The Cooper Institute
 

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH

 
 
 

Do Trekking Poles Make a Difference?

Posted in
Live well

Monday, Feb 28, 2011

Trekking poles are popular with both serious and recreational hikers as well as fitness walkers.  These poles can provide stability when crossing streams and navigating loose surfaces. They allow you to transfer some of your weight from your legs to your shoulders, arms, and back which may reduce lower body fatigue.  Studies have shown that trekking poles reduce joint forces and loading of the ankle, knee, and hip joints1,4,6. Consistent with this, trekking poles reduced the occurrence of ankle fractures during a mountain walking study5. Another study showed that poles increased lateral stability and balance on uneven surfaces3.  A recent study2 published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise examined the use of trekking poles to reduce muscle soreness and damage after ascending and descending the highest mountain peak (3,560 ft.) in Wales.

Researchers randomly assigned subjects to either a trekking pole or no pole group. All subjects were novice hikers with similar levels of physical activity. During the guided trek, subjects wore heart rate monitors and day packs weighing approximately 13 pounds. Subjects rated their effort level (Rating of Perceived Exertion) during both the ascent and descent portions of the trek. Researchers tested subjects’ muscular strength and performed blood tests to detect muscle damage before, immediately after the hike, and for a period of 72 hours afterwards. Subjects also rated muscle soreness at the same intervals. 

Heart rate during the hike was not different between the two groups.  Both groups reported the highest level of muscle soreness 24 hours after the hike; however, the trekking pole group had significantly less muscle soreness compared to the no poles group. Consistent with this finding, blood tests for muscle damage showed significantly higher CPK (indicator of muscle damage) levels for the no pole compared to the trekking pole group at 24 hours after the hike. In addition, decreases in muscular strength were less after the event with a faster recovery in the trekking pole group compared to the no pole group. 

These results are consistent with the finding that trekking poles allow the hiker to reduce loading of the lower body which can decrease muscle damage and soreness. A faster recovery and less soreness is a big advantage when multiple days of back to back hiking are planned. Plus it may translate to faster recoveries and a reduced injury rate during and on the days following the hike. 

Thus, you may want to consider trekking poles for your next hike. They may be particularly helpful if you have balance problems, a lower body injury, or arthritis. By increasing stability and reducing the load on lower body joints, poles could boost your workout time, reduce joint stress, and speed recovery.  Share your experience with trekking poles for hiking or fitness with us on Facebook!

 

1. Bohne, M. and Abendroth-Smith, J. (2007). Effects of hiking downhill using trekking poles while carrying external loads.  Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 39(1), 177-183. 2. Howatson, G.P., Hough, J., Pattison, J.A. et al. (2011). Trekking poles reduce exercise-induced muscle injury during mountain walking. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 43(1), 140-145. 3. Jacobson, B.H. and Wright, T. & Dugan, B. (2000). A field test comparison of hiking stick use on heart rate and rating of perceived exertion. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 21(5),  435-438. 4. Knight, C.A. & Caldwell, G.E. (2000). Muscular and metabolic costs of uphill backpacking: are hiking poles beneficial? Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 32(12), 2093-2101. 5. Kumar, A.J., Gill, D.S., Fairweather, C. & Dykes, L. (2009). The pattern of ankle fractures sustained by outdoor activities at the Snowdonia National Park, North Wales, United Kingdom. Foot and Ankle Surgery, 15(3), 144-145. 6. Schwameder, H., Roithner, R., Muller, E. et al. (1999). Knee joint forces during downhill walking with hiking poles.  Journal of Sports Science. 85(5), 706-710.