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Several years ago, while hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon with my family, my wife Esther developed “canyon knee,” also known as “hiker’s knee” or in medical terms, “patellar tendonitis.” Regardless of the term, the end result was that she had severe pain in the tendon below her knee cap and was unable to walk up the trail to get out of the canyon. In addition to ice, rest, bracing, and non-steroidal anti inflammatory medications, the National Park Ranger insisted that she use two trekking poles on her ascent to the rim.

Prior to that experience, I always thought that “walking, hiking sticks or trekking poles” were for show or those in need of a walking aide. Well, I could not have been more incorrect. Needless to say, Esther made it out of the canyon safely and, with the use of our life saving trekking poles; we have lived “happily ever after!” Now, 15 years later, I rarely walk more than 5 miles without my poles.

As a result of this experience, I have been recommending walking or trekking poles to my patients. These poles are an essential part of hiking or distance walking gear, for the novice and expert alike. Specifically, for those over 50 who have degenerative arthritis and pain in their lower back, hips, knees, ankles or feet, these simple devices have been shown to improve the efficiency of the exercise and lessen the impact on the spine and lower extremities. Additionally, using poles reduces the likelihood of ankle sprains and falls during walking. Trekking poles are also a safe option for those with compromised balance. If you want to walk distances for exercise and need a little stability but don’t want the stigma of a cane, trekking poles are for you.

History of the Hiking Stick:

Early explorers, Europeans and Native Americans have been using walking sticks for centuries. More recently, in the 1968 classic hiker’s bible, “The Complete Walker,” Colin Fletcher praised his “walking staff” for its multipurpose use: for balance and assistance with walking and climbing, protection from rattlesnakes, and for use as a fishing rod. Today, these sticks are now versatile poles made from light-weight materials.

Trekking Pole Features:

Trekking poles are made of light-weight aluminum and vary in cost and quality. But, like most things, “you get what you pay for!” These hollow tubes can telescope to fit any person and collapse to pack in luggage for travel. Better poles offer multiple removable tips for various uses, conditions and terrains. For example, abasket to prevent sinking too deeply in snow, mud or sand; a blunt rubber tip for hard surfaces like asphalt or concrete, or the pointed metal tip to grip ice or hard dirt/gravel. Better quality poles offer an ergonomic hand grip and strap and a spring system to absorb shock through your hands, wrists and arms upon impact.

The poles should be properly adjusted to fit each individual. When your hand is griping the handle the elbow should be at a 90 degree angle. Proper use is simple; just walk with a normal gait pattern of opposite arm and leg swing. For example, left leg and right arm/pole swings forward to plant while the left arm/pole remain behind with the right leg .  

This pattern is reciprocated with as normal gait advances (opposite arm and leg). I have been very pleased with my moderately priced poles (Cascade Mountain Tech from Dick’s Sporting Goods ($34.99 per pole). Prices range from $19.99 to 79.95 per pole.;;; However, if you travel frequently to hike the State and National Parks, you may want to purchase more expensive poles that collapse and retighten more efficiently. (;;) 

Montem Trekking Poles - with close-up of easy adjustable locking clasp.


There are numerous studies to support the use of trekking poles, especially research that supports their use for health and safety. One study compared hikers in 3 different conditions; no backpack, a pack with 15% body weight and a pack with 30% body weight. Biomechanical analysis was performed blindly on the three groups and a significant reduction in forces on lower extremity joints (hip, knee, and ankle) was noted for all three groups when using poles compared to those not using poles.

Another study confirmed that trekking poles reduced the incidence of ankle fractures through improved balance and stability. Additional studies support the theory that trekking poles reduce exercise induced muscle soreness from hiking or walking steep terrain and another study found that while less energy is expended in the lower body muscles using poles, increase energy is used in the upper body; therefore, the net caloric expenditure is equal as it is simply transferred from the legs to the arms.

Reasons to Use Trekking Poles:

In conclusion, it is important to remember that trekking poles for hiking or distance walking are much more than a style statement. They are proven to be an invaluable tool for health, safety and wellness by reducing lower extremity joint stress, improving stability and balance, and enhancing efficiency for muscle recovery.    

Sources: Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. The Complete Walker, by Colin Fletcher

Model: Andrea Molitoris, PT, DPT at Mackarey Physical Therapy

EVERY MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!” via Blog

EVERY SUNDAY in "The Sunday Times" - Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!” in hard copy

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy in Scranton and Clarks Summit. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine. For all of Dr. Mackarey's articles, visit our exercise forum!

Every December, as we finish the last of the leftover turkey, patients begin to talk about the holiday season and gift shopping. This conversation invariably leads to suggestions for gift ideas related to health, exercise and fitness. The suggestions below offer a wide variety of fitness related gifts, some expensive and frivolous and others reasonably priced and practical. I hope it makes your shopping a little easier. 

1. Dry Tech Exercise Clothing

Dry Tech is the best thing that has happened to exercise apparel since “jogging suit” was donned by all the “cool dudes” in the 70’s and 80’s . It is has great style and even better function. The specially made material is light weight and breathable and wicks moisture from the skin to the outer layers. Therefore, it will not get heavy with sweat which can weigh you down and cause friction with your skin which can lead to chaffing and blisters. The following exercise apparel is now available in Dry Tech:

NOTE: Shoes are a very important aspect to safe and comfortable exercise but are unique for running and other specific sports (tennis, basketball). Sneakers may be too difficult to buy for someone else. A gift certificate to an athletic shoe store (Scranton Running or Dick’s) may be a better choice.

2. Trekking Poles

For walking and hiking enthusiasts, trekking poles can be the perfect gift, especially for those over 50 and when on uneven terrain or inclement weather. The research is compelling…less stress on the lower back, hip, knee and ankle, as well as improved balance and safety. Leki, Black Diamond, and Trekology are good name brands while LL Bean and REI are reputable companies.

3. Exercise Mat

An exercise mat is helpful if you decide to exercise at home. Also, a required equipment for participating in yoga or Pilates classes is a mat.

4. Hand-Held Dumbbells and Sandbag Leg Weights

These are essential for those interested in home exercise. For the average beginner, 3-5-8-10 pound (two of each) weights will be adequate.  Dumbbells are good for shrugs, biceps, and triceps, bent over rows and lats, and lunges. Incremented and stackable dumbbells are also available by Bowflex SelecTech 552 (5-52 pounds for $299). and NordicTrack $189. Sandbags, which can be purchased as graduated weights from 1 to 5 pounds, are good for leg extensions, hamstring curls, hip hikes and hip abduction.  

5. Resistance Bands

These cheap and versatile bands are also essential for a home program. The bands come in different colors to represent the amount of resistance with yellow being the easiest and black the most difficult. They are useful for upper and lower body. For specific band exercises visit a previous column in “Health & Exercise Forum” at The Times Tribune or

6. Aerobic Equipment

NOTE:  Peloton, NordicTrack, SoulCycle are some of the companies that offer interactive exercise programs (usually through an internet subscription) for aerobic exercise using bikes, treadmills, ellipticals or rowing machines.

7. Fitness Club Membership
8. Personal Trainer Gift Certificate or Home Virtual Trainers

This can be an opportunity for someone to either get the proper advice from a professional to begin a fitness program or to revamp and tune up an old stale program. Word of mouth is a good way to find a reputable certified trainer.

Peloton – ($2,495 bike, $3,495 treadmill); Mirror Exercise – ($1,495); Tonal ($3,995.) FightCamp – ($1,219.); Forme Studio ($2,495.)

9. Electronic Fitness Monitors or Wearable Tech Monitor

These devices use GPS technology to help the user track their activity to get more out of their exercise routines. They monitor activity, heart rate, distance, location, calories, and more. Some examples are:

10. Nutritional Counselor Gift Certificate

Sometimes you need professional help to get started and stay focused. Just as with a personal trainer, a qualified and licensed nutritional counselor will assist you in establishing a safe and effective program to meet your nutritional and dietary goals. Again, ask around to see who has a good reputation or who may be a good fit for the recipient of your gift.

These gifts can be purchased at most local sporting goods stores or on-line.

EVERY MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!” via Blog

EVERY SUNDAY in "The Sunday Times" - Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!” in hard copy

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice, located in Scranton and Clarks Summit, and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at GCSOM. For all of Dr. Mackarey's articles, check out our exercise forum!