Five Steps Towards Avoiding Injury
Upon embarking on a ~2,200 mile journey travelled solely by foot (see what I did there?) one can expect their fair share of minor injuries. With proper care, these injuries should be a mere bump in the road on your hike. More serious injuries will obviously require a little more attention than a bandaid and some duct tape, but most common injuries can be avoided with a little preexisting knowledge and a few preventative measures.
I started a thread on a Whiteblaze forum about common AT injuries that can be found here. I was pleasantly surprised with the great information that other users posted and my list of five common injuries that we can try to prevent are pulled from those responses. They are as follows:
Leg and Joint Injuries (knees, ankles, hips, feet)
Blisters suck. A lot. To prevent blisters, choosing the proper footwear (socks and shoes) is essential. Shoes should snugly fit your foot with no wiggling through the heel, arch and ankle but have space in the toe box for your toes to splay naturally. Make sure to keep your feet as dry as possible, look for hot spots on your feet and if they do pop up, wash the affected area before applying moleskin or tape.
Shin Splints are even worse than blisters and are caused by the degeneration of the muscles or tissues that attach to the tibia (shinbone). Janet Hamilton, a registered clinical exercise physiologist and author of Running Strong and Injury Free reminds us that too many miles with too little rest, improper biomechanics, or tightness and weakness in the calf muscles are all contributing factors to shin splints.
The following exercises, courtesy of Rick Braver, D.P.M., will help prevent shin splints:
- Stand with your heels together and toes pointed out. Slowly raise up onto your toes and lower yourself back down. Repeat 10 times.
- Stand with your big toes together and heels far apart. Slowly raise up onto your toes, then lower yourself back down. Repeat 10 times.
Leg and Joint Injuries are often caused by hikers overdoing it right out of the gate. Your muscles will become sore and weak with overuse and improper rest which will significantly increase your likelihood of injury. Take it easy on downhills, watch your foot placement, and take a break when you need to! Getting in shape pre-hike is a great way to build up a strong base that will allow you to hike at your desired speed. My favorite exercise for lower body strength is the classic squat.
Another great way to strengthen your lower body is the Clamshell Exercise.
Plantar Fasciitis is a day ruiner. Especially prominent in the morning, plantar fasciitis is a painful condition that causes discomfort directly under the heel of the foot. Luckily it can be (somewhat) alleviated by some simple stretching. Toe dips, calf stretching, cross leg stretching, and towel stretches are all great options.
Burns are something almost completely avoidable altogether. Whether it be sunburn, frostbite, boiling water or an unpleasant sensation after eating too many wild berries, burns happen all the time. Prevent getting burned by applying sunscreen when needed, avoid exposing skin when it’s snowy, practice cooking with your stove and handling your pot and don’t eat it unless you know what it is! Common sense on this one folks.
As always, there will be freak accidents and unavoidable situations. Be careful, be smart, and use your best judgement. Only 4,999,995 more steps until Katahdin!
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rolling a nalgene bottle of ice water under your arches has also resolved plantar
fasciitis for me