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Common Hiking Injuries

Hiking is a great way to get outside and be immersed in the outdoors, but it carries a little risk too.  There is always a chance of a minor injury, and on very rare occasion you or someone you are with might experience a more major injury.  

Here are 7 common hiking injuries and how to prevent them.

7 Common Hiking Injuries

Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis is an overuse injury caused by repetitive stress on the plantar fascia, a part of your foot bottom on the ball on you foot. It usually occurs when hikersboots take on steep terrain, wear improper footwear, or walk on uneven ground.  It causes lots of pin on the bottom of your foot when walking, you definitely want to avoid it.

How to avoid:

I would recommend that hikers take steps to prevent getting plantar fasciitis. Hikers should be sure to stretch and warm up before any hikes, as this will help reduce the risk of injury. Additionally, hikers should wear supportive and well-fitted shoes that are designed for the terrain they are hiking on and replace them regularly. Furthermore, hikers should take frequent rest breaks and keep their legs elevated when possible. Finally, if the pain gets bad, hikers should consider using a night splint to provide support and stretch the plantar fascia while sleeping. Following these tips can help reduce the risk of developing plantar fasciitis or allowing it to get worse.

Sprained Ankles

Sprained ankles occur when a hiker twists their foot during a misstep on uneven terrain. Hikers often turn their ankles on rocks, tree roots, or other obstacles on the trail.

How to avoid:

To help prevent spraining an ankle while hiking, it’s important to take proper precautions. First, make sure to wear properly fitted, supportive hiking boots and even ankle braces if needed. Secondly, always warm up and stretch prior to hiking to ensure your muscles and joints are properly prepared for the activity — yes, even for hiking. Additionally, be aware of your surroundings and take it slow – watch for uneven terrain, rocks, and other hazards. Lastly, don’t be afraid to take breaks and rest. If you feel any pain or discomfort, take a break and assess the situation.

Achilles Tendinitis

Achilles tendinitis is an overuse injury caused by repetitive stress on the Achilles tendon. It often occurs when hikers push themselves too far, too fast, and don’t give their body time to adjust to the demands of the terrain.

How to avoid:

To prevent achilles tendonitis while hiking, it is important to properly stretch and warm up before and after each hike. It is also important to wear supportive shoes that fit correctly and to be mindful of the terrain, avoiding uneven surfaces and sharp turns. It is important to gradually increase the intensity and duration of the hike, and to pay attention to any pain or discomfort in the tendon area. Additionally, rest days throughout the hiking season should be taken to allow for recovery and to prevent overuse.

Knee Injuries

Knee injuries are common among hikers due to the strain and stress of long hikes on steep terrain. Poorly fitting footwear, weak muscles, taking unnecessary risks, and improper hiking form can all contribute to knee injuries.hiking on rocks

How to avoid:

To reduce your risk of knee injuries while hiking, it is important to practice proper hiking form, warm up and cool down, and to wear the correct gear. First, it is important to practice proper form while hiking. This includes maintaining an upright posture, keeping a slight bend in your knees, and avoiding locking your knees. Additionally, it is important to shift your weight from one leg to the other when going up and down hills, and shorten your stride both on uphills and downhills as it will help you keep your weight more centered, causing less knee strain.

Second, it is important to warm up and cool down. Before beginning your hike, engage in dynamic stretching exercises such as leg swings, lunges, and squats. This will help to prepare your muscles and joints for the activity ahead. After you finish your hike, do some light stretching to help cool down your muscles and reduce the risk of soreness. Finally, wearing the right gear can help to reduce your risk of injuries. Wear supportive hiking shoes with good traction and ankle support. Consider using trekking poles to help evenly distribute your weight and reduce stress on your knees. 

Blisters

Blisters are a common issue for hikers due to the friction of their footwear rubbing against their feet. Wearing the wrong type or size of shoes or socks can increase the risk of getting blisters.

How to avoid:

I recommend a few things to help prevent blisters on your feet while hiking. First, make sure to wear the proper footwear for the activity. Make sure your shoes fit correctly and are not too tight or too loose. Additionally, wear two pairs of socks – one thin layer and one thick layer – to help absorb shock and reduce friction. Lastly, make sure to change your socks and shoes as soon as they become damp or sweaty to help keep your feet dry.  Consider waterproof hiking boots if you know you will be walking in wet or swampy conditions.  

Dehydration (and Heat Stroke)

Dehydration occurs when you go too long without the right water intake, or when you lose more water (often through perspiration) than your body is able to consume.  While not an “injury” in the same way as the others on this list, it is perhaps the most serious in terms of medical implications.

While Heat Stroke and Dehydration are not exactly the same, we group them together because the way to avoid them is quite similar from a practical standpoint.

How to avoid:

There are a few ways to avoid dehydration on the trail.

  • Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your hike. Make sure to bring plenty of water with you, and drink about one liter for every two hours of hiking.
  • Bring snacks that are high in electrolytes. Foods like bananas, oranges, and nuts can help replenish lost electrolytes and keep you hydrated.  You can also buy powders that mix with your water and help provide more electrolytes.
  • Wear light, breathable clothing. Wearing clothing that is too heavy or tight can cause you to sweat more and become dehydrated faster.
  • Take regular breaks. Stop every hour or two to rest and drink water. This will help keep your energy up and prevent dehydration.
  • Stay in the shade when possible. Try to find a shady spot to rest and drink water when you can. This will help you stay cooler and hydrated.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine both on the trail and in the hours leading up to going out

Mosquito and Bug Bites and Stings

Depending on where you are, mosquito bites, bug bites, or bee or wasp stings can be a factor.  Know what might be around, given the area and time of year, and take appropriate precautions.  If you are allergic to any type of bite or sting, be extra careful.

How to avoid:

To avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes or stung by bees, wear protective clothing.  Longsleeved shirts and pants, as well as a hat, can help protect you from bites.  You will definitely want to use insect repellent.  Apply insect repellent with DEET or other active ingredients to exposed skin and clothing before you head out on the trail.  

If you are known to be allergic to bee or wasp stings, carry whatever antidote your doctor recommends along with you, and if you are hiking with someone, be sure to tell them where they can find it if you are unable to.

Other Hiking Injury Factors

Some of the risk factors associated with hiking come down to where you hike, and the difficulty and nature of the trail.

Hiking on Ice

Hiking on ice introduces challenges of its own, especially when on a trail that might have other variables like elevation or uneven footing. Wear shoes or boots with non-slip soles and good treads to provide better traction, and even consider crampons which make a big difference when walking on ice.  When possible, try to walk on cleared patches even if it is slightly off the trail, rather than on icy paths.  If you must walk on ice, take slow, small steps and keep your arms out for balance.

Scrambling

Scrambling on a hike means to climb or traverse a steep or rocky section of the trail using your hands and feet. It is a type of off-trail climbing that is often done on steep, rocky terrain. It requires a certain level of fitness and agility, and introduces additional scrape or bruise hazards.  Be sure to take it slow when scrambling, don’t go on terrain above your skill level, and consider wearing gloves and additional protective clothing.

Wilderness First Aid

It is possible to get trained on what to do in outdoors situations, and there is even a certified you can get for Wilderness First Aid, something we would recommend if you plan to spend significant time outdoors.  You can get trained on many injury situations you might encounter in the outdoors, over the course of a couple full-day session.

The class we recommend is the WFA certification class from REI.  You will be trained on the basics of Wilderness First Aid, and assuming you show up and pass the class, will be certified.

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