Spring weather and hiking are fast approaching, and you may have some goals regarding what you would like to tackle this summer. It could be a long walk through Forest Park or a summit climb on Mt. Hood. The summer season is an exciting time for the Pacific Northwest, with so many wilderness regions to explore. With exploration and backcountry, adventuring also comes the possibility of potential injuries, though.
Some injuries experienced while hiking is not preventable, but some may be. Often coming out of a rainy spring season, many individuals may be deconditioned going hiking and backpacking, which could result in various potential injuries. It’s important to discuss how to be best prepared for the hiking season, whatever your summer goals may be, and how to prevent some of the common musculoskeletal injuries that may be present while hiking.
Prior To Hiking
It’s essential to be organized and create a plan before hiking to ensure that you make the experience more enjoyable for yourself. A part of planning includes how you will manage energy effectively. Hiking is all about preserving energy and maintaining energy efficiency. With more fatigue and energy utilized comes an increased likelihood of a potential injury.
One thing to consider has the right clothing or layers for hiking. A cold body while hiking may increase soft tissue stiffness, increasing the likelihood of an injury. An appropriate warm-up may be warranted before beginning your hike, including dynamic stretching or light calisthenics.
Another consideration is hydration and electrolyte balance while hiking. The American Hiking Society recommends at least 1 quart an hour for strenuous hiking activity and replenishing electrolytes with a salty snack.
Dehydration can lead to muscle cramps and spasms due to reduced total blood volume, which may limit physical capacity while hiking. Be well prepared with equipment, navigation, and apparel to ensure that you can thoroughly enjoy your hiking or backpacking experience.
Conditioning For Hiking
Some things to consider before doing your hikes are the physical demands required by hiking. Hiking requires balance, ankle stability and strength, lower extremity muscle endurance, and cardiovascular endurance. If you are hiking around hills more frequently, poor muscle imbalance, endurance, strength, and stability may lead to common musculoskeletal injuries while hiking. If working on strength training or cardiovascular conditioning, hikers should consider initiating a training program at least a month or two before the hiking season.
Muscles can take close to a month to adapt to the physical loading challenges, so adequate training well in advance of the hiking season is essential. A structured, longer-term plan may help reduce your likelihood of injury, keeping in mind that doing too much too fast can increase the potential likelihood of injury.
Other health considerations may additionally include body weight. Too much body weight may make a hiker more prone to musculoskeletal injury. One study found that individuals who are considered in the obese category are 2.4 times more likely to sustain a musculoskeletal injury while hiking. Weight loss could be essential to improving the hiking experience.
Identifying your physical deficits is vital to improving the overall experience with hiking, which a Physical Therapist can help you to accomplish—seeing a Physical Therapist can help you to identify your specific physical needs and address them with an appropriate strength, cardiovascular and mobility-based program.
Several types of accessories and equipment are needed to improve the hiking experience. Shoewear is an important consideration and arch support for backcountry adventuring. Plantar fasciitis is a common musculoskeletal injury experienced from hiking; you may need appropriate shoewear and support to help improve support in the feet. One study additionally found that inadequate shoe size and shoelace tightness can increase the odds of an ankle sprain. Having the appropriate shoewear helps reduce the incidence of injury.
Another piece of equipment to consider is trekking poles for hiking. Evidence has been variable with the outcomes of utilizing trekking poles, though there has been some support for its utilization. Research has shown that using trekking poles while hiking on downhill slopes may reduce joint forces at the knee and additionally help to improve joint loading in the low back. Trekking poles support upright postural positioning, reducing joint loading and improving balance and stability on uneven terrain.
Consider thinking about backpack carrying and weight as well. There is some evidence to show a relationship between increased pack weight on longer duration hikes and an increased likelihood of having a pins and needles sensation that appear down the legs, so lighter loads may be advised when needed. Less rigid footwear has also been found to potentially impact reduced pins and needles in the legs on longer-duration hikes.
Thank you for reading Top Tips to Prepare For The Hiking Season. We hope it has helped you understand prevention of hiking injuries better. To learn more about other conditions and how we treat different types of common sports injuries, please visit our Sports Injuries page.
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- Koizumi, T., Tsujiuchi, N., Takeda, M., Fujikura, R., & Kojima, T. (2011, December 30). Load dynamics of joints in Nordic walking. Procedia Engineering. Retrieved May 24, 2022, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877705811056438
- L. Stewart Anderson Jr; Casey M. Rebholz; Laura F. White; Patricia Mitchell; Edward P. Curcio III; James A. Feldman; Joseph H. Kahn (2009). The Impact of Footwear and Packweight on Injury and Illness Among Long-Distance Hikers. , 20(3), 250–256. doi:10.1580/08-weme-or-196r2.1
- Bohne, Michael; Abendroth-Smith, Julianne. Effects of Hiking Downhill Using Trekking Poles while Carrying External Loads, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: January 2007 – Volume 39 – Issue 1 – p 177-183 doi: 10.1249/01.mss.0000240328.31276.fc
Lam, W.-H. O., Lui, T.-H., & Chan, K.-M. (2010, December 23). The epidemiology of ankle sprain during hiking in uniformed groups. Journal of Orthopaedics, Trauma and Rehabilitation. Retrieved May 24, 2022, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2210491710000539