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Don't Let The Hiking Trail Grind You Down

Ah, summer – the time for fresh air and brisk activities in the Great Outdoors.

If you like to hit the trail and camp under the stars, preparation is key to avoid injury and unwanted aches and pains.

In a past post, I talked about the risks from lugging around that heavy backpack the wrong way. Problems can arise from bearing too much weight or not loading and wearing the backpack properly.

The same principles apply when hitting the trail, only now, the risk factors multiply. Steep ground puts added pressure on the joints. Rough terrain can turn an ankle. And at the end of the day, instead of a hot tub and the comfort of your bed, you may have only a campfire and a sleeping bag waiting for you.

Here are some considerations to help ease the load.

Enjoy a pain free hike by following our tips!

1. Pack light. It can be hard to get down to only the true essentials and avoid getting overloaded with “just in case” items. The key is to decide what’s essential, and then find the lightest and most reliable piece of gear to serve that need. Consider where and how a single piece of gear can serve multiple uses.

As we discussed in the previous backpack article, a loaded pack should not exceed 15 per cent of your body weight. But this is only a rule of thumb. Consider your fitness level and any existing issues you may have with your joints, spine, or neck. Take a hike around your neighbourhood with the loaded pack, to be sure you can handle it, before hitting the trail.

2. Strengthen your core and back muscles. The stronger your muscles, the less prone you are to injury, and the more weight you can comfortably carry.

3. Wear proper hiking boots. The trail with a pack on your back is no place for flip-flops or sandals. You need good grip, strong soles with shock absorption to ease the strain on your lower back, and high uppers for ankle support. Lace-up shoes with socks reduce the odds of bruising your feet on rocks that slip in where you don’t want them.

4. Use a walking stick. This is your best defence against losing your footing on steep terrain. All it takes is one awkward tumble, with arms flailing and the weight of that backpack pulling you down, to strain your back and injure soft tissues. Not only does it help you keep your balance, a stick serves as a lever to take the strain off your legs and knees.

5. Stretch … often. No matter how well prepared you are, or how well-fitting your pack, aches and muscle stiffness will inevitably crop up if you’re at it long enough. The neck muscles especially can knot up from the pressure of the pack straps and constant craning to look around.

If you’re camping out, the sleeping arrangements may only aggravate this. An inflatable air mattress or foam mat under the sleeping bag can help, if you have room to pack them, but you must still be proactive about it.

So stretch in the morning before setting off, stretch anything that is feeling stiff during rest breaks (like your neck), and stretch again at the end of the day.

6. Stay hydrated. It should go without saying, but it’s all too easy to get dehydrated. Dehydrated muscles are more prone to stiffness and injury. Remember, if you wait until you are thirsty to drink, you are already dehydrated.

Final thoughts

There you have it. Proper preparation and knowing your body are the keys to enjoying the great outdoors without paying for it afterward. Of course, for a spine to be strong, it must be healthy.

If you have concerns about your posture, have chronic back or neck pain that is limiting your ability to enjoy the outdoors, or have injured yourself with too much summer fun, we can help.

We can diagnose and help with many injuries that involve the neck and spine, and work in conjunction with any other qualified healthcare providers who may be required given your situation.

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