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Hip Injury Prevention
for Hikers

Sore back and hips?
Try a little hip injury prevention
for hikers!

Hip injury prevention for hikers is really important, because the bones in your hip (pelvic) area transfer the weight of your pack away from your backbone (spine, vertebrae).

If and when something goes wrong, you'll have hip soreness, stiff hips, and sometimes chronic pain to deal with.

And every hiker knows that sore hips and hiking pain are no fun when you're trying to stride down the trail toward a gorgeous destination.

Worse yet, hip injuries might discourage -or prohibit- you from hiking. No fun at all!!

So paying attention to your hips BEFORE they start to hurt is a smart trail move.


Hip bones: what's not to love?

When was the last time you thought about the bones in your hip area?

C'mon, be honest! Don't you think about your hips whenever you pull on a pair of jeans? (Or is it just me?)

Once the jeans are on, you probably don't focus on the bones beneath all of the (ahem!) muscles of your hips, do you?


Hip injury prevention for hikers actually begins by looking at the design of your pelvis and these associated soft tissues.

Hip bones are a fusion of several smaller bones that build a bowl for your internal organs, the so-called "pelvic basin".

As females, our pelvic bones have a different flare to them than males.

Why?

We are built to deliver babies! We need room for pushing out the newborn, right?

And that's a basic anatomical fact that many outdoor gear manufacturers don't pay attention to, although that's beginning to change rapidly as more and more women hit the trail.

So rejoice with me over this fact:


You might also see the word pelvic "girdle" ("gird" refers to strength) when reading about hip pain or hip injury prevention for hikers.

  • The girdle provides a strong base for the backbone to rest upon, with the sacrum of the spine fitting neatly between the 2 hip bones.
  • Think of it as a handy bowl made of bone, holding your important internal organs, which also functions to transfer the weight of your backpack to your lower legs.

And one more thing about hip bones:

  • They create an anchoring place for our lower limbs, using a deep hip socket. We have less mobility in our hip joints, compared with our shoulder joints, but we also have stability that bodes well for crossing streams or navigating talus slopes.

So to sum up, the word "hip" can refer to:

  • the deep leg socket and any associated pain or grinding sensations there,
  • the lower back where your sacrum & "sit bones" are located, as in "referred hip pain",
  • the side of your body where your "hip bones" stick out (or not, depending on your body weight).

The confusing multi-use lingo explains why Strong Hiking Woman "A" might have a completely different hip problem from Strong Hiking Woman "B", yet both of them refer to it as a hip injury.

So don't be too eager to "borrow" a solution that works for your trail buddy.

  • Get to the bottom of your specific situation.
  • The reason why your hips are sore and stiff are probably different.

Female hiker wearing the best hiking gearHip injury prevention includes using trekking poles.


Hip injury prevention for hikers starts with the right gear!

How to keep yourself out of hip trouble?

Start with the proper hiking gear.

And by proper, think proper for your height, weight, and type of hiking.

Invest time and money in the basics.

It's essential to have sturdy boots and a well fitted pack if you want to preserve high functionality in your hips and back as the years  (and miles on the trail) roll along.

Believe it or not, wearing the wrong foot wear on a hike can show up as hip pain.

  • Forcing your feet into an unnatural gait, mile after mile, will wreak havoc in the muscles of the hip, and you'll have a deep nagging ache as you hike.

And a pack that's too big for you? with a hip belt that doesn't fit?

These will put stress on your hips and back.

  • The hip belt of your pack should fit snugly, and transfer the pack's weight efficiently to your lower body (thus protecting your spine).
  • And don't settle for a thinly padded hip belt that digs into your bones. Go deluxe in this particular feature!


Hopefully, avoiding hip soreness might be as easy as trying a different backpack.

So be sure you do!


More things to think about if your hips are sore after a hike:

  • Are you noticing loss of mobility on top of the soreness? It could be an early sign of osteoarthritis, and should be looked into with a medical care provider you trust.
  • Maybe some stretches or a Pilates class would help your hip joints and thighs function more easily.
  • Specific stretches for your hips do the most good in terms of pain prevention.
  • Non-weight bearing exercise like swimming or stationary bike workouts could help you build up your hip and butt muscles. Bonus: Strong muscles are less prone to long recovery times after a hike.
  • Are you staying hydrated throughout the day? Lack of water can lead to soreness.
  • Is your pack weight lopsided? Example: If you carry two full one-liter water bottles, and always empty the right side before the left side, could that be contributing to your pain? Re-pack your pack!



Try some of these self care tips

If you've tweaked your gear, and are using hiking poles during each hike to help transfer weight from your pelvis,

AND you are addressing the soft tissues in this area (muscles, ligaments and tendons),

have you tried some self care to cut down on hiking inflammation?

How about a little hip self massage using a homemade "ice cup"? (You just can't have more fun than this!)

  • Freeze water in a paper cup the day before your hike (this is the hardest part, I promise).
  • After your hike, peel off the top half of the paper, keeping the bottom paper to protect your hand from the cold.
  • Rub the ice in circular motions on the affected area for at least 5 minutes, with little breaks in between so you don't freeze the tissues.
  • When finished, recycle the paper cup!


If the idea of a self-applied ice massage doesn't float your boat, try a  professional massage therapy session focused on your sore hips.

A trained therapist knows all about hip injury prevention for hikers.

  • Ask the therapist to recommend a few stretches for the large muscle groups that attach in the hip area.
  • And then demonstrate some tough self love by actually doing them every day. Consistency is the key to this self care strategy.


If you haven't discovered the post-hike magic of Epsom salts yet, here's your chance.

  • Fill a bathtub with warm water,
  • dissolve a cup or two of salts in the water, and
  • settle down for a nice soak while you plan your next hike.

If you feel less sore afterwards, remember this little self care routine for future painful hip episodes.


Above all, don't be discouraged. Work out the best pre-hike and post-hike self care routine for your hiking goals.

Fragile white wildflower with bright yellow centerYou want your hip and back muscles as supple and soft as these flower petals!


Tune into your hip troubles

I think we agree that hip aches and pains are no fun for a hiker.

And we also agree that hip injury prevention for hikers is the way to go.

Play detective until you figure out what's going on when hip pain and soreness crops up, starting with self care tweaks and experimental gear adjustments.

Hip injury prevention for hikers is not a straightforward topic, so be careful about "borrowing" advice that works for a hiking buddy.

Get to the bottom of your own situation by paying attention to the signals your body sends you.

Keeping a "hip pain diary" is a good first step. Ask yourself:

  • Is there a seasonal pattern? (cold, damp, windy, etc.)
  • Are you only sore after hikes with double digit mileage?
  • Does adjusting your pack and your boot laces help (or worsen the pain)?
  • Do hiking or trekking poles help?
  • Are you stretching before the hike?
  • What else have you noticed about the pain free days? What did you do, or not do?


Pain is a message.

What are your hips trying to tell you?

Maybe they're whispering a request for some hip injury prevention for hikers!



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