How to Prevent Common Hiking Injuries

May 31, 2022 | Lifestyle, Physiotherapy, Wellness

The days are getting longer and with the temperatures rising we are definitely experiencing summer! With that in mind, there has never been a better time to enjoy the beautiful conditions and explore the trails in the area. Make sure you are ready for the season to avoid any hiking injuries.

Ottawa has endless options for both day and multi-day hikes around Ottawa. Whether you’re an experienced hiker or a weekend warrior looking to tackle the outdoors, there are several things that you can do to get your body ready for the rigors of long-distance walking.

Injury and pain are major factors influencing a hiker’s ability to both complete and enjoy the task that they are embarking on. To understand how to make your hikes as comfortable as possible it is important to understand the most common injuries hikers experience and how to prevent them.  These injuries include :

  • Low Back pain
  • Shoulder and neck pain
  • Knee pain
  • Foot pain
  • Ankle sprains

Back Pain

Low back, shoulder, and neck pain are common hiking injuries. Poor underlying low back and neck postures, poor core strength, and a lack of flexibility through the trunk can cause increasing discomfort during any length of hike. Poor mobility coupled with an improperly fitting backpack that does not dissipate the weight correctly can result in an altogether miserable experience.

These poor postures and lack of mobility can stem from sitting at an office desk for long periods of time and cause an increase in stiffness in the lower back joints and musculature. Prolonged sitting causes a tightening of your lumbar erectors, hip flexors, and hamstring muscles which in turn can affect your resting standing posture.  Neck stiffness that accumulates from sitting at a computer screen for long periods of time can be accentuated by carrying a heavy backpack and reinforcing poor postures in this area.

Thankfully, a specific stretching program to resolve tightness in the weeks and days leading up to a hike will result in an altogether more comfortable experience. In order to prevent back pain, you should take great care in picking out a backpack with the proper fit. It is also important that you load your pack properly so that the weight is distributed in a way that will not pull on your shoulders. The weight of your pack should be riding close to your body and most of the weight should be distributed across your hips.

Knee and Foot Pain

Knee and foot pain are common injuries as you increase distance.  Many believe that it is just an unavoidable part of long-distance walking, tend to grin and bear it, or avoid hiking altogether due to the pain. However, knee and foot pain is commonly caused by lower leg weakness and poor force distribution through your lower legs as you walk. As you increase your distance, this force accumulates causing pain in either the knees, foot, or both. 

Having supportive footwear, preferably hiking boots is the first step. These will increase shock absorption during walking and provide support to the arch of the foot as we walk. If you already have a pair of hiking boots, we invite you to bring them in during your assessment as we can see if they are suitable for your foot posture. 

If knee and foot pain continues, it is often a result of overdominance and reliance on our thigh (quadriceps) muscle, poor core strength, and poor stability in our hips as we stand on one leg. This increases as we fatigue over longer distances to cause knee and foot pain. Completing strengthening exercises to increase core and gluteal muscle strength will help prevent this by reducing reliance on our quadriceps and increasing hip stability. This helps reduce forces through our knees and feet, ultimately reducing the incidence of pain while hiking.

When to Get Help

There are times when hiking injuries aren’t so easy to prevent. For example, if you happen to see a snake on your hike, jump, and sprain your ankle –  well then that is just bad luck! If you’re hiking with a friend and race to the nearest tree and twist your knee on the uneven surface, then that’s just a good story. However, if these unfortunate events happen, go through the routine for acute injury: PEACE and LOVE.

If you experience an acute injury while hiking and need help with diagnosis and management – book in with one of our physiotherapists to assess the injury and get you back on the trail as soon as possible.

 Hiking is a great experience and a fantastic way to explore the outdoors. Whether you are a first-time hiker and are keen to start off on the right foot or an experienced hiker who can resonate with some of the issues outlined above – book in with one of our healthcare providers and we can steer you in the right direction.