Tips for an Injury Free Hiking Season
July 15, 2016 10:46 pm
It’s that time of year. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping and those Rocky Mountains are calling. We are so lucky to have such an amazing landscape for a host of outdoor activities right in our backyard. Hiking is one of these activities. Not only is it a great exercise; but it is multigenerational, family friendly, fun and free.
As with all activities, hiking does pose some risk for injury. There are two main groups of injuries in hiking:
- Acute Trauma – An example would be a fall creating a fracture, sprained ankle or wrist, or deep cuts.
- Overuse Type Injury – These result from overloading your tissues. This can happen from going too far too fast, or from inadequate strength especially in the hip or knee musculature. Common hiking injuries include patellofemoral pain (kneecap pain), IT band syndrome (lateral knee pain), tendonitis (inflammation/aggravation) of the patellar tendon or achilles tendon, shin splints, blisters, plantar fasciitis and aggravation of arthritic conditions.
Fortunately, many of these injuries can be prevented with some of these tips:
- Be Prepared Physically – pick a trail that fits your ability. If you haven’t hiked all year, start with an easy trail with flat terrain. Work up to harder trails as your strength and endurance builds. If you are starting to fatigue, take a break or turn around. Fatiguing your muscles can lead to poor walking mechanics and increased loading which can cause the overuse injuries listed above.
- Wear Proper Footwear – not flip flops or sandals, and if you are doing a longer hike invest in performance socks that wick away sweat. Walking on uneven terrain and varied elevations can be hard on both your feet and knees and increase your risk for falling and tripping. Make sure if you haven’t worn your hiking boots for awhile that you work them in with some walking and shorter hikes.
- Be Aware – of your surroundings and work on your balance. Proprioception is the ability to know where your joints are in space. The better your proprioception and balance are, the better you will be at adapting to uneven terrain and preventing falls. A quick and easy way to work on your balance is to stand on one foot while you are brushing your teeth.
- Using Hiking Poles – it can help distribute your weight and decrease loading on your joints. Recent studies have also shown that using poles during hiking helps decrease muscle soreness and allows for reduced loss of strength post hiking and quicker recovery times. (1)
- Check Out Your Single Leg Squat – do this quick test to see how well you can support your weight when you stand on one leg. Stand on one leg and squat. Does your hip shift to one side? Does your knee and/or foot collapse inward? If they do, you may be at risk for injury. Hiking requires repetitive bending and loading to the knee joint especially on the downhill. The inability to support your weight can create increased pressure especially on the knee cap, but also on all the lower leg joints creating an overuse type injury. Working on your gluteal and quadricep muscles can help.
- Don’t Push Through Pain – stop, take a break and turn around if it continues. If your pain persists you may need a Physiotherapy Assessment to help alleviate your pain and address the cause of this pain. A Physiotherapist Assessment can help to determine where your weakness or muscle imbalances exist and tailor your exercises so you’re hiking ready.
With some simple preparations, hiking can be an excellent way to get out and enjoy all that nature has to offer this summer. Here is a link to explore for varied hiking trails in Kananaskis and Banff.
Written by Renee Poloprutsky, Fifth Ave Physiotherapy Therapist.
1. Northumbria University. “How trekking-poles help hikers maintain muscle function while reducing soreness.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 June 2010.