Most of us we start life reasonably fit and healthy and as we get older we start to collect various injuries and illnesses along the way. In most cases we aren’t talking about major medical problems that are going to stop us from hiking altogether but rather issues that may only be minor niggles but either in isolation, or in combination, they injuries can become more of an issue making life just that bit more difficult. In addition to these pre-existing issues we can also collect new ones when we hike. Dealing with these injuries can be a real learning curve but it’s worth being aware of what they are and how best to manage them, otherwise your enjoyment level will be greatly impacted.
In this article we discuss the key considerations for hiking with pre-existing injuries (we’ll leave illnesses to another day) as well as managing any new ones you pick up on the trail.
First and foremost if you have any pre-existing injuries, temporary or ongoing, then seeking advice from a medical professional is more crucial than if you are 100% injury free; but that’s a rarity. Health professionals come armed with knowledge that can be a major help and may even be the difference between a successful hike and one where you need to leave the trail early. The following is a possible list of health proffesionals that can help you get ready for a hike:
For short hikes this step may not be necessary but if you are heading off on a thru hike, that is hundreds or even thousands of kilometres long, seeking professional medical advice should be considered just a normal part of preparation, pre-existing injuries or not.
Everyone has their own physical limits and if you have an injury this may not be the same as it was say 10 years ago prior to that injury. Do some personal physical research and learn what your limits are and ‘how far is two far’. Learning this limits will allow you to plan a hike that is achievable. Having said that be prepared to have days that don’t quite measure up.
Logistical considerations that you should know
Note the emphasis on ‘comfortably’. Your body is a machine and any machine that runs at 100% for long periods will usually fail. Set physical goals your body can cope with for the length and duration of your planned hike.
While this may seem really obvious how well do you really know your body and the impacts your injuries have on it? You can read all the books and blogs you like, watch Youtube videos, listen to podcasts, but this information can only be of a generic nature. Short hikes can usually be managed without too much problem unless your are dealing with severe injuries. But the longer the hike and the harder you push yourself, the greater the impact is likely to be.
If you go into a hike with pre-existing injuries without knowing these answers you will have a very sharp learning curve that you may not be able to resolve in the middle of nowhere.
The Overland Track in Tasmania is one of Australia’s most popular tracks with around 9,000 people a year undertaking this trip. If you read all the news articles and even the track webpage you can be forgiven for thinking you will die if you try to walk this track. I have never seen a track website and booking system that identifies what can go wrong to such an extent. In all fairness to the parks service in Tasmania has valid reasons for this. When I ask newer hikers what trips they are planning, the Overland Track is either on top of that list or very close to the top. Over the past four years of interviewing and talking to hikers about the Overland Track you soon realise for many people this is the longest trip they have ever done and for many its the first time they have ever camped. Accidents and injury can happen on any hike no matter how experienced you are or no matter how much planning you have done. Having said that experience and planning go a long way to minimising accidents and injury on the trail so put the effort into pre-trip planning and physical preparation, it’s well worth it.
One thing worth considering at this point is having basic first aid qualifications. If hiking is your thing then knowing what to do in the case of an injury or accident is essential particularly if you are travelling in remote areas.
Pre-existing issues aside there is always potential for injuries on any hike. Many can be a minor inconvenience but others can be more serious. The following are the more common ones that may impacts:
Sometime you can tough out an injury and sometimes you can’t. Think through what the decision point is for calling it quits and don’t be afraid to full the pin. If you are injured, continuing to hike may just make it worse and anyway the whole idea is to enjoy what you are doing after all.
Hopefully you will go through life being fit and healthy and never have any medical issues or injuries. Given that it’s highly unlikely then knowing how to recognise the issues and knowing how to mange them is something we should all put some effort into. As someone who has a series of compounding injuries running the length of my body I’ve learnt what I need to do to minimise any impacts of these issues and how to recognise when things are going wrong on the trail. I don’t always get it right but that then becomes a learning experience that feeds into the next trip.