„Alone? You hike solo?“ is a common question I am asked on my hikes. Yes, I hike solo, but in reality there is always a pain somewhere in my body. Actually I hike in a group with my pains.
If you can’t relate to this experience maybe your hikes weren’t long enough yet or you are too young. You will read this maybe in a few years and find it more interesting then…
When hiking I am quite perceptive of everything that is going on in my body – thirst, lack of calories or salt and … pain. Every sensation that could – at any time – develop in a real pain I am following and observing closely. It is like the buddhist meditation where you try to stay mindful of your breath or other sensations in the body (or mind). At some point this mindfulness becomes a habit and on the trail during hiking it is an easy meditation practice anyway.
As long as the pain is changing and wandering from the left shoulder to the right knee to the right big toe and so on … I am happy by observing the scene. Sometimes I even use it as a reminder of the transitoriness of this body, looking at its decay every moment. Then a wave of deep gratitude is flowing through me that I can still do what I am doing.
But sometimes the pain isn’t going away and meanwhile I can look back at some of the typical hiker stress problems in the legs.
Sitting around on the computer and following the „no sports“ rule in my daily life is the best way to over stress the joints, ligaments and what else can be painful on your locomotor system on a hike. That I have a medical education only makes the understanding and diagnostics easier (horses or dogs are not so different from humans!) – not the prevention.
Plantarfascitis: I didn’t have this problem in a very distinct form, but still I know how it feels and know that hikers and runners fear it.
There are different places on your foot that can become painfull when stepping on Mother Earth.
Sometimes the first few days on a hike I can feel the arch of the foot getting tense and tender – especially where the fascia is connecting with the big toe.
I am visiting my podiatrist at least once per year to check the state of my feet.
Last summer I tried the green Superfeet insoles and I am quite happy with them!
The best prevention seems going light and support the arch of foot.
Shin splint : Going a bit upwards on your leg the pain from the arch is to be continued on the bony flat side of the lower leg. It starts as a tearing at every step and becomes more and more painful. For me especially when road walking I am at risk to develop this kind of pain. It is an irritation and inflammation of the periost, muscles and ligament pulling down with every step. I met a woman on the GR5 and she nearly wasn’t able to go as it was so painful.
My strategie so far when feeling the first tearing on the ridge of the tibia is a pit stop on the spot, massage and relaxing. When starting again going slower, rounder and softer on the trail – feeling more connected with the Earth in an elastic way instead of pounding downwards.
Goose foot’s: This kind of pain was a new one I met on my last hike a cross Cyprus. At the beginning I thought it is a knee problem, medial collateral ligament, but then both knees became painful – especially when road walking. And the E4 in Cyprus has a lot of road walk to offer.
Actually it is an inflammation of the bursa underneath of three tendons coming from the backside of the thigh – attaching below the knee. Constant stress and friction offends the bursa – answer is pain.
Seems to me that to much pronation – starting again from the base of the foot with a collapsing arch and my awkward anatomy has its good part in the development of this condition. I was still able to walk, but very slow and always with the risk the knee snapping backwards.
IT-Band Syndrome: Now, happily that is a pain my body seems not to know yet! The pain in this syndrome is on the outer side of the knee, starting indeed on the hip. A friend is hiking a lot and her IT-problems started when she was not hiking.
It is also an inflammation of the ligamental structure – helping in flexing the knee like the IKEA-test machine is putting weight on chairs thousands and thousands of times ;).
Looking at the anatomical structures it is probably either goose foot or IT-band syndrom – inner or outer side of the knee pain … your choice!
The best therapy of all these problems is: pit stop and rest! Maybe a day or two, reducing the inflammation by cooling and Vitamin I ibuprofen (or another anti-inflammatory NSAID). I use these days also to analyze and have a closer look: What am I doing that the most natural locomotion is becoming stressful for my body? To forceful, to fast, to much strength going downward instead of a round elastic flow of movement?
What are my conclusions besides the insight that the shelf life of my body isn’t eternal?
- The most important gear on the hike are the feet! I take a lot of time caring and massaging my feet every morning and evening. Insoles that stabilize and support the arch are important for long hikes.
- I should start slower on a hike, less distance on the first few days or even a couple of weeks and especially when there is a lot of road walk involved.
- Not new: the less weight you carry the better are your feet.
I am certain there are a lot more physical stress related problems a hiker can develop … would be interesting to swap not only experience on gear but also on syndromes 😉