I am sure every one has heard other hikers moaning about their aches and pains, (perhaps it was you?) when they stop for the night or finally get home and try to get out of the car.
The Aches and Pains are so easy to avoid!
Stretching your muscles is second only to good hydration when it comes to, maintaining flexibility, function, endurance, injury prevention and a rapid and recovery (without aches and pains) after a days walking.
Muscles are the most happy when they have;
- Movement: Try holding a muscles in one position (static) for too long, and you will start feeling the burn!
- Variety: Muscles hate doing the same action over and over, (same as being static) they become tired and contracted.
- Warmth: Muscles are most flexible when they are warm as there is better nerve function and blood supply.
- Water: required for energy production, cooling, lubrication and waste removal.
How Muscles Work
- The Muscles we use to produce movement are the Skeletal Muscles, so named by their attachment to, and movement of our Skeleton.
- Each bundle of individual muscle is attached to the skeleton at opposite ends by strong “ropes” called Tendons.
- Bundles of muscles group together with other muscles that do the same or similar functions. (Ie: There are 4 individual muscles that form the Quadriceps group)
- Muscles pull in one direction, so one end of a muscle is always anchored,(the Origin) while the other end(the Insertion)moves towards the origin.
To achieve movement, similar muscle groups work in opposition (antagonism) to each other. While one group contracts and shortens the opposite group relaxes and lengthens, to reverse the movement the role changes with the relaxed muscles pulling and the others relaxing.
For example, to lift your fore arm towards your shoulder;
- The Bicep’s group of muscles on the upper side of your upper arm, contract pulling on tendons that cross over the elbow joint and attached to the bones of the forearm.
- At the same time the Tricep’s group(antagonistic) on the underside of your upper arm (also with tendons attaching in the same way to the bones of the forearm) relax and lengthen out as the arm moves up.
- To lower the forearm the opposite happens, the Bicep’s group relax and lengthened as the Tricep’s contracting and pulling the forearm down. This is exactly how you take every step on your hike (more than two muscle groups involved however)
When Muscles get tired
When a muscle group becomes over tired(ie: the Quadriceps descending a long hill) they lose their flexibility and ability to relax fully, which results in;
- Tension and contraction in the muscle body, transfers through the tendons to origin and insertion points.
- Restricting the range of movement for the antagonistic muscles, tiring them also.
- Loss of muscle flexibility, which increases the risk of tendon and muscle injury.
- General overall drop in endurance.
There are three primary types of muscle pain we experience when hiking;
- Presentation: Usually associated with a sudden movement like a slip, fall, trip.
- Cause: Often an over stretch or tear to the muscle or tendon.(Strain)
- Signal: The muscle in general will tend to ache, and movement will increase the pain and greatly discourage movement.
- Repair: With a minor strain and the support of boots, you maybe able to “walk it off”/ cool it in water.(*1) A more severe strain will likely be too painful to walk on and need outside help from Emergency services.(this injury is often hard to tell from a fracture)
Over Use pain;
- Presentation: Most common when doing a repetitive series of movements, i.e.: descending or climbing a steep hill.
- Cause: Typically the muscle group will become tight, and restrict movement of its self and or its antagonist muscle pair.
- Signal: Pain, most commonly at the point of tendon origin or insertion, (a great clue to the muscle involved) which most often has it mistaken for a joint injury.(painful knees descending a hill are a classic)
- Repair: Easy to resolve by resting and stretching the antagonistic muscles groups involved. (*2)
Stiff and Aching;
- Presentation: Typically, at the end of a long days hiking, after sitting down and resting, or after driving home in the car (static)/ the morning after.
- Cause: People tend to leap in the car with out a warm down stretch and stop drinking water, causing muscle dehydration and preventing the removal of wastes products from energy production process.
- Signal: The whole leg / body aching, you feel stiff when you walk, but you can still move around.
- Repair: Prevention is best – drinking plenty of water during your hike , and for several hours afterwards, stretching before during and after your hike. ( both of these things – particularly the stretching will also help when you are feeling the signal.)
Most people will eventually develop their own routine to suit their needs, there are plenty of online demonstrations that you can build your stretching around.(*3)
My Warm up Routine;
I usually start with a gentle walk around before a hike, which helps to wake every thing up.
Then stop and stretch;
During the Hike
When I start to the feel the gradual onset of the signs of tiring muscles either in my legs or arms while hiking (pain, stiffness, aching) my first thought is to stop and stretch the related muscle groups.
Which Muscles to stretch
For those that don’t know which muscles to target, it is still often possible to figure out something;
- Locate the area of pain
- Decide where its coming from (In the try the opposite movement to the cause of the pain, in the limbs look to the muscles above that create the movement)
- Stretch the area in the opposite way to the direction causing the pain.
Knees: Pain on the inside or outside of the bent knee (going down hill for a long time) is often coming from the Quadrecips group on the front or the Hamstring group on the back of your thigh.
The painful area is likely where the tendons from above are crossing the knee Joint and attaching to the bones below.
So working out the stretch..
- If the Pain is when the knee is bending, do the opposite and put the leg out straight heel on a tree stump and push down a little until you feel the stretch along the under side of your thigh( Hamstring)
- If the pain is when the Knee is straightening, then bend your knee, grab your boot and hold your foot up behind your bottom, pull until you feel the stretch along the front of your thigh (Quadricep)
When you have isolated the correct source muscle the pain around the knee should resolve.
In the rare event that after stretching the pain has not gone, then the next step I would take is to;
- Reassess that I am drinking enough water. (Urine output and frequency)
- Consult with my friendly Arnica cream in my first aid kit.(miracle natural anti inflammatory cream.)
Warm Down – after the hike
- I like to use the last 2 – 500 m of the hike to gradually slow down from my walking speed, giving the muscles a chance to cool down, while drinking plenty.
- Then repeat all the stretches from the Warm up at the start.
- Keep drinking water for several hours after you finish your hike to make sure all the waste products get cleared from the muscles.
(*1) Minor strains in your ankles are best kept in your boots, if there is a nice cool river near by submerging can help with swelling, but my all time favourite is to rub on some Arnica Cream for a Miracle cure (always in my first aid kit for any soft tissue injury minor or other wise.)
(*2)If I had a dollar for every time I have come across other hikers limping on a long down hill with a “stuffed knee” (which they had not fallen on) who resistant to the idea a stretch will fix it, and been amazed how easy it was. ( or fixed the same problem on my own legs with just a stretch)
(*3)Visit your local Physiotherapist, Massage therapist or Personal trainer to learn a good warm up routine to suit your hiking needs.
- Muscles, testing and function with Posture and Pain, Kendall, McCreary, Provance Et al.
- Bicep’s /Tricep’s: Pearson Education inc, 2011.
- Berkhamsted, 2014, Hip Abductor and Adductor stretches
- James Dunne, Muscle stretch demonstrations
- Alter, 1998, Sports Stretches.