Hiking is a recreational activity shown to offer significant positive effects on the human body. However, walking downhill and external load carriage have both been shown to increase the risk of musculoskeletal pain and injury. The use of hiking poles has been demonstrated to be successful in reducing forces placed on the lower extremities. However, whether these effects can be observed with load carriage has not been examined.
Purpose: The purpose of this research was to examine the effectiveness of pole use in hiking downhill while carrying different external loads.
Methods: Fifteen experienced male hikers volunteered. Conditions included hiking with and without the use of hiking poles for each of three backpack conditions (no pack, day pack (15% BW), and large expedition pack (30% BW). Ten trials were completed for each condition, for a total of 60 trials per participant. All conditions were performed in a random order. The net joint moments and power at the ankle, knee, and hip, as well as the net joint forces at the knee were examined statistically using a 2 x 3 (poles x packs) repeated-measures ANOVA, with a family wise alpha level of 0.05.
Results: A significant reduction was observed for the sagittal plane moment at each of the joints in the lower extremity with pole use. Reductions were also observed in the peak power absorption for the ankle and knee. These results held true across pack conditions, as packs only resulted in a larger power generation at the hip.
Conclusion: A reduction in the forces, moments, and power around the joint, with the use of poles, will help reduce the loading on the joints of the lower extremity.