I thought I would share some of the simple tips and tricks I have picked up trying to stay active with chronic pain and chronic health conditions. In this case, particularly for chronic joint issues.
#1: Sternum straps with costo-/sternochondritis
Do your best to wear a hiking pack in the recommended most ergonomic way, but also do what works best for you. If you have inflammation in your sternocostal joints (where your ribs and sternum join), like I do, keep that in mind when tightening your sternum strap. When I need to, I keep my sternum strap probably a bit looser than you’re “supposed” to, but this is better to me than worsening the pain and irritation in that area when it is already unhappy. I’m also hoping to find a way to better pad it, but I think this will only help so much.
When possible, I make up for having the sternum strap looser by making sure my shoulder and hip straps are well-adjusted and taking most of the weight (particularly my hips). When I am especially bloated or having extra endo/pelvic pain, this can be a difficult balancing act with my hips, but I do my best and am not afraid to re-adjust as I go.
Also, I definitely recommend having a proper, ergonomic hiking pack if you’re going to do any kind of long or strenuous hiking. You will feel the difference.
#2: Slopes for unhappy joints
When hiking, a lot of people like to go up the gentler slope and down the steeper one, since this is cardiovascularly easier. I have always found that particularly steep and technical sections can often be easier, or at least less nerve-wracking, to do up than down (with exceptions). However, particularly since my joints became a real issue, I have made a conscious decision to go up the steeper and down the gentler slope. Downhill can be very hard on your joints — there is extra force on them in ways they aren’t really used to. You also are forced to engage your muscles more on uphills, and doing this stabilizes the joints more and relies more on muscles and less on other soft tissue (tendons, ligaments).
I have also decided to be okay with finding the gentler ways down where possible and feasible. I can sometimes feel unnecessarily guilty, or like a bit of a fraud, if I don’t take the “right” trail, or the hardest trail. But I don’t need to feel that way, and it is better to protect my joints so that I can keep doing these things that I love for as long as possible.