The snow has melted, and the sun is high, which means it’s time to do your favorite outdoor activities! When looking for a place to hike, you might want to consider one of over four hundred national parks to choose from all over the United States. Safety, however, is something that cannot be stressed enough.
Safety not only applies to the area that you choose to hike and the equipment that you use but also being physically prepared for your outdoor adventure. Muscle injuries are one of the most common injuries in the musculoskeletal system, so it is important to know how to prevent yourself from getting one. But if you do, we still have some tips at the end for how to relieve the pain and provide a speedy recovery.
Before You Begin Your Hike
Hiking is an excellent type of exercise that benefits your body both physically and mentally. But there are several things to consider before you set out for the day or longer when you are hiking.
- Be aware of how much weight you place on your back: A backpack that is too heavy for your body frame or your level of expertise can result in a possible lower back injury. It is always a good idea when hiking, to use gear that is made for this type of activity and to pack as light as possible. Always pack just the essential, especially if you are going a shorter distance.
- Stretch: Just like any other form of strenuous activity or exercise, it is necessary to prepare your body. Stretching before beginning your hike allows for flexibility in the muscles and allows for a larger range of movement. By doing some general stretching exercises, you can reduce the risk of possible injury to your muscles, tendons, and ligaments that are used in the process of hiking.
- Stay hydrated: Hydrations is essential when undertaking and outdoor adventure, such as hiking. This is important anytime you are physically active or exerting stress on your body, especially when it is warmer outdoors. Hydrating allows the body to continue to perform critical cellular functions by helping the body recover faster and avoid exhaustion.
- Warm up: When you think of someone warming up, you might think of an athlete preparing for a game or a runner preparing for a meet. However, when you hike, you use more muscles that you can imagine. It is not just for feet, legs, and hips that are getting a workout, but your core muscles are at work as well to keep you upright and balanced. A recent study has shown that general stretching not only prepares you to begin your hike but is thought to “reduce passive stiffness and increase range of movement” while hiking. Warming up is a way to gradually introduce the body to the activity without shocking it, which often results in injury.
After Your Hike
Once again, it is important to do specific things to protect your body after your hike. There are steps that you will want to take to ensure that your body recovers and that you are ready for other activities post-hike.
- Stretching: Stretching is not only essential before you begin a hike, but also after you have completed your day. Gentle stretching can help you to reduce muscle soreness and prevent injuries. This activity should be done immediately after your hike and whenever you begin to feel muscles tightening.
- Rehydrate: When you exercise, mainly when it is strenuous and/or prolonged, your body expends a tremendous amount of calories and fluid loss can be detrimental to muscle recovery. It is necessary for you to replace fluids that are lost through urination as well as sweating.
The risk of dehydration is always a threat with any strenuous exercise and increases dramatically when the weather conditions are warmer. The amount of fluid loss through sweating (dehydration) depends on several factors and can be used as part of an actual calculation. These factors include the person’s body size, their general level of health, choice of clothing, the duration and intensity of the exercise, and the environmental conditions.
When a person becomes dehydrated, the body loses its ability to recover from strenuous exercise. As a result, muscles, organs, and other body systems are deprived of the essential fluid necessary to maintain normal function and prevent injury. This can also negatively affect your future athletic performance, making it worse.
Medical professionals and physical trainer suggest that you drink one and a half times the water lost from exercising after working out. Research on the topic of rehydration focuses on the volume of fluid that should be ingested, the rate it is ingested, and the fluid composition. This research suggests that sodium added to the liquid will aid in rehydration (especially on a cellular level), and macronutrients such as carbohydrate and protein can help in maintaining hydration. These sources caution you to avoid alcohol and plain water after exercise. These can actually cause your body to dehydrate further.
- Cooling down: The cooling down phase after exercise allows your heart rate and breathing return to normal. More importantly, this process prevents the pooling of blood in the large muscles of the legs after your hike. If this happens, it can lead to the buildup of waste materials like lactic acid in these muscles and reduces the risk of muscle cramping. The cooling down process involves slowing your movement (not stopping) and literally allowing your body temperature to decrease. This process should last about 5-10 minutes and can be something as simple as a longer, slower walk back to the car or house. This gradually calms the body, and the muscles can relax, in preparation for the next hike or other physical activity.
- Rest and Sleep: Allowing your body to rest will give your muscles the appropriate time to recover. When you are done with your hike, sit down or lay down and allow your feet and legs to rest. It is a good idea to elevate your feet slightly to assist blood flow from the lower extremities to return to the heart. Many people may feel exhausted after this type of strenuous exercise. This is your body letting you know that it needs rest to recover and sleep is the best form of recovery. All of this allows the body to heal itself and return to a normal state. Sleep will also prevent further damage that could be caused by additional activity.
Fixes if Muscle Strain Strikes
- PRICE: The word PRICE is an anacronym for Prevent, Rest, Ice, Compress, and Elevate. Let’s look at each of these parts in greater detail.
- Prevent Use the different suggestion as stated above, like warming up, hydrating, cooling down, and resting to prevent additional damage to the muscles.
- Rest: Many times, when the soft tissues (muscles, ligaments, tendons) are used beyond their abilities and not properly taken care of, they will let you know. The best cure for overuse and misuse is rest.
- Ice: Ice can be applied to sore and injured areas of the body to decrease inflammation, swelling, and pain. When applying ice to an area, be sure to rotate it on 15-20 minutes and off 15-20 minutes. Application any longer than this can actually cause damage to the affected area.
- Compress: A firm compress (not tight) can be used in areas that have been over-worked. The application of intermittent compression is recommended as it can reduce swelling and fluid build up in the area, which can interfere with or delay the healing process.
- Elevate: It is helpful to elevate the affected area slightly above the level of the heart. This allows any pooled blood to return to the heart and helps to reduce fluid accumulation.
- Menthol and camphor: Both of these are common ingredients found in topical creams, ointments, and sprays for minor muscle and joint pain relief. Menthol can be either human-made or naturally derived from mint. This ingredient, when applied to the skin causes a cooling sensation. Camphor was once take made by distilling the bark and wood of the camphor tree. Today, it is manufactured from turpentine oil. When camphor is applied to the skin, it causes an increased blood supply to the area. This decreases pain and promotes healing.
Summer is here, it’s time to hit the mountains and enjoy the great outdoors! However, make sure you take the proper steps, such as stretching, hydrating, and properly warming up and cooling down, before and after your hikes to ensure you have many happy trails in your future!