“How to beat aches and pains if you’re a hiker”
by Nathan Wei, MD, FACP, FACR
Nathan Wei is a nationally known board-certified rheumatologist and author of the Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit. It's available exclusively at this website... not available in stores.
Click here: Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit
What can give you more pleasure than hiking out in the open?
You’re finally away from it all and you can relax. You can do things at your own pace... enjoy the outdoors, take it easy.... Unfortunately, this pleasurable activity can also bring you PAIN!
Hiking is a set up for neck pain. The long hours spent lifting and carrying hiking equipment... along with the driving you often need to get to where you need to be can lead to neck strain. This causes muscle aches in the neck and shoulders. You can also get headaches. So what do you do? Well, first, recognize that this is going to happen if you don’t take frequent breaks particularly if you hold your head in one position for a long time. It’s a good idea to stretch before and after your hike. Also, if you carry a backpack, this can lead to neck pain. Try to use a pack that places most of the load on your hips. Try to avoid heavy loads altogether if you have a neck problem.
Your shoulders can also hurt. When you work with your arms held in one position… and especially if you work with your arms above shoulder level, you can run into a problem called impingement syndrome. This is when your rotator cuff tendons get pinched. It’s a common problem. If you’re hiking on trails that require you to use your arms to climb, you especially at risk. Specific stretching exercises for the shoulder before and after you do any type of activity that requires arm movement should help. Also, make sure you take frequent breaks. Ice packs after you work sometimes help with the pain as do over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines.
Elbow pain is a common problem after any type of repetitive arm motion. Using a hammer to drive in the tent stakes or doing any type of repetitive activity to get a camping site set up can lead to painful condition called lateral epicondylitis. This is a type of tendonitis that affects the outside part of the elbow. Stretching before you work can help as can stretching and ice after you work. Anti-inflammatory medicines, an elbow band, and physical therapy also can help. Injections of platelet-rich plasma (PRP), help get rid of pain and they also build new tendon tissue. Cortisone shots weaken tendon tissue and probably should not be used, if possible.
Hand and wrist pain is another common problem. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition where the median nerve into the hand gets pinched. This causes pain, numbness, and tingling in the hand. Treatment consists of physical therapy, a splint, and sometime injecting with steroid. In some instances, surgery is required. Different forms of tendonitis can also develop after hiking activities. You can get trigger finger where the finger seems to stick. A painful tendonitis of the thumb can also be a result of hiking.
Low back pain can come on from standing too long in one place or by lifting and carrying heavy articles. Make sure you lift with your legs. You may need to go down on one knee before you lift. Keep your back straight and your head up. Test the item you’re going to lift before you lift it. Don’t twist. Stretch before you hike and also afterward. Use ice packs if you strain your back. Over the counter medication can sometimes help also. See your doctor if the pain is severe or doesn’t go away within a day or two.
Sleeping out in a camper or out under the stars is romantic but sometimes not the greatest for your back. Make sure you have a well-cushioned mattress. Use some support for your head and neck or you’ll wake up miserable. A neck support pillow can help a lot.
If it’s going to be chilly, use hand warmers. You can get these at most camp supply stores.
Knee pain can result if you’re not careful when you squat. Be careful not to go down too long or with too much weight. Walking on uneven ground can also hurt your knees. use a walking stick when possible. A course with too many hills can cause your knees to hurt. Both going up hill as well as going down can be a problem. Sitting around the campfire can lead to a stiff low back, hips, or knees... or all three!
Make sure you stretch. Moist heat can help loosen things up. Acute injuries though should be treated with ice!
Wear comfortable shoes to protect your ankles and feet. Long hiking is best done with shoes specifically designed for hiking. Do not try to hike using running shoes.If you get pain in the ball of your foot when you walk, you may have metatarsalgia. This comes from trauma and may indicate you need to rest or get a better pair of shoes. Pain in the hell may be due to plantar fasciitis, inflammation of the ligament that connects the heel to the ball of your foot. Pain can also be a result of a stress fracture in the foot.
Stretching exercises and orthotics may help. Rest is also indicated. In severe cases, you may need an injection or even surgery. A level course is the least taxing. Walking up hill too much can also place a strain on your low back.
Be careful if you’re doing hard terrain. Tripping over a branch or rock can lead to not-so-nice consequences!
Stretch well before you hike. This includes your low back, hamstrings, ankles, and feet.
And if you’re just starting a hiking program, go slow. Build up as tolerated. You don’t want to do too much and hurt yourself. It’s too easy to get discouraged if you try to bite off too much at once in the beginning.
Wear the right clothing. Too warm and you’ll sweat and hate it. Too cold and you’ll cut your hike short. On cold days make sure you wear a hat since 30% of your body heat is lost through your head. A visor is a good idea if the sun is really beating down.
Walking with a partner helps the time to go faster. Find someone who is suitable. Somebody too fast or too slow will not make it fun for you.
If you hurt, don’t hike. This is a common misconception. People are told to walk through the pain. Wrong! Pain is your body telling you, something is not right.
Following a hike, make sure you stretch again. If you have hurt yourself, get ice on the area immediately. Rest and elevate the affected part. If the pain is severe or doesn’t get better within 24 hours, see your physician.
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