Injuries and treatment
Hiking puts an enormous amount of stress on your lower extremities and can result in a number of foot related injuries. While some ailments can be self-treated, it is always best to see a podiatrist to ensure a small foot problem doesn't turn into a serious injury. Here are some common problems that hikers may experience.
Problems to watch for
- Frostbite - It's impossible to overstate the importance of understanding symptoms of frostbite. Skin-colour changes, from blue to white, can't be seen under a boot, but if toes are extremely cold for a prolonged period, feel burning or numb, there is a danger of frostbite. People with a history of frostbite often get it again in the same place.
- Blisters - Friction in hiking footwear often causes blisters. Do not pop a small blister, but if it breaks on its own, apply an antiseptic and cover with a sterile bandage. Prevent this by keeping your feet dry and by wearing hiking socks as a cushion between your feet and shoes. Place moleskin or other covers over problem areas before you go out hiking. At the first sign of soreness, cover with moleskin. If a blister has already formed, cut a hole in a 1/4" piece of foam or felt, forming a "doughnut" over the blister; tape the foam or felt in place or cover with a soft gel type dressing. Treat an open blister with mild soap and water; cover it with an antiseptic ointment and a protective soft gel dressing to prevent infection and speed up the healing process.
- Neuromas - Enlarged benign growths of nerves between the toes, called neuromas, are caused by friction in tight footwear and can result in pain, burning, tingling, or numbness. Neuromas require professional treatment, including an evaluation of your hiking footwear.
- Shin splints - Pain to either side of the leg bone, caused by muscle or tendon inflammation. This may be related to a muscle imbalance between opposing muscle groups in the leg. It is commonly related to a collapsing arch. Proper stretching and corrective footwear can help prevent shin splints.
- Sprains and strains - The stress of hiking can result in sprains and strains of the foot and ankle. They can be treated with rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE). If pain persists, seek medical attention.
- Blackened Toenail- Pressure in the toe box of a hiking boot can result in bleeding under the toenail known as a subungal hematoma or "blackened toenail." See a podiatrist to help prevent the loss of a toenail. This can be caused by boots that are too small resulting in the toes hitting the boot as you descend hills.
- Corns and calluses - Although these friction injuries are readily self-treatable, care should be taken to ensure that self-treatment does not aggravate the problem. When treating corns and calluses, do not try to trim with sharp objects. Instead, buff problem areas with a pumice stone after bathing. Easier yet is to use over-the-counter creams intended for this purpose.
- Hypothermia - Hypothermia occurs when the body cools down below 95 degrees F. If you have been sweating and then stop moving, even a light breeze can cause your body to cool rapidly. You can prevent hypothermia by laying clothing, changing out of sweaty clothing when you are done hiking and carrying a light pull-over to keep you warm during rests.
- Dehydration - Dehydration can cause many problems on the trail and it's very important that you remain hydrated at all times. Drink water before you start hiking and then take breaks to drink every 30 minutes or so. If you don't want to stop, bring a container that you can drink from while walking. It's a good idea to drink before you get thirsty.
- Sore Muscles - Sore muscles can be a major discomfort both during and after a long hike. It's important to train for longer hikes by taking a series of shorter hikes, working out at the gym and doing lots of walking. It's a good idea to stretch thoroughly before beginning your hike and after.
- Knees & Ankles - Take care to protect the knees and ankles. Be sure to select good hiking boots with lots of ankle support. The use of a hiking pole to help support you on inclines is a good idea to reduce stress on the knees. Try to strengthen your leg muscles prior to long hikes by doing stretching and gentle strength building exercises. You can also use knee braces for additional stability if necessary.
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