The uneven, inclined surfaces occasionally involved in hiking can result in muscle cramping or a serious case of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) after you hike, especially if you don't do it regularly. Don't worry; it doesn't mean you're getting old or out of shape. You can ease and avoid sore hamstrings after hiking with a few tweaks to your routine.
DOMS and Cramps
Delayed onset muscle soreness and hamstring cramps are two common sources of discomfort after hiking. One way to tell the difference is to pay attention to the timing. If the soreness occurs shortly after the hike is over, you're likely suffering from a muscle cramp. DOMS generally doesn't set in until 24 hours after you work your muscles, leaving you wondering what on earth you did to feel so stiff.
Soreness Vs. Pain
Although DOMS and muscle cramps are a pain in...well, the hamstring...they won't leave you wincing or writhing on the floor. Muscle soreness can be an inconvenience, but it won't stop you from performing your regular activities. Acute pain, on the other hand, can stop you dead in your tracks. Pain that occurs suddenly in your hamstrings, feels sharp and increases with movement is something to be concerned about. Stop whatever you're doing that's causing the pain and see your doctor.
Preventing and Dealing with Sore Hamstrings
Preventive measures are the best kind and can help reduce or eliminate pain in your hamstrings after hiking. Warm up beforehand with gentle walking for 10 minutes. Follow that with gentle, active stretches that include touching your toes to stretch the backs of your thighs. After your hike, spend 10 minutes stretching again, performing static stretches that you hold for 15 to 30 seconds.
If you experience soreness in your hamstrings anyway, treat the muscles with ice during the first 72 hours. Any remaining muscle soreness can be treated with heat after the third day. Use your sore hamstrings as an excuse to languish in a warm bath just a little bit longer than usual.
Other Things to Think About
Hiking sounds like fun, and it is. But it can also be a very strenuous form of exercise. If you're new to hiking, it's important to be outfitted with good, thick-soled shoes and comfortable clothing that's appropriate for the weather. Drink water throughout your hike to avoid cramps caused by dehydration. Prepare for a long hike by taking several mini-hikes. You wouldn't just go out and run a half-marathon without training, and the same principle applies to hiking. Increase your physical fitness through regular cardio exercise and strength training. See your doctor beforehand to ensure that hiking is safe for you.
Mary Ylisela is a former teacher with a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education and mathematics. She has been a writer since 1996, specializing in business, fitness and education. Prior to teaching, Ylisela worked as a certified fitness instructor and a small-business owner.