by Diane Spicer
Injury prevention: Avoid the pain, rather than be sidelined by it later.
Good philosophy, don't you agree?
Injury prevention for hikers requires two convergent streams of information:
So allow me to be your tour guide of the "moving parts" which bring you from trail head to summit - or lake, waterfall, vista, campsite, wherever you're headed on the trail.
From there, we can turn our attention to a separate, but related matter: injury prevention for hikers.
Rest assured, these are not trivial topics for me!
I'm a Naprapath as well as a massage therapist, trained in soft tissue manipulation and anatomy, with years of experience in dealing with muscle, ligament, tendon and fascial injuries.
So let's get started on our tour.
Use the links to get lots of details as we go along.
FEET: Of course we start with the feet!
They bear the load of your body, your pack, your camera, your water bottle - whatever means "hiking" to you.
And they ache at the end of a hike, don't they!
If you've never stopped to appreciate all the bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments in your feet, now is the time!
Strong hiking bones are fundamental, so here's a shout out just for them.
ANKLES: Just a nuisance when you bang that bumpy part as you hop over a blow down on the trail?
Try this: An intricate anatomical connection between feet and legs to give you mobility without sacrificing strength.
Time to get to know your ankles!
LEGS/CALVES: If you've ever uttered the sentence "My legs are killing me", you know exactly which muscles are involved in moving you up the rocky trail.
Because these muscles are physically connected to your ankles and knees, they require a bit of preventive maintenance and are very worthy of your time and attention.
KNEES: What an amazing joint the knee is for a hiker!
A quick tour through the nicely designed cooperation between bone and muscle will convince you that protecting your knees is important if you want to keep hiking into your golden years.
THIGHS: The stronger, the better, for hikers!
A "pulled" muscle can become a serious matter if you're miles from the trail head, so take a close look at the muscles which provide power for each step along the trail.
HIPS: Your hips are created by the pelvic basin, a bony bowl to hold some of your internal organs, and to allow passage of a baby into the world.
The bones which create this bowl are also weight bearers, and that includes the weight of your backpack & camera gear.
Injury prevention here is a simple matter of not overdoing the amount of weight you are asking the body to carry - or is it?
Be proactive with your lower body, because as a hiker, that's your ticket into the back country.
BACK/TORSO: Here's where many people have chronic issues, and not all are related to hiking.
The human spine is not really great at keeping us upright against gravity while bearing loads, unless the muscles anchored to the back bones are strong.
And stretch at the trail head, both before and after your hike.
Be mindful of how you pack your backpack, too.
SHOULDERS: When you think of your shoulders (and you might, if they ache after a hike), do you realize that there's a connection to your rib cage as well as your backbone hidden under the muscles?
Well, there is!
Paying attention to your shoulders will pay off in less aches and pains elsewhere.
ARMS: C'mon! Preventing arm injuries for hikers?
Yes, that might seem like a "stretch" (hint), until you keep track of how many times your arms lift your pack, swing back and forth on the trail, pull you up onto that perfect rock perch over the river, and work in harmony with your shoulders.
WRISTS AND HANDS: These parts of the body take a lot of abuse:
injury prevention might be too much to ask for!
So let's be extra careful as we swing our packs onto our backs, tie our boots, and hoist ourselves up and over blow downs.
Easy does it!
And be mindful of where you put your hands in snake country.
NECK: This is one part of my body that is always sore after a hike, regardless of how I fiddle with my pack and how many times I remind myself to use good posture while hiking.
I tend to crane my neck forward as I pick my way through a boulder field, which creates tension in the strappy neck muscles holding my head onto my shoulders.
And I see other hikers doing it, too.
That's why I'm particularly interested in keeping my neck injury-free!
HEAD: Your "special senses" are housed here: eyes, ears, nose, mouth.
There's a lot you can do to protect your head, from wearing protective gear to carrying a few things in your pack to keep your mucous membranes hydrated and healthy.
Protecting your face from UV rays is a great idea!
So there we have it: a brief tour of your hard working hiker's body.
I hope it allows you to appreciate the moving parts, and to also appreciate the need for regular preventive maintenance.
Why be one of those hikers limping down the trail, when you can be one who glides happily, even after a long day of hiking?
Here's more good advice, in case you'd like a different perspective.
The wild places of the Earth are waiting for you!
If you'd like more technical explanations of areas of the body, or resources for injury prevention/rehabilitation, please feel free to contact me.
I'll pass along whatever information I have, or learn something new from you!
Trail buddies help each other out, right?
Hiking Injury Prevention
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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