Common Hiking Injuries & How to Prevent Them
Posted by Melanie H.S., UREC Outdoor Leader on Monday, April 5, 2021 at 12:00 PM PDT
Getting injured on the trail can ruin a trip. Plain and simple. The most common trail injuries are ankle sprains and blisters. Here are a few easy things you can do to be more prepared for the outdoors.
One of the best defenses against strains and sprains is to stretch before, during, and after, your hiking or backpacking trip. Walking on uneven paths with extra backpack weight, and sometimes scaling rocks or downed trees, offers a full leg workout; especially to the subtle muscles that aid in balance. Muscle fatigue is often what leads to strains and sprains, so it helps to stretch out. It’s best to customize your stretching routine to your own body and activity, but here are some important stretches include:
- standing quad stretch – hold your foot behind you, using the hand on that same side. Try stretching your knee downward.
- inner thigh stretch – in a wide-legged stance, shift your weight to one leg while slightly leaning towards the leg you are stretching.
- calf stretch – easiest with a rock or parking barrier, put your toes up the solid object and heel touching the ground. Lean toward your toes.
- hamstring stretch – bend at the waist and lean your upper body forward.
- hip flexor stretch –place your feet hip width apart, then squat a few inches lower while pushing your hips forward. Try slightly leaning side to side for a deeper stretch.
- tricep stretch – place yur hand on your same side shoulder, and lift your elbow in front of you until you feel a stretch. You can use your other hand on your lifted elbow to increase the stretch.
Spatial awareness is also crucial to preventing injuries. Staying aware of your surroundings, your footing, and your own physical wellbeing can help prevent falls, accidents, and over-activity. Most important, especially while hiking with a group: Travel at whatever pace works for you! When we feel rushed, we often push our muscles to their limits and also tend to decrease our body awareness. Take breaks. Walk at whatever pace is right for you and the trail in front of you.
Another thing to consider is to wear ankle-supporting hiking shoes or boots. Hiking-specific footwear tends to have better traction for the mud, dirt, root, rock and even snow conditions we find outside. Ankle-supporting footwear is also good for preventing ankle injuries, as they support the ankle area like a brace, making the side-to-side movement that can cause an ankle sprain less possible. They can additionally help with balance. If you have had previous ankle injuries, it is best to wear a brace or wrap, as you may be more susceptible to a reoccurring injury.
Remember to break in any new shoes before a major hike to prevent blisters. Wear them around your house (while they are still clean!) or just for a regular day of work, school, and errands. While on the trail, pay attention to “hot spots” forming on the backs of your heels. These are warning signs that friction is happening, and if unattended, will lead to blisters. Take a moment to remove your shoes, and remove any debris. Use athletic or duct tape to pre-tape your heal; do not use bandaids as they are not adhesive enough to withstand the friction on moist skin.
Preventing injuries is key, but in case you do end up with a trail injury, it's a good idea to bring some basic first aid supplies including pain meds such as Ibuprofen and moleskin for treating blisters. Stay safe out there!