A man after my own heart, Dan Feldman, wrote a fantastic article for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) Association titled: Five tips to avoid lower limb overuse injury on the PCT. In the article, Dan uses survey data from PCT hikers who completed the thru-hike in 2013. Below are the results from that injury survey, and then using the data, the author provides excellent tips to avoid these injuries.
We will definitely use this information to help prepare for our long distance hiking and camping trip in the UK and Scotland where we plan to walk the Coast to Coast Trail, the Cumbria Way, and the West Highland Way Trail. Repeat use injuries are common on long distance hikes and although the distance for our walk is less than half the length of the PCT, we are still planning to walk an average of 15 miles a day with 25 pounds on our backs.
Desk job people like us, try long distance walks like this, thinking their weekly gym routine is enough to prepare them. But this is about mitigating over use injuries. Right now, the only think I use every day repeatably is the sitting/typing/mouth flapping position, none of which will help me prepare for this long distance walk.
Thanks Dan for the tips! Read on fellow travelers. There’s good stuff here!
Hikers who venture out to hike long distances on the PCT risk developing a class of injuries to the lower limb called overuse injuries. These have familiar names such as Achilles tendinopathy, shin splints (known more formally as medial tibial stress syndrome or MTSS) and plantar fasciitis.
The American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine defines an overuse injury as being caused by “repetitive micro-trauma to the tendons, bones, and joints.” Simply put, an overuse injury is caused by using a body part in a repetitive, excessive manner without enough time for normal healing. It should come as no surprise that hikers are at risk. According to an October 2010 study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, if you’re an American adult, you take an average of 5,117 steps per day. Multiply that by 2.2 to 2.5 feet per step and you’re probably walking a little over 2 miles per day in everyday life. Then add a full pack and PCT terrain does not come without a few aches and pains along the way for many hikers.
Surveys of former PCT thru-hikers offer confirmation: 123 from the class of 2013 were asked if, while on the trail, they experienced injury or more than a few days of aches and pains. Of them, 55 hikers (45%) answered yes. When asked where they experienced the worst problems, the knee, ankle, lower leg and foot comprised 89% of responses with injuries of the foot comprising 47% of the total (see chart below).… read more at pcta.org
Being able to avoid or minimize the risk of sustaining a lower limb overuse injury is one key to having a more comfortable hike.
Here are five tips that will set you down the right path to a less painful transition to life on the trail:
1) Get fit
While there’s no perfect way to prepare the body for hiking all day for weeks on end, maintaining a good general fitness level prior to a hike will prepare the body to absorb the rigors of daily trail travel. When designing a fitness program with hiking preparation in mind, emphasize low-to-medium-load, long-duration strengthening exercises that target the muscles of the hips, thighs, and lower leg. Mix in cardiovascular exercises like long walks or light jogging. Consider consulting your physician or an exercise professional who can help you design a program that’s right for you.
2) Have the right footwear
Carefully choose your shoes and socks. Whether going with trail runners, boots, or something else, make sure that footwear is broken in and fits comfortably before heading out on the trail. If expecting to be on the trail for a long time, feet may grow. Some hikers buy shoes that are slightly big for their feet and make up the difference with thick socks until their feet grow. Some go with shoes that are accurately sized. Whatever you choose to do, be prepared to adjust lacing and even sock thickness to accommodate your changing feet as you go along.
3) Use four-heel drive
Use trekking poles. Poles can help ease the transition into hiking by transferring some of the load borne by the hips, knees, ankles and feet. Some hikers will transition away from trekking poles once they feel strong enough to hike full days comfortably.
4) Build up your miles slowly
Ease into daily mileage changes. Rather than going directly from 10-mile days to 18-mile days, build the body up to accepting the higher mileage through slower increases in miles per day. Sudden changes to what the body is accustomed to will raise the risk of an overuse injury. Even hikers accustomed to very high mileage days (25+) can raise their risk of injury by increasing mileage too quickly.
5) Get checked
Have a professional check out your gait (walking style) and posture. Several large review studies published in 2014 in the Journal of Foot and Ankle Research identified risk factors for lower limb overuse injuries. The strongest finding was that a pronated foot posture increased the risk for shin splints. Podiatrists and physical therapists are examples of accessible, helpful professionals who are qualified to examine gait and posture.
Again full credit to Dan Feldman for an excellent article and good advice!