Our podiatry team loves hiking. It’s fun, you get to explore new places and see new views, it’s a fantastic social
activity with friends, it’s great exercise - yep, hiking really does offer a range of physical and mental health benefits. So when
you’ve planned a hike, it can be very disheartening to have foot or leg pain disrupt it or end your hike early. And worse yet, if the
pain is bad enough to then leech into the following days and weeks at home and work.
Hiking Places Notable Stress On Your Feet And Legs
The first thing to be mindful of is that regardless of how much preparation and care you take when it comes to your feet and legs when
hiking, your lower limbs will be under significant strain. Just think about the nature of hiking and its uneven trails, rocky
paths, and ascents and descents of varying gradients. Next, hiking is also a very repetitive activity, filled with constant flexion and
extension of the ankles, knees, and hips that ultimately contribute to muscle fatigue and joint strain. The uphill climbs require a fair
amount of work on behalf of your calf muscles, quadriceps, and glutes, demanding both strength and endurance. Conversely, downhill descents
shift the focus to eccentric muscle contractions, particularly in the quadriceps, to control the body's descent and absorb the impact on the
The variability of the terrain adds another layer of complexity to the demands of hiking. Uneven surfaces, such as rocks, roots, and gravel,
require constant adjustments in foot placement to maintain stability. This dynamic nature of the trail constantly engages your stabilising
muscles throughout the feet and ankles, promoting proprioception and balance. Furthermore, extended periods of weight-bearing, especially if
you’re carrying a backpack, increase the overall load on the lower limbs, contributing to fatigue and the potential for overuse
injuries. Simply put: while hiking is fun, it’s no easy feat on the body, and the right care must be taken.
Prevention Common Hiking Injuries
As podiatrists, we see and treat a fair range of injuries that have resulted from hiking. Among these, the most common are:
Ankle sprains: hiking on uneven terrain increases the risk of missteps,
leading to sprains where the supporting ankle ligaments are overstretched or torn, typically from sudden twists or rolls during descents
or when navigating rocky paths. Choosing appropriate footwear, such as high-top hiking boots offering ankle support, becomes crucial in
helping reduce the risk of ankle sprains during a hike. Additionally, performing pre-hike ankle-strengthening exercises can fortify the
ligaments, reducing the likelihood of sprains. This will be a great idea if you have a history of ankle sprains, or you know that your
ankles are a bit weak.
Plantar fasciitis: plantar fasciitis is characterised by inflammation
of the plantar fascia, a connective tissue that connects the bottom of the heel to the toes. Hiking, particularly on uneven
surfaces, can place excess strain on the plantar fascia due to repetitive motions and prolonged weight-bearing. The result is heel pain
that often is worse first thing in the morning as well as after rest. To help reduce the risk of plantar fasciitis, hikers should opt for
well-fitted, supportive footwear with adequate arch support. If you already wear orthotics in your sneakers, make sure you’re
wearing some in your hiking boots too. Regular stretching of the calves and the plantar fascia, especially before and after hikes, will
also help to maintain flexibility and reduce strain.
Blisters: they may be small and common, but we’ll never underestimate how
such a small blister can stop you in your tracks completely during a hike and see you uncomfortably hobbling back home. Blisters develop
due to prolonged friction between footwear and skin, exacerbated by moisture. Hiking, especially in new or ill-fitting boots, can increase
the likelihood of blisters, especially when you think about how hot or wet hiking boots can get. Moisture-wicking socks can play a big
role in blister prevention, as they reduce the accumulation of sweat. Make sure you’re also adequately breaking in new hiking boots
before a long hike to minimise friction and hence the blister risk. Additionally, using blister-prevention products, such as adhesive pads
or lubricants, can help add an extra layer of defense if you know you’re prone to getting blisters in certain areas.
Achilles tendinopathy: Achilles pain involves damage to or
inflammation of the Achilles tendon, typically resulting from overuse. Hiking, particularly on challenging terrain or at an increased
pace, can contribute to the risk of problems or injury to the Achilles tendon. The repetitive motion of ascending and descending inclines
places strain on the Achilles tendon. To prevent tendinitis, we recommend incorporating calf stretches into their warm-up routine,
ensuring the tendon is adequately prepared for the demands of the trail. Maintaining a gradual pace during hikes and choosing footwear
that provides proper support can also help alleviate strain on the Achilles tendon, so make sure to do both if you’ve had Achilles
issues in the past.
Shin splints: medically known as medial tibial stress syndrome,
shin splints manifest as pain along the shinbone and are often associated with repetitive activities. Hiking, especially downhill descents
and overexertion, can contribute to the development of shin splints. Preventive measures include a gradual increase in hike difficulty to
allow the body to acclimate. Choosing appropriate footwear that provides cushioning and shock absorption can also mitigate the impact on
the shinbone, as can be strengthening calf muscles through targeted exercises.
Don’t Forget: Other Hiking Pain Prevention Tips
To help reduce your risk of foot or leg pain during hiking this summer, we also recommend:
Engaging in a well-rounded fitness regimen that includes cardiovascular exercises, strength training, and flexibility work in order to
enhance your overall endurance and resilience. Research indicates that those with better cardiovascular fitness exhibit improved performance
and reduced fatigue during prolonged physical activities, such as hiking.
Selecting your shoes for hiking and exercise carefully. Hikers should invest in well-fitted, supportive hiking boots with ample ankle
support. Additionally, selecting boots with adequate traction can enhance stability on challenging terrain.
Distributing the load evenly throughout your back page and keeping the backpack close to the body, as this can help minimise stress on the
spine and lower limbs, which helps to prevent overexertion and fatigue.
Taking the time to understand the terrain you’re about to hike and planning the route, as this can prevent missteps and accidents.
Ensuring you’re maintaining proper hydration and nutrition, as these play a big role in maintaining energy levels and preventing
fatigue-related injuries. Both dehydration and inadequate energy consumption can impair cognitive function and physical performance.
Having a comprehensive warm-up routine that includes dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretching has been shown to improve flexibility and
increase joint range of motion, supporting improved performance when hiking and during sports.
Maintaining a consistent pace when hiking, especially during ascents and descents, as it reduces the risk of muscle fatigue and joint
stress. Utilising trekking poles can also distribute load and enhance stability.
- Taking breaks during long hikes to rest and stretch. This helps prevent fatigue and minimises the risk of overuse injuries.
Pay attention to any signs of discomfort or pain. If any issues or problems arise, book in to see your podiatrist at your earliest
convenience, before any minor injuries have the opportunity to progress and worsen.
Experiencing Hiking Foot Pain? Your Podiatrist Can Help
Our podiatrists work very closely with hikers, both in managing hiking related injuries and previous injuries that tend to flare up as we do
more hiking over the summer and autumn seasons. During an appointment, we’ll complete a thorough examination that involves a video
gait analysis to understand exactly what is going on with your feet and legs, and importantly, why it has occurred. We’ll explain all
of this to you, showing you exactly what we’re seeing on your video analysis, and describe your treatment options to help you not only
recover fully, but also reduce your likelihood of your injury recurring in the future.
Here at The Feet People, we have a wide range of treatment option available to help you get the best results for your recovery, including:
Book your appointment with our podiatry team online
or call us on 1300 993 338.