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Hiking Poles Reduce the Load on Joints

Poles or hiking sticks have been shown to reduce the load on joints and increase balance and support while hiking. In this study, researchers at the Department of Kinesiology (Western Illinois University) attempt to see if wearing a backpack changes anything.

They ask the question, Will the use of poles still reduce forces on the joints when an external load (backpack) is added? They answered this question by testing 15 experienced male hikers with and without the use of hiking poles. Two different backpacks were used (light and heavy). Results were compared to trials with no backpack.

Everyone was tested while walking three miles per hour downhill at a 20-degree gradient. A special force plate was used to measure ground reaction forces. Ground reaction refers to the force through the heel to the knee from contact with the ground at heel strike. Hikers were also videotaped to look at joint angles and joint motion.

Results showed using poles did decrease the load on the joints in the leg (hips, knees, and ankles). This was true for hikers with and without backpacks and for both pack sizes.

The authors suggest using trekking poles can reduce muscle injuries from overuse and decrease the load on joints. The hiking poles also put hikers in a more upright position, which improves posture and reduces the work of breathing.

Michael Bohne, PhD and Julianne Abendroth-Smith. Effects of Hiking Downhill Using Trekking Poles While Carrying External Loads. In Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. January 2007. Vol. 39. No. 1. Pp. 177-183.

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