by Diane Spicer
Shoulder injury prevention for hikers: sounds wacky?
Don't you hike on your feet, and shouldn't foot or leg injuries be uppermost in your mind?
Ah! You've never had a shoulder injury, have you?
Otherwise, you'd know how a sore shoulder severely impedes your ability to hike any distance at all.
And wearing, and hoisting, a pack on a sore shoulder is NOT fun.
Before we launch into shoulder injury prevention, let's look at how your shoulder is put together.
First, the bones.
Your shoulder (pectoral girdle, where "gird" refers to "strength") has several bones cooperating to make a freely movable joint.
But all of that mobility comes with a price: stability.
You'll soon see how range of motion requires a shallow socket for bones, and asks a lot of the muscles trying to stabilize the joint.
Your clavicle is a curved bone joining your breastbone (sternum) to the shoulder area. It sits somewhat precariously on a bony prominence on the shoulder blade (scapula).
I know, it sounds weird, doesn't it? Your chest and your back are joined by bony associations.
But how does your arm get into the picture?The shoulder blade also has a shallow bowl to receive the upper end of your arm bone (humerus).
So when you put the whole thing together, you have an arm that swings freely from the trunk and upper chest.
Now obviously the bones don't just cling to each other like Velcro. You have ligaments holding bone to bone, and tendons holding muscles to bone.
And there's connective tissue between the bones, to provide a slippery frictionless surface for motion in the joints to happen without generating heat.
Are you getting the shoulder picture? There are plenty of spots to create shoulder injuries while hiking!
Muscles provide motion, and strength for lifting. There are lots of muscles in the shoulder area, coming from the chest, back, and neck area.
Some of the bigger ones are obvious in people who lift weights: pectoralis major, deltoid, latissimuss... but there are others hidden beneath these big muscles that can complain if they aren't treated right.
Impingement syndrome is the name given to the inflammation and pain from tendons that are pinched repetitively due to shoulder motions (think about spiking a volleyball, or the overused shoulders of a baseball player).
For more information on possible shoulder injuries a hiker could face, read this American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons article.
A properly packed and well fitted day pack goes a long way toward shoulder injury prevention for hikers.
Another trick to preventing shoulder strains is to pay attention when you are putting on, or removing, your pack.
And speaking of work, work on your upper body strength by weight training or swimming. You will be able to lift your pack in a smooth fluid motion, and will find putting it on much easier.
Be really nice to your shoulders after a long hike.
They helped bear the load of your pack, they allowed you to use hiking poles/sticks and accepted the long hours of swinging your arms, and they provided a nice landing pad for mosquitoes (!).
Some ways to be nice:
If you're having headaches, it might be smart to work on your shoulders.
Maybe the muscles holding your head on your shoulders are tight, creating tension which shows up in your head as pain.
(Or it could be a dehydration headache.)
And another thing to think about: maybe you need to lighten your load.
Shoulder injury prevention for hikers really needs to start at home, as you go through your pack and make sure you need every item you plan to carry with you.
Next, pack your pack properly: heavy things on the bottom.
At the trail head, do a few shoulder rolls before putting on your pack properly.
Remove your pack whenever possible to give your shoulders a chance to
"breathe" as perspiration evaporates and blood flow normalizes.
And trade shoulder rubs with your hiking buddies after the hike!
Backpack straps digging into your shoulders?
After a hike, soak in a tub of warm Epsom salts. Your muscles will feel fatigue and soreness drain away with the bath water.
These are easy and relaxing ways to reduce the risk of chronic inflammation!
One more potential arena for shoulder injury prevention tips: your preferred sleeping position.
Investigate different positions, try different pillows (is yours too high or too flat?), and watch how you wake up in the morning: where is your sore shoulder in relation to your trunk?
Changing sleep position habits is a chore, but it might be useful to experiment with this idea in the interest of bidding your sore shoulder good-bye.
Question for you:
On which side do you routinely carry your purse, shoulder bag or heavy grocery bag?
I ask from personal experience here.
I had a chronically sore left shoulder until I realized that my heavy purse was always slung over that shoulder.
Convinced I was on the right track toward shoulder injury prevention, I bought a smaller purse with a strap that goes across my chest, and my shoulder feels great again.So pay attention to your body throughout a normal day at home or in the workplace:
If you already have a sore shoulder, play detective until you can pinpoint - and eliminate - the cause.
Don't want to head into sore shoulder territory?
I'm with you on that one!
Use these Hiking For Her tips to keep your shoulders mobile and pain free on every hike.
Shoulder Injury Best Prevention Tips
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.
All rights reserved.
Photo credits: All photos on this website were taken by David Midkiff or Diane Spicer except where noted.
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