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When moving to a beautiful, rugged state that’s prime for trailblazing, camping, backpacking, and other physically-driven activities, your joints might not express the same admiration for trekking mountains as you do.
Sure, you can make sure to stretch, drink lots of water, or even load up on different organic health supplements from Phytage Labs, but cranking out fourteeners every other week is sure to break you down before too long.
Though hiking can improve your overall health and reduce your chances of cancer, heart disease, high cholesterol and blood pressure, stroke, and other cardiovascular issues, there can be some unintentional, physical collateral to your joints if you aren’t careful.
First, let’s break down the ways hiking is beneficial to your body. Because hiking generally involves a variety of uphill and downhill movements, it’s a better cardio workout than running or jogging on flat ground. Unlike running or jogging, hiking is a less strenuous workout on your joints, while also helping your heart and managing your weight. But dodging some rugged terrain requires some dexterity and a keen eye; you need to pay more attention and take more care in each step than a normal jog around the neighborhood.
Below are some tips for improving your hiking habits and making your outings a bit more joint-friendly.
Shoes Are Key
Anyone who has ever shown up to a hike unprepared will tell you that shoes are one of, if not the most important, aspect of completing a successful outing. Target hiking-specific shoes or boots that are all-terrain, shock-absorbing, and waterproof to avoid accidents and injuries on the trail. Be sure to try them on in the store to make sure they’re the perfect fit, as opposed to ordering online and hoping for the best.
For longer hikes, try some lighter, yet durable, shoes to cover plenty of ground comfortably. Shock absorption is crucial for downhill hikes that require heavy steps or leaping down ledges. For the least amount of impact on your joints, try cushioned, comfortable shoes that can handle lots of pressure and rugged terrains. Always break in your new footwear before going on an extended hike.
Consider several factors in finding the best hiking footwear, including:
Don’t Underestimate the Impact of Stretching
Although many view hikes as somewhat more difficult walks, don’t underestimate the value of stretching before, during, and after your hike. A cramp or pulled muscle is the last thing you need in the middle of the trail, and your legs need to warm up before climbing that mountain. Make your legs more pliable by loosening up your muscles before you get started.
Stretching will help optimize your range of motion in your muscles and joints, making that big step up onto a rock possible and comfortable. Skipping your stretch can lead to locked up joints, strained muscles, and increase your risk of injury. Regular stretching will expand your flexibility and allow you to tackle more difficult hikes over time, and make once-difficult hikes seem like clockwork. Your extremities, like your calves, hamstrings, hip flexors, and quads are major focus areas, but hikers can also benefit from stretching out their lower backs, shoulders, and neck muscles.
Pro tip: make sure to stretch after your hike as well, especially if you drive a long distance to get to the trail. Sitting in your car for hours after a hike can lead to soreness and tighten up your leg muscles. That’s why your legs feel like jelly when you get home. Stretching before getting off your feet can limit and prevent these symptoms, even after the most difficult hike.
Try Using Trekking Poles
Not unlike crutches, using trekking poles can relieve some pressure on your knees and hips, as well as guide you along through more demanding areas of your hike. Hiking often requires hopping down from ledges, stepping over some big rocks, walking briskly downhill or using difficult strides to get through uphill stretches.
Trekking poles can just provide a little bit more leverage and support, which will take some of the strain off your legs and ankles. Moving quickly downhill can cause more strain than moving uphill, so be sure to choose your steps carefully and don’t lock your knees when moving downhill. Go slow and be careful.
Take Breaks When You Need Them
There’s no shame in stopping on the trail for a quick breather, especially if you’re carrying a heavy pack and moving at high altitudes. Plus, stretching periodically, especially for longer hikes, can not only save you from cramping but can reset your legs and allow you to regather your strength.
Drink loads of water, it’s better to drink more than less. This will also help with cramping and keep you fueled enough to finish strong. In high altitude states like Colorado, your body has to work harder due to the less oxygen in the air. When your body is dehydrated, it pulls water from cartilage and other important areas, which could hurt your joints further. Don’t skimp on the water. A joint relief supplement can also help you recover.
Consider A Knee Brace or Kinesio Tape
For extra support, try using a knee or ankle brace, or try Kinesio tape, which provides support and pain relief prior to, during, and after a hike or workout. Especially in taking on more rugged or difficult hikes, adding a brace can relieve symptoms of strain during downhill stretches and give you more stability and confidence to tackle new trails.
Especially if you’re recovering from an injury or some prior soreness, using a brace or tape as reinforcements will help get you back to 100 percent. Knees generally take the most wear and tear from hikes, so using a brace ahead of time can limit the damage and prevent further discomfort in future hikes or after completed hikes.
The Bottom Line
Your joints determine your ability to hike. Even though you aren’t tackling some high-intensity workout or sport, stretch like you are; your body will thank you. Enjoy the health benefits of getting out of the trail properly. Wear the right shoes, use a brace if you feel more comfortable, and get loose before tackling a difficult trail.