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Muscle injury prevention is of high importance on a hiker's list.
Without cooperating, fully functioning muscles, you ain't goin' nowhere!
So let's take a peek at these contracting workhorses, named because they resemble the rounded bodies of mice under the skin during contractions ("mus" for "mouse").
Why is that important to you as a hiker?
Because any of these -bone, muscle, soft tissue- can be injured or stressed during a hike.
Ignoring an injury or a warning sign such as inflammation or pain is asking for big trouble. You can ignore it for a while, but would you ignore a fire in your house? Best to deal with it right away, before you lose the entire structure!
That's something you can make a point of doing on a daily basis.
But there's more you can do to make your hiker's body strong and resilient, and I know you aren't going to want to hear it: take good care of your muscles by exercising daily and stretching.
I know - I'm right there with you!
The only solution is to visualize yourself on a hiking trail, feeling weak and tired and winded while your hiking companions are way ahead of you. That doesn't feel good, does it?
And if you're a solo hiker, you have an even bigger commitment to stay strong and trail conditioned because you only have yourself to rely upon when the going gets tough:
I'm not going to preach, but hopefully I can persuade you to take your leg and thigh muscles seriously. Muscle injury prevention is a much better route than injury rehabilitation!
Let me introduce you to those muscles right now.
Your lower leg between your knee and ankle is technically referred to as your leg (tibia and fibula bones), with your thigh (femur bone) being - well, you know where it is!
Leg muscles are divided by fascia into compartments, named for where they are on the bones: facing front (anterior), on the side (lateral), or at the back of the leg (posterior).
These muscles need to move your foot - think about this! Every single step you take along a hiking trail requires these muscles to work.
At the end of every hike, I send a silent "thanks" to these hard
working muscles, and I promise them a nice long stretch once I get my
boots off. It's only fair!
Leg muscles have great names:
The strongest tendon in your body, called the calcaneal or Achilles tendon, anchors some of these muscles to the calcaneal bone of the ankle.
In other words, it attaches the soft muscle fibers to the bony structure which is part of building the complex structure you walk on: your foot.
When your muscles feel sore after a hike, it's because they were busy contracting and relaxing with each step you took.
They need a bit of extra attention as they recover from their exertion, so be sure that you:
It's a "good" sore, right? It reminds you of the great hike you were on!
Shin splints is the name given to pain located on the front of the leg, along the big leg bone (tibia) you can feel quite easily because there's not a lot of "meat" (muscle) on that part of the bone.
If you've ever been kicked in the shins, you'll know exactly where it is. That's why soccer players wear shin guards!
Shin pain is a red flag, warning you that you've got to pay attention to the bone (stress fracture), the muscles (tendinitis), or the tissues which wrap around the bone (periostitis).
Short term inflammation is the body's natural healing cycle, but it can get overblown and cause unintended side effects.
Or it can get stuck
in a chronic cycle that's more difficult to resolve. Which can also keep you off the trail for months at a time.
So this brings me to the need for daily activity.
If you only hike on the week-ends, or in short hard bursts, you put a lot of stress on your legs and it can show up as shin splints.
Keeping your muscles strong will prevent this - and the only way to keep them strong is to USE them every day!
Now let's move up to your thigh muscles.
These are impressive for their size and power. They have the responsibility for moving your heavy thigh bone (femur) and for moving the knee.
Again, visualize yourself striding up the trail - these muscles are working constantly to move you along.
They have great names, too, and are arranged in compartments according to how close or far away from the surface of the thigh they are:
They need the same tender loving care as your thigh muscles.
You might have experienced a "pulled" muscle in your thigh. This unhappy event in your hamstrings (hamstring strain) leads to pain, and may be accompanied by swelling and a pool of blood forming in the tissues (hematoma) if the tendons are pulled off their bony anchor.
Why did it happen?
Lack of stretching and a strength imbalance between these muscles on the back of the thigh, and the quads (quadriceps) on the front of the thigh.
Muscle injury prevention strategies?
So let's sum it up:
Muscle injury prevention for hikers require:
Oh, and one more thing: self massage to work out the inevitable sore spots.
And you definitely have my permission to treat yourself to Swedish or deep tissue massage every month! It's all in the name of muscle injury prevention, right?
Asking for a sports massage for your birthday is a great idea ;)
You want your muscles and ligaments to be juicy and resilient, not dried out like this tree stump!
Staying stretchy and hydrated is a first line tool in the crusade for muscle injury prevention.
If you are committed to beginning (or enhancing) a weekly routine to strengthen your hiking abilities, drop me a line and ask any questions you might have.
I'd be happy to help in brainstorming some muscle injury prevention strategies for you.
Repeat after me: It's better to be strong than sore!
Muscle Injury Prevention
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