Need to Exercise In Order to Exercise?

You’re not alone. After an unexpected knee injury sidelined hiker Page Shepherd, she had to learn how to heal, how to reimagine her exercise routine, and how to train for the future to prevent a recurrence. With the help of physical therapists, rediscovering mountain biking, and adjusting the timeline for recovery from a few weeks to a few months, Page is ready to hike again and in a good frame of mind.

When Page began training for a backpacking journey on the difficult Art Loeb Trail in North Carolina, she worried about being able to handle the uphills. She never thought about the challenge of downhill hiking with a heavy pack until the last two days of the hike had her knees aching and clicking. Each step of the last four miles was painful and she worried she had done some permanent damage to her knees.

The Art Loeb Trail in North Carolina spans 30 miles of difficult terrain with over 8,000 feet of elevation change and several lengthy downhill segments as you travel south from the Blue Ridge Parkway to the valley floor and terminus at the Davidson River parking area.

Luckily after a couple of weeks, she felt better and she began hiking again. After two months of moderate afternoon hikes in Pisgah National Forest, Page felt back to normal. But then she went trail running in Dupont Forest and had a complete setback. During the run she felt exceptionally strong, but the next day her knee started to feel tight and achy and then by late afternoon a sharp pain prevented her from rotating her foot or ankle. “I could barely press my foot on the gas and break pedals to drive home from work because there was a sharp pain in my knee with each small movement. I was so frustrated.”

All Trails maps show you how much you accomplished.

She tried rice (rest, ice, compression and elevation) and had to miss work at D.D. Bullwinkels, an outdoor store in nearby Brevard. With no pain relief in sight, she visited an orthopedic surgeon for help and learned she had a strain or possible tear of the meniscus. The recommendation? More rest, ice, elevation and compression plus physical therapy. When she asked how long the recovery might be, the physical therapist said four to twelve weeks. And the biggest takeaway was this: she needed to strengthen specific muscles with exercises at home before returning to hiking. “I’m in my fifties, so I can’t just jump off the couch and go do a cartwheel without straining or tearing something. I have to prepare for my chosen sport, and intentionally train so that my muscles can protect my knees during weight-baring activities like hiking downhill or backpacking.”

“I could barely press my foot on the gas and break pedals to drive home from work because there was a sharp pain in my knee with each small movement. I was so frustrated.”

She also resumed biking at the recommendation of the physical therapist. Biking puts less pressure on the knees and can be a great way to strengthen leg muscles. Whether mountain, gravel, road or beach cruising, biking is a great alternative to running or hiking if you like a good outdoor activity and a way to strengthen legs and work on cardio. “I basically learned that I needed to exercise so that I could exercise.”

Photo by Anna Shvets on

For many aging but healthy adults, exercising in order to exercise is now the new normal. Weight lifting, isometric exercises, swimming, and biking are all great ways to cross train and prevent injuries from over-working the same muscles doing only one sport all the time. Here are some websites to find out more about exercises for strengthening knees and injury prevention:

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