When you plan for a hike, you usually anticipate beautiful scenery, exercise and a peaceful day with Mother Nature. What's usually forgotten is the muscle pain and soreness that can result from a long day on the mountain. Learn the causes, prevent the pain and treat it correctly when it occurs, and you'll spend more days on the mountain than in bed nursing sore body parts.
Foot soreness is a common complaint among hikers and is probably caused by your equipment. Even though you see big, clunky hiking boots at every outdoor store, thinner boots or shoes with a smaller sole can keep your feet more comfortable and also prevent your ankle from rolling. When you step on a rock with a cumbersome boot, you will be less stable than with a shoe that fits closely to your foot. Big boots with high tops also take longer to dry if you're passing through wet areas or rivers, and having wet boots or socks can cause painful blisters that can keep you off the mountain for days. Change your socks often and choose a hiking boot or shoe that dries quickly. Always try on your shoes or boots in the store so a professional can help you find the perfect fit; shoes that are too small can cause serious toe soreness after a day of hiking.
Muscle soreness results when you take on more than your legs are prepared to handle. If you haven't been warming up for a big hike by completing many smaller hikes, your muscles are going to be sore at the end of the day. Because you jumped into exercise that you haven't done in a while, or took on a steeper grade mountain than you're used to, you'll probably experience delayed onset muscle soreness. This means you'll experience very sore muscles for about 48 hours after a hike, then it will start to ease. The next time you try that same hike that gave you delayed onset muscle soreness, your legs will be conditioned and you will feel less soreness or none at all.
The best way to ease foot soreness and muscle pain from hiking is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Getting a new pair of shoes and changing your socks often will certainly help with foot soreness, but you'll need to take a few more steps to prevent foot and muscle pain entirely. A tincture of benzoin applied to the problem areas of your feet before a long hike will toughen them up, making blisters and skin sores less likely to occur, says backpacking guide Jack Haskel. Buy yourself a good pair of hiking poles to take some of the strain off your leg muscles and always ease into the exercise you're about to do. Warm up with stretching and a few exercises on land, such as jumping jacks or running in place, to prevent pulling a muscle during the hike. Don't go on a three-day hike if you usually hike for a couple of hours. Increase the amount of time and the difficulty of the hikes gradually.
Handling Sore Feet and Muscle Pain
Take off your shoes after a long day of hiking, even if you're camping on the mountain. Walk around in your socks or barefoot and give your feet a nice massage to prepare yourself for the next day. Always let your socks and shoes dry overnight to reduce the chance of future blisters. For sore foot or leg muscles, wrap some ice or an ice pack in a towel and apply it to sore areas after hiking for 15 to 20 minutes, a few times daily. Icing your muscles constricts the blood flow to the area of the injury and reduces swelling. After three to five days of icing, you can apply heat to the injured area for 15 or 20 minutes at a time. Always consult your doctor if severe muscle or foot pain lasts more than a few days.
- Polka Dot Images/Polka Dot/Getty Images