Trekking pole manufacturers maintain that their poles can greatly reduce the forces on lower limb joints. Glyn Howatson of Northumbria University tested that claim and found evidence to support it.
In the study, 37 participants volunteered to hike up and down Snowdon (the highest peak in England and Wales) either with or without the aid of trekking poles. Those who used the poles were trained in their proper usage before setting out. The two groups ate the same meals before and after hiking, and took the same rest stops.
Both prior to and during the hike, heart rates and perceived levels of exertion were recorded. At 0, 24, 48 and 72 hours after the completion of the hike, muscle damage was assessed. The volunteers who used trekking poles had significantly less muscle soreness and less creatine kinase (an enzyme marker for muscle damage).
According to Howatson:
The results present strong evidence that trekking poles reduce, almost to the point of complete disappearance, the extent of muscle damage during a day's mountain trek.To me, walking sticks always seemed like one more heavy thing to drag along on a hike. Apparently, they can actually lighten the load.