By Daniel C. Kim, MD
Fall has arrived, and with the cooler temperatures, many of us want to get outdoors and enjoy the weather, including taking to our local hiking trails. But, as peaceful as a Saturday afternoon hike can be, this activity does come with risks – read on to learn about the six most common hiking injuries and how Southlake Orthopaedics can help if you are experiencing an injury from your favorite fall pastime.
One of the most common hiking injuries are blisters, typically caused by socks and footwear rubbing up against your foot on long journeys. You can prevent blisters by making sure your sock is secure while you’re walking and not slipping up and down, and by ensuring that your hiking boots fit tightly and snugly – but not too tight, especially if you prefer thicker socks while hiking. Keeping your feet dry will also prevent blisters, so experienced hikers often pack at least two or three extra pairs of socks they can change into if their original pair gets soaked. And the biggest hiking pro tip? Break in your hiking boots before taking them out on the trail, wearing them at least a few times after you purchase them. If you do get a blister, pop and drain it if you have a sterilized needle on hand (which is a good idea to carry in your backpack). Apply disinfectant and wrap it up to quell the risk of infection.
Nature is unpredictable and stepping the wrong way on a rock could result in the most common type of hiking injury – a sprained ankle. Good hiking boots with solid ankle support help prevent ankle sprains, as does watching where you step, but these injuries happen. If you find yourself with an ankle sprain, just remember the acronym RICE – rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
- Rest: Take weight off the sprained ankle immediately.
- Ice: If you don’t have ice packed with you, put your ankle in cold water nearby.
- Compression: Use a spare t-shirt or an elastic bandage to put compression on the sprain. Make sure that the compression isn’t so tight that it cuts off circulation.
- Elevation: Raise your ankle over your heart and elevate if possible.
When you can walk again to get off the trail, use a walking stick or the support of a fellow hiker to get you to a place where you can RICE for the next few days.
All it takes is one false move while hiking to trigger an existing or new back injury. The steps to prevent a back injury while hiking mirror that of the ways to prevent a sprain – wear good shoes with solid support, watch where you’re stepping, and, especially to prevent back injuries, consider a hiking stick that helps alleviate pressure from your back.
Hypothermia, the cooling of your core body temperature, is a hiking injury best prevented entirely, as is its counterpart, hyperthermia. (See below). To prevent against hypothermia, keep yourself as dry as you can, watch the weather and wear appropriate clothing for it, and pack items like a flask of a warm drink, a tinfoil sleeping bag, and a high-visibility vest to signal to emergency workers that you need help. Common signs you are experiencing hypothermia are called the “umbles” – mumbling, stumbling, fumbling, and grumbling. At this point, seek emergency help immediately.
Like hypothermia, hyperthermia is best prevented rather than treated. Hyperthermia is the increase of body temperatures and can be prevented by drinking an ample amount of fluids in heat while hiking and wearing a hat to block the sun from directly hitting your head. Sunscreen is also important, not only to prevent a sunburn (see below), but also because a sunburn exacerbates hyperthermia, only making it worse and possibly stretching out your recovery time. The first sign of hyperthermia is muscle cramping, which will become increasingly severe. Then you’ll experience heat exhaustion followed by heat stroke, which is potentially deadly. Signs of distress include sweating, headaches, cramps, and, eventually, no longer sweating – which means you have reached the point of heat exhaustion and need help immediately.
Speaking of heat, dehydration is an injury often experienced by hikers, especially those hiking in hotter months. The trick to prevent dehydration is drinking plenty of water and knowing the symptoms of dehydration, which include:
- Feeling more thirsty than normal.
- Lack of energy.
- Urine is a darker shade of yellow than normal.
You treat dehydration the same way you attempt to prevent it – by drinking lots of water. Rehydration salts like Dioralyte also work, as do salt satchels.
Other injuries like cuts, sunburns, and chafing are all a part of the hiking experience. Make sure your First Aid kit is stocked, and, if injury does occur – think fractures, knee injuries, back injuries, joint inflammation – never hesitate to reach out to the experienced professionals at Southlake Orthopaedics Sports Medicine and Spine Center.
Daniel C. Kim, MD is a spine surgeon with Southlake Orthopaedics Sports Medicine & Spine C