7 injuries you must avoid for a smooth trekking experience
This blog is a part of our Trekking 101 series, powered by ULTIMATE TREKKER – the Outdoor Leadership Program for pro trekkers.
If you are trying something new, outside your comfort zone you will get injured, often fail and learn. This typical process follows us in all walks of life. Tasks can be physical or mental it doesn’t really matter. Just remember failing and getting hurt is part of the game. If you’re new to trekking or other outdoor activities, remember things may seem a little unpleasant at times, but only when it gets uncomfortable will you learn more about yourself.
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Pranav Rawat is a seasoned mountaineer and an ice-climber, with a decade long experience as a summiteer. Pranav is also an UIAA certified Himalayan Mountain Guide and Wilderness First Responder, which makes him an unparalleled expert on climbing and trekking in the Indian Himalayas.
Below we have compiled a list of 7 common trekking injuries and ailments, and their treatments. Remember some hiking injuries are treatable but can cause serious problems if proper precautions are not taken to cure them on time.
If we had an award for the most common trekking ailment than it would probably go to ‘Blisters’. These painful little sacs are caused due to friction between your skin and ill-fitting socks. Your shoes should fit comfortably but shouldn’t rub against the inside. Don’t let your sock slip up and down when you walk. Keep your feet dry before wearing your shoes and have two or three spare pairs of socks in reserve.
Treatment: If you have a sterilized needle in your first aid kit great, otherwise warm the tip of your knife till its red. Pop and drain the blister. Apply disinfectant and then wrap it up with a bandage or duct tape to minimize the risk of infection.
Are you familiar with Murphy’s Law? Around the year 1950, an American engineer named Edward A Murphy tested many high-speed rockets and after multiple failed experiments came to the conclusion that if “Anything can go wrong, it will go wrong”. The relationship between your legs and sprains is similar. Sprains occur when ligaments or supporting tissues of our muscles overstretch or tear. A sprain can result from a fall, a sudden twist, or a blow to the body that forces a joint out of its normal position.
Treatment: We all like ‘RICE’ right, so remember this word. Because only ‘Rice’ will help you during sprains. Rest, apply ice or any other cold therapy, wrap the affected area with a bandage to prevent swelling, Elevate the sore body part above heart level to reduce inflammation.
IT-Band is a thick connective tissue that runs from the outside of our hips to the outside of our knees. It helps us stabilize and move our knee joint. When this tissue is overused it obstructs the movement of our knees therefore, running/hiking becomes painful. Poor muscle flexibility, mechanical imbalances in lower back, pelvis, hips and knees, downhill running are common causes which lead to overuse of It-Band. To confirm if you’re experiencing ITBS, first bend your knee to a 45 degree angle. Then stress your knee, if you are suffering from IT band then you should be able to feel a continuous stiffness from your hips to your knees.
Treatment: IT Band isn’t an injury per se, the condition is painful but causes no permanent damage to the body. Take a few weeks off to let the IT band syndrome fully heal. If you are hiking then take an extra rest day, make sure you have properly packed your bag. It will reduce the stress on your knees. Remember the ‘RICE’ method? Follow its steps to keep the pain in check. Check the cushion and structure of your shoes. These two parts control inappropriate foot and heel movements so make sure they aren’t worn out.
Hypothermia is identified as the condition of having abnormally low body temperature and occurs due to prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. In the first stage a person’s blood circulation is reduced. Slowly this condition leads to lack of co-ordination in physical movements, confusion and drowsiness. Water conducts heat 25 times more efficiently than air, so heat-loss will be far faster if you’re drenched. Normally hypothermia takes about 30 minutes to set in, and will take an hour to two hours to kill you.
Treatment: As long as the victim continues to breathe cold air, it will be difficult to warm them up – get them inside a tent. Symptoms will escalate until they become extreme. Use warm blankets, hot water bottles, body warmth to warm them up. Concentrate on restoring core body temperature.
It’s not the heat that causes sunburn—excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light is the root cause. When we expose our bodies to UV rays released from the sun, our skin stops producing melanin, a substance that protects us from the sun and gives our skin its color. Common symptoms include- reddish skin that is hot to touch, pain, general fatigue, and mild dizziness. Generally it takes about 12 hours to feel the full fire of sunburn and trust us, you may look rugged in your photographs but in reality your skin will peel off and it will be painful.
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Treatment: Don’t forget to take your sunscreen, it’s your primary means of defense. If you are one of those people who forget to keep the lotion in; all you can do is cover your face with a cloth to minimize damage. Cold water, aloe vera will help ease your pain. In dire circumstances painkillers like ibuprofen can be helpful.
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Chafing is our skin protesting against poor clothing/shopping choices. Usually caused by the rubbing of skin-on-skin or clothing-on-skin. If left unchecked, this friction will eventually cause irritation which can lead to various skin injuries, resulting in rashes, blisters or raw skin. Severe chafing can be extremely painful, making movements difficult.
Chafing can happen with just about any activity that includes repetitive motion, but it is especially common during long-distance running and cycling. Some factors that may cause or contribute to chafing include Ill-fitting clothing; fabrics that don’t wick moisture, humidity and sweat.
Treatment: Just like with blisters on your feet, early detection is important. As soon as you feel a hot spot somewhere, stop and check the area. If the area is a bit red and irritated, address the issue immediately. Gently clean the affected area, dry it and apply petroleum jelly. If you’re in the middle of the trail, wrap the affected area and ensure that it doesn’t rub against your skin or fabrics. Advanced stages will need medical attention.
It is believed that there are three main reasons why a person will get leg cramps; tiredness by pushing themselves too hard, dehydration or an imbalance of electrolytes, particularly during the warmer months when you need to replace the salts that your body loses through sweating. Cramps can take place in the front or back of the thigh or the calf muscles.
Treatment: Typically, a person who suffers from leg cramps is someone who is not used to hiking and has done a long walk putting too much strain on their muscles at once. Instead, work your way up gradually to let your muscles get used to hiking and undertake regular exercise which will ultimately help to strengthen your leg muscles rather than nursing a severe cramp. However in case you do get cramped, stop loading the muscle immediately, drink plenty of fluids and massage the muscle to release the tension.
Have you contracted any debilitating injury or ailment while on a trek? How did you cope? Let us know in the comments section below.
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Author: Aditya Pande
A climber hailing from a quaint hill town of Kumaon, Uttaranchal. Focused towards staying healthy and efficient, in the mountains and in the cities.