May 15, 2013 (EDT)
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Thanks for the positive feedback. I see a Physical Therapist this afternoon for an initial discussion.

9:22 a.m. on May 15, 2013 (EDT)
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TheRambler said:

The best things you can do to make your experiences more enjoyable are...:

Actually the best thing most of us can do to both reduce discomfort and extend the active years left is lose body weight.  We shoulder a pack and hike every now and then, but slog around our bodies day in and day out.  Loosing twenty pounds can make a huge difference and is more wieght than most can shave from their pack load.  Unfortunately Jeffery this doesn't appear to be an option for you, based on your height and weight noted in your bio.

I have a knee that was injured in college sports and subjected to four surgeries since then.  It has been arthritic from all of the trauma for decades. I find regular walking and cycling help keep things running more smoothly.  Keep your quads strong and your joints will track more evenly, and hurt less too.  But if your bones are pitted activity can aggravate this condition.  You may eventually need a prosthesis if things degrade too far.  The good news is most folks have vastly improved mobility after that procedure.  The bad news is the joints last only so many years; if you live to a ripe old age an old prosthesis may need replacement.  Thus many try to hold off on this option as long as possible.  Whatever you do don’t let your condition cause you to live decrepit, there is no need to make that compromise.   


4:30 p.m. on May 15, 2013 (EDT)
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I think I could stand to loose a few pounds. Fifteen years ago, I only weighed 180lbs. Last doctor's appointment pegged me at 197lbs.

I saw a physical therapist this afternoon. She wants me to work on stretching and muscle strengthening. She says I have flat feet and need to get inserts for arch support. She also recommended yoga to help me become more limber.

Basically, she says I'm too "tight," and it's causing uneven wear on the inside of my knees. She wants to loosen me up so that I'm not further damaging my joints. 

9:36 a.m. on May 16, 2013 (EDT)
Seth Levy @Seth
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Jeffrey - I have found yoga to be enormously helpful too. I started with a slower "Hatha" yoga, and after about a year I've moved onto a more aerobic "Vinyasa" style. It's reduced my join pain a whole lot, and has brought a whole raft of other benefits that were not expected!

1:35 p.m. on May 24, 2013 (EDT)
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Jeffery, I too have mild arthritis at 43, basically had it noticably for the past 10 years. I mostly get it in my hips, knees (ACL replacement), and hands. It's gotten slightly worse, but have found that most of the things listed above really help. A little weight loss, lighten the load, and keep walking regularly. On multi-day trips I try to plan on not more than 10 mile days with a 35 lb load and take a slightly slower pace. I like to see my surroundings anyway. On multi-day trips I usually try to break it up with a short rest day of 5 miles or so every few to help ease the stress on the body. My hips get it the worse on long days, but a couple aleves usually do the trick the next morning.

Honestly the biggest help is that I try to take short training hikes locally about 3 times per week. If I go a few weeks without them, I get pretty stiff and sore.

Good luck! I'm sure you'll get it managed out well.

5:49 a.m. on June 10, 2013 (EDT)
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Great advice!  here's my 2 cents after years of continuing physical payback from too much fun.  when I go on trips, and general home activities, I bring Ibuprofen......and use it judicially.  I will go 3 days without taking any, but eventually need a restful sleep (especially on treks).  I'm against taking meds overall.....but arthritis in my hands, shoulders and elbows wake me up nightly when readjusting....good sleep, good food, good company and comfortable feet are my essentials for a good time.  sleep quality is of primacy!

May 26, 2020
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