by Diane Spicer
This Hiking For Her guide to coping with hiking soreness covers a lot of ground for you.
Each of these links will take you to a specific section of the guide.
Hiking soreness and pain: the price of admission to the trail, right?
Especially sore knees!
You don't have to be fatalistic about how much pain and stiffness you have to endure the day after a hike.
And you shouldn't be fearful about whether you can get through a multi-day hiking trip in one piece.
There are many ways to stack the deck in your favor,
and against muscle soreness.
Let's take a look at some of the best ways to handle - and even prevent - your hiking muscle soreness.
Because walking with sore legs is no fun.
How can you cut the odds of muscle soreness
on your next hike?
And the answer is:
Pay close attention to every single factor you can to avoid that hiking soreness.
I forgot two even more important factors:
Embrace the reality that what you eat and drink on a hike can contribute to how you feel the next day.
Still with me?
You didn't expect an easy (mask-the-problem) fix like "pop an aspirin", did you?
Let's get started on a closer look at this touchy subject of post hike muscle soreness.
Not in the mood for details?
Tips for dealing with muscle soreness like achy calves are all yours right here.
If you're in the mood for diving into the details of how to reduce your muscle soreness after a hike, I have a suggestion.
Prevention is a prudent place to begin.
Here's another tip.
Head over to post hike recovery tips. Spend some time soaking up strategies for what to do when you're sore after a hike.
What's the thing most associated with a hiker?
A backpack, right?
Are you asking your back and legs to lug around a top heavy backpack with a poor fit?
If it's a worn out second hand store "bargain" (not high enough quality to transfer weight to your lower body), say it with me:
Read these tips on the best hiking backpacks instead.
Prevention of hiking soreness can be as simple as adjusting the straps on your favorite pack.
(Nobody is keeping score except your sore, sore muscles.)
Your backpack cannot transfer weight to your pelvis and legs if you fail to fine tune the straps.
So fiddle around with every strap until there's no stress or tension:
Soreness in the same places over and over again after a hike is a clue.
It indicates potential pack problems (or posture problems - a separate topic).
Sore knees could be any number of things!
So before throwing away your favorite pack, try this.
Play around with its straps and belts and buckles, to customize it for the contours of your body.
Also try packing it differently.
If that doesn't work, pass it along to some other hiker.
Vow to pay more attention to your next backpack shopping trip, using these tips:
Another thing to consider (and you're gonna hate this):
I know, I know, it's a pain (pun intended). Who wants to burn daylight standing around stretching?
And the danger of being mistaken for a yoga instructor is very real.
After decades of trail time, I firmly believe in stretching.
Muscles need a clue that you are about to use them to get to the top of that pile of rocks.
It's simple courtesy:
Nice deal for a small time investment in stretching, don't you agree?
Stretching weak muscles doesn't do much good to prevent muscle soreness.
I'm assuming you're kind enough to take your large skeletal muscle groups on daily short romps:
How about this new daily habit?
All that means is get in touch with where your body wants to stretch, and where it feels tight.
If that seems like a silly waste of time, how much do you want to leave sore muscles in your past?
Not everyone recommends stretching before a hike.
If you're a limber twenty something who is into yoga, you can get away with skipping it.
Older or less limber hikers would do well to pay attention to warming up before tackling the trail.
It's such a simple, free way to avoid, and relieve, back pain.
A few biological facts to ponder:
Try these strengthening ideas:
...all are excellent, low cost ways to prevent hiking soreness.
Start somewhere, and (OK, you knew this was coming)...
Just Do It!
My routine, as an example:
Once in awhile I drag out the resistance bands, but weights and walking do it for me at the ripe old age of 60+.
I follow this policy like an ant on a sugar trail, because I know it pays off year after year on the trail.
So my plea to you is this:
Put together your own personal program.
Start small, or the muscle soreness of an ambitious plan will defeat you!
Need some companionship and encouragement?
You'll know you're making progress when you push yourself a bit on the trail and you feel fine the next day.
What's the connection between hydration and hiking soreness?
Water is a need for your cellular biochemistry to work well.
It's tagged the universal solvent because it
I am not overstating it when I call water a miracle substance, so give your body plenty of it.
Doesn't it make sense when your thirst drive kicks into high gear on a hiking trail?
There's a good deal of debate about how much water to drink on a hike is the RIGHT amount.
I've heard people spout "facts" which advocate consuming liters of water a day.
Instead, be realistic.
If you're not much of a water drinker to begin with, try to double the amount you drink at home over the next few months.
Coffee, tea (unless it's herbal), sweet carbonated drinks, alcoholic beverages don't count as daily water intake. They can even work against you because they pull water out of your bloodstream and into your urine.
Sip water, plain water, at every opportunity.
Or jazz it up with lemon, lime and cucumber slices, or fresh herbs (I love lemon balm and mint, personally).
After awhile, you won't want anything else in your hydration plan (except a cup of tea once in awhile).
Your kidneys will breathe a sigh of relief.
Your heart will zing with joy.
Your skeletal muscles will perform with less soreness.
Your body uses electrolytes to get its work done.
Electrolytes are important charged particles called ions, such as sodium, potassium, calcium, chloride.
When you sweat, you lose electrolytes as salt (lick your sweaty forearm for proof).
So if you're tackling a tough trail, you might want to add some electrolytes to your water bottle.
A quick, easy experiment to run:
Enhance your hiking water and see how you feel the next day.
Here's the brand of powdered electrolytes I prefer:
I'm partial to the lemon flavor, but they're all tasty.
I use this less expensive bulk jar to load up my water bottles before each hike.
I also carry small packets in my lunch sack as a precaution on really hot or vigorous hikes.
Throw a few of those hydration "sticks" into your emergency kit. You never know when you'll need them, and the sealed packages stand up to heat and moisture.
Nothing could be more simple: look at the color of your urine.
If you pee small amounts of dark urine with a strong odor, you need more water immediately!
The next time you pee, your urine should be lighter in color and you should produce a lot more.
If not, keep drinking water until plenty comes back out!
Muscles need building blocks to continue to perform their contractions and relaxations.
If you've been skimping on protein, your muscles can't perform optimally.
So you have to go beyond staying hydrated.
Look at your nutrient intake before, and during, each hike if you want to avoid or reduce hiking soreness.
Carbohydrates (carbs) will give you fast fuel.
"Eat whole grains before your hike, and again at lunchtime." is a wise hiking mantra.
Carbs are the key to sustained energy on the hiking trail!
But you'll need protein, protein, protein after a hike.
To rebuild your muscles (they undergo micro-tears as you hike).
Which type of protein, and how much, depends upon you as an individual.
If you want to get into the nitty gritty calculations, I've got something that can help.
I've written some Fast Fact booklets based on the type of hiking you do.
How you use your body on the trail will also determine how sore you feel after a hike.
If you experience pain after hiking, use these Hiking For Her's best ergonomic tips and see if they help you.
You know your body's limitations.
Honoring them will keep you out of the land of extreme hiking soreness.
I know that if I jump into full blown hikes after the usual winter weather related break, I'm gonna be sore.
So why not start off with some training hikes?
I also know this fact.
Steep down hill trail work is NOT good for my knees any time of year.
That is why I consult topographical maps before I take on a new hike.
Armed with the facts, I avoid the terrain which I know is bad for my aging, but oh-so-important knees.
I know to budget in more time for descent.
Know what you're up against, and pace yourself.
But I go one better to protect my knee cartilage:
You will run into hikers (just don't run over them as they hobble along) who scoff at using poles.
But time has a way of erasing everyone's cartilage.
Why take a pounding on your precious joints when you don't have to?
Super simple to gather this data:
An added benefit I like about using trekking poles?
The upper body workout they force me into getting as a side benefit.
Not to mention the feeling of security and balance they provide on narrow, rocky trails.
I've tried several pairs of poles.
These are the telescoping pair that come along on every hike.
They've proven themselves to be tough, easy to collapse or extend, and lightweight:
Black Diamond Trail Pro shock absorbing poles
Another area of debate: should you use one pole, or both?
I've used one pole, and my rhythm and balance feels "off" during and after the hike.
Also, the side of my body using the pole (usually my dominant right side) seems more tired after the hike.
And hiking soreness concentrates in that shoulder.
Thus, I'm a believer in using both poles.
But again, experiment to find what feels best for you.
Sore feet are a misery best avoided on the hiking trail of life.
If you're an older hiker, the fat pads on your feet are disappearing. Don't get me started on the unfairness of the location.
It's a smart strategy to replace the insoles in your trail footwear with more arch support.
Read my tips here:
Inflammation is a natural defense mechanism to fight general threats to your body.
That includes the soreness that comes with hiking.
The media has trained us to fear inflammation and sore muscles. We're taught to reach immediately for pain relief.
But is inflammation the enemy?
Let's use a medical definition.
Inflammation is a non-specific response to threat. Your body uses it to address trauma, injury, or over-use syndromes.
These are things a hiker knows a little something about.
Have you ever noticed its cardinal signs after a hike?
If you experience any of these that seem beyond expected mild soreness, don't ignore them.
Inflammation is a message from your body, asking for corrective measures.
Whatever the root cause of the hiking soreness problem, be smart and proactive.
Invest time into identifying and fixing it before it goes chronic on you.
Chronic pain means you risk permanent injury if you don't stop.
That's why I'm a prevention advocate. Listen to the feedback your body gives you after a hike.
Then do something about it.
So much for prevention.
Now let's tackle what to do if you've got major muscle soreness bugging you during a multi-day trip.
Or even after a day hike.
As a hiker, you have to keep going despite the discomfort.
Here's where I am in danger of losing you, because I'm still not advising you to reach for the pain relief pills.
Instead, I'm going to recommend self massage for your major muscle groups (the ones you can reach).
Depending on your familiarity with massage, I'm expecting one of two reactions:
Many Americans can't see the value of therapeutic massage.
In my younger years, I worked as a licensed medical massage therapist and naprapath.
So for the record, I'm talking about Swedish massage.
Sports massage with a trained therapist, also appropriate for sore muscles.
Here's the beauty of self massage for hiking soreness.
You have everything you need without opening your pack.
Or your wallet.
Two hands, sore muscles.... that's it!
Start with your feet, even if they aren't sore (that's a link to lots of foot tips specifically for hikers).
Now the fun begins.
Sit in a comfortable position, cup one foot between your two clean hands, and probe gently for sore spots.
I'm guessing you'll find plenty.
You'll soon see that self massage is an effective therapy for foot soreness.
Because you can give yourself immediate feed back on where and how much it hurts.
If you have access to warm water, soak your feet before and after the massage.
While you're at it, sip some cool water to hydrate those loosening muscle fibers.
Some hikers find it soothing to alternate warm with cool water foot soaks, ending with cool.
And if you have a favorite foot lotion, apply it while your skin is soft and supple.
Aveeno makes nice fragrance free skin products.
This one is great for post-hike mosquito bitten sensitive skin.
Its natural shea butter and soothing oatmeal ingredients are gentle enough for everyone.
A nice long soak in a foot bath any time sounds like a wonderful idea, doesn't it?
Here's what I use to give my feet some love.
This foot bath creates spa conditions in your own bathroom.
Add some soothing Epsom salts and a drop of lavender essential oils, and your feet will feel restored. Not to mention smooth and soft again!
If you've never given your feet this much attention, please try it!
You count on your feet to carry you
on your hiking journeys, so pay them back with some love.
And if you're open to different ways of thinking about hiking soreness?
The link between sore spots on your feet, and trouble spots elsewhere in the body, may be an eye opener for you.
Now for some attention to the leg and thigh muscle groups that power you up the trail.
Use the same basic approach to deal with hiking soreness that worked so well with your feet:
Your pressure is compressing the tissues, including the lymph channels.
This helps clear out any congestion and returns fluid to the heart.
If you find painful spots, use one thumb or knuckle to put direct pressure there and hold it until you feel better.
More tips for dealing with sore calves after a hike are here.
There's not much you alone can do about your hiking soreness in your upper back, but here are a few tricks.
Cup your shoulder with the opposite hand.
Search for the sore spots with gentle probing fingers.
Rub your neck and lower back using all fingers in slow circling motions.
Gradually increase the amount of pressure you use until you hit your limit.
Another trick: Lean back or lie down on a bumpy surface and use your force to press against the sore spots.
It's amazing how much better sore muscles feel after gentle but sustained treatment.
And directing your breath to the sore areas seems to help, too.
Be sure you drink a few glasses of cool water after this work.
This will assist your body in clearing out muscle metabolites that cause soreness.
If hiking soreness is a routine problem for you, take action.
Book an appointment with a professional licensed massage therapist.
Be sure to request the Hiker's Special:
This makes a great gift idea for your loved ones who are scrambling to give you the right gift.
There are two products you can use at home to encourage your muscle soreness to resolve itself fast.
Or at least a bit faster than if you did nothing.
Exercise recovery, if you will.
They work on two different facets of soreness.
How do I know?
Because I'm a medical massage therapist! I've given a lot of sports massage therapy to sore muscles, including my own.
Long story short:
This "point" is a sore spot. You'll know it when you find it.
It's an irritation in the connective tissue (fascia) surrounding your skeletal muscle tissue.
Why did it get irritated?
Because you hiked!
It's not a bad (pathologic) event, this hiking soreness happens when you use your muscles a lot.
A massage therapist knows how to hunt for the nasty little bumps or nodes of trigger points.
Then s/he applies pressure to them until they release.
The more pressure, the more pain or discomfort you'd feel. Then it lessens due to increased blood flow (more oxygen) to the muscle cells.
So why not do it yourself, using a solid foam roller?
Here's a great product to use on your sore spots: a roller.
It is made of solid-core EVA rather than polypropylene.
Another nice feature: you can choose a shorter 18 inch length, or a long 36 inch roller.
These will fit your usual sore spots: shoulders, lower back, legs, etc.
This roller comes with an on line instructional video. Use it to figure out exactly how to use it.
When you cook a great meal in your kitchen, you have to take out the by products and garbage, right?
Same thing after a long hike with your muscles.
They generate by products and garbage that need to leave your body.
As you hike, lactic acid build up (lactic acidosis) is the culprit behind sore muscles or cramps.
Take this as a sign that you're pushing your body harder than it has been conditioned to hike.
Or it could be a side effect of medication you're taking.
Contrary to popular belief, it's not lactic acid build up behind hiking soreness the next day (or week).
You can relieve some of this soreness by using a muscle roller stick.
It's just like it sounds: a rigid therapeutic roller to apply pressure on your sore spots.
As with a foam roller, you control the amount of pressure and you can direct it to exactly where you need it.
It's a different way to approach myofascial trigger points.
And it can increase circulation to a sore area.
More blood flow is a good thing!
It delivers building blocks for healing to your muscles and connective tissue.
And it also helps "take out the garbage".
Have a look at this muscle roller massage stick.
Never let anyone tell you that Hiking For Her doesn't go that extra mile for you! (small trail joke, although it might hurt to laugh)
As you can see, it's going to take some dedication to your own well being.
But I know that you can bail yourself out of the pain of hiking soreness, now that you have these tips.
In reality, there are no easy fixes for muscle soreness.
The ones I suggested (and use myself) are inexpensive and practical, and they will keep you gliding along the trail without an excess of hiking soreness.
Here's more good news.
As you condition yourself and apply these tips, your muscles will stop feeling so sore for days after a hike!
What are you waiting for?
Go forth to conquer your hiking soreness.
Oh, are you waiting for more self care tips?
How To Make Hiking Soreness Disappear
About the author
Diane is the founder of Hiking For Her.
She’s been on a hiking trail somewhere in the world for nearly five decades, & loves to share her best hiking tips right here.
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