In this article, we will describe 5 of the most common hiking injuries experienced in North America. We will also present suggestions for avoiding these injuries.
As the summer starts, many of us will be looking forward to taking long hikes through the many parks and wooded areas on North America. Together with backpacking, hiking continues to grow as one of the most popular outdoor activities on the North American continent during the summer months. According to the American Hiking Society. 58.7 million Americans went hiking at some point during 2021 – almost 20% of the population. In Canada, the picture is similar, with 44% of Canadians taking part in either hiking or backpacking during 2017.
However, many hikers tend to discount or not fully appreciate the risks of injury while partaking in their favourite pastime. As a result, the goal of this article will be to raise awareness of the types of injuries that may be associated with hiking and to explain some simple strategies for reducing the risks of these injuries. After all, the last thing any hiking enthusiast wishes is to spend the all too short summer months trying to recover from a hiking injury instead of enjoying the great outdoors.
Common Hiking Injuries
Hiking is a wonderful outdoor activity that allows individuals to explore nature and challenge themselves physically. However, it’s important to be aware of potential hiking injuries to take the necessary precautions. Some of the most common hiking injuries include:
- Sprained Ankles: Ankle sprains occur when the ligaments surrounding the ankle joint are stretched or torn. Uneven terrain, loose rocks, or missteps can contribute to ankle sprains while hiking.
- Knee Injuries: The knees endure significant stress during hiking, especially when traversing steep descents or uneven terrain. Knee injuries, such as strains, ligament tears (e.g., anterior cruciate ligament or ACL), or meniscus tears, can occur due to overexertion, improper technique, or falls.
- Blisters: Blisters are a frequent occurrence during hiking, especially when ill-fitting footwear or wet conditions cause friction between the skin and socks or shoes. Blisters can be painful and potentially hinder your hiking experience.
- Overuse Injuries: Hiking involves repetitive movements, such as walking or climbing, which can lead to overuse injuries like tendonitis, shin splints, or stress fractures. These injuries may develop gradually due to repetitive stress on specific muscles, tendons, or bones.
- Heat-Related Illnesses: Hiking in hot weather or under direct sun exposure can increase the risk of heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion or heatstroke. Dehydration, inadequate rest, and overexertion without proper precautions can contribute to these conditions.
- Cuts, Scrapes, and Abrasions: While navigating through trails, hikers may encounter sharp rocks, branches, or thorny plants, which can cause cuts, scrapes, or abrasions. Proper footwear, protective clothing, and awareness of the surroundings can help reduce the risk of these injuries.
- Insect Bites and Stings: Insects, such as mosquitoes, ticks, or bees, can be present in hiking environments. Bites or stings can lead to allergic reactions or transmit diseases like Lyme disease or West Nile virus. Proper insect repellent and protective clothing can help prevent these incidents.
If an injury occurs while hiking, it’s essential to assess the severity and seek medical attention as needed. Applying first aid techniques, such as cleaning and dressing wounds, using ice or cold packs for swelling, and immobilizing injured areas, can help provide initial relief and prevent further complications.
How To Reduce The Risk Of The Most Common Hiking Injuries
To reduce the risk of common hiking injuries, consider implementing the following strategies:
- Wear Proper Footwear: Choose sturdy hiking boots or shoes that provide ankle support, have good traction, and fit well. Avoid worn-out or ill-fitting footwear that can increase the risk of blisters, sprains, and other foot-related injuries.
- Use Trekking Poles: Trekking poles can enhance stability, reduce stress on the knees and joints, and provide balance while traversing uneven terrain. Utilizing trekking poles can help prevent falls and alleviate strain on your lower body.
- Warm Up and Stretch: Before starting your hike, perform warm-up exercises to increase blood flow and loosen up your muscles. Focus on stretching your calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, and hip flexors. This preparation can reduce the risk of strains and sprains.
- Gradually Increase Intensity: Build up your hiking endurance gradually by starting with shorter and less strenuous trails. Increase the distance and difficulty level over time to allow your body to adapt to the demands of hiking.
- Take Regular Breaks: Avoid overexertion by taking regular breaks during your hike. Resting and hydrating at appropriate intervals can help prevent fatigue, reduce the risk of overuse injuries, and maintain your energy levels.
- Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your hike to prevent dehydration. Carry an adequate supply of water and consider electrolyte-replenishing beverages for longer hikes or when hiking in hot weather.
- Protect Against Sun and Insects: Apply sunscreen with a high SPF and wear a hat, sunglasses, and lightweight, breathable clothing to protect yourself from harmful UV rays. Use insect repellent to guard against insect bites and stings.
- Be Mindful of Terrain: Pay attention to the trail conditions and be cautious when navigating challenging terrain, such as steep slopes, loose rocks, or slippery surfaces. Slow down, take your time, and choose your steps carefully to avoid falls or twisted ankles.
- Pack a First Aid Kit: Carry a well-stocked first aid kit with essentials such as bandages, antiseptic ointment, blister pads, pain relievers, and any necessary personal medications. Familiarize yourself with basic first aid techniques and know how to use the items in your kit.
- Inform Others of Your Plans: Before heading out on a hike, inform someone reliable about your hiking plans, including the trail you’ll be taking, estimated duration, and expected return time. This step ensures that someone is aware of your whereabouts in case of emergencies.
Remember, safety should always be a priority when hiking. By implementing these strategies, you can minimize the risk of common hiking injuries and enjoy a safe and rewarding outdoor experience.
In this article, we have explored the types of injuries most commonly experienced by hikers. We have also suggested 10 important measures you can take to reduce the risk of a hiking related injury. It is our hope that this knowledge will help you proactively reduce the risk of injury while preparing for your next hiking expedition.
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