If you come home from a hike and your neck is sore or your back aches, the problem may be with your choice of footwear. According to Virginia Quiroz
, an orthopedic nurse practitioner with Colorado Springs Health Partners
, most of the joint and bone pain experienced by people who hike, bike or run is due to ill-fitting or worn-out footwear. Everything starts with the impact of your foot and the ground — I’ve had my own issues with footwear
To make mattes worse, when people feel sore, they tend to stop engaging in exercise, causing further weakening of the muscles, tendons and ligaments that support the joints and our bodies. According to Quiroz, even though rest is an appropriate way to deal with soreness, one should still exercise, even if to a lesser degree than normal.
But the secrets to pain relief
aren’t earth-shattering. To start, comfortable boots and shoes with good insoles can make the difference between enjoying the outdoors and living in misery. But footwear isn’t the only way to avoid bone and joint pain. Quiroz recommends stretching and a warm-up before hitting the trail. For the more active person, the warm-up and stretching can be done at the same time by walking, jogging or cycling slowly for a few minutes, gradually building up to your normal speed. For someone just getting started, Quiroz recommends light stretching followed by a slow, gradual warm-up. After you’re done with your fun in the outdoors, remember to cool down, either by just slowly reducing your speed, or by applying ice to your joints.
Making sure your backpack fits you properly and is snugly secured in another way to relieve pressure on your joints. Even your hydration pack can cause back problems if you don’t cinch it down around you shoulders, chest and waist. Bigger backpacking packs are sized or adjustable for the wearers’ height — be sure you get the right size or adjust it properly. Quiroz recommends using hiking poles, especially for uneven terrain.
Weight control also figures into joint pain relief — and of course, one of the best ways to keep your weight down is regular exercise. Keeping the excess weight off helps reduce the strain on your joints. If you’re a little unsteady on your feet, exercises to improve your balance are helpful, too. Core training not only strengthens your abdominal muscles, it also improves your body’s alignment, which reduces strain on muscles and joints.
But if you’re still a bit sore, over-the-counter anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen
or naproxen sodium
can help relieve pain. For more chronic pain, cortisone
injections into the joint are a good remedy, but Quiroz recommends no more than three cortisone injections per joint in a year. If you’re suffering from arthritis in your knees, injectable treatments such as Supartz
have been shown to bring relief and delay the need for knee replacement surgery. But as with many other treatments, that may not work for everyone.
Quiroz says there’s no scientific proof that other over-the-counter joint pain supplements, such as glucosamine
, really work, since the path they have to take from the digestive system to the joint dilutes the medication. But since no two people react the same way to over-the-counter drugs, and since they’re generally harmless, it can’t hurt to try them. Quiroz suggests taking them for a month and then stopping for a while to see if there is any noticeable difference.
If you’re starting out with outdoors activities, or any kind of new activity, make sure you talk to your personal health care professional to be sure you’re ready for increased activity. Now, go hit the trail!
Bob Falcone is a firefighter, photographer, hiker, college instructor and small business owner who has lived in Colorado Springs for over 23 years. He is the board president of the Friends of Cheyenne Canon and a member of the El Paso County Parks Advisory Board. You can follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), or visit his website (Hikingbob.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob: firstname.lastname@example.org.