Mountains, waterfalls, stunning overlooks, secluded trails – it’s all right here in Greenville at the foothills of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. There are hundreds of miles of trails within an hour or two driving distance just waiting to be explored. Many of my patients love the outdoors and enjoy hiking, whether it’s a tough trail or an easy stroll through the woods. Getting out in nature can do wonders for both mental and physical health.
Hiking has many benefits, including:
- Improved stability
- Increase in bone density
- Lower risk of heart disease
- Lessening the symptoms of anxiety and depression
- Increasing strength in your legs, hips, and glutes
- Lowering of blood pressure and blood sugar levels
While the great outdoors is certainly incredible, as a chiropractor I see common injuries that could otherwise be prevented by following some simple steps to protect your spine while enjoying that fresh mountain air. Being mindful of these tips can help you not lose any time experiencing the beauty of nature that surrounds us here in Greenville, SC.
Chiropractic Hiking tips
Follow these seven tips to have a fantastic hike while protecting your spine and staying in great condition outdoors. Many of these suggestions involve getting the right gear. You don’t need to spend a small fortune on high end gear – just make sure it fits you correctly.
Finding the right shoes is crucial
Let’s start from the bottom up. Finding the right shoes to support your feet is crucial to avoiding injury and protecting the rest of your body as you trek along trails and over exposed roots and slippery rocks. There are a huge variety of hiking boots and trail running shoes available and it is best to go to an outfitter (locally, go to REI, Sunrift Adventures, or Half Moon Outfitters) and try on shoes before you purchase them. Typically, you need to go up a half size since your feet will swell with heat. Make sure the tread has good grip and that the shoe is stable. Most outfitters will have a rock you can test the shoes out on. Having a good hiking shoe is critical to maintaining good posture, protecting your knees and back, and avoiding twisted ankles or falls.
Trekking poles can be a lifesaver
Trekking poles, lightweight ski-like poles usually with a grip handle at top and point or rubber stopper at the bottom, can be a lifesaver in the woods because they can often stop you from falling. These can really help you to stabilize on wet, muddy, or slippery trails and prevent injuries. You can lean on them to help you as you move uphill or use them to stabilize yourself while coming down the trail, especially if your legs are already a little wobbly from an uphill climb. Most poles will fold up so if you don’t need them, just put them in your backpack. They are great tools to use for hiking and preventing injury.
Having a backpack that fits correctly
Speaking of backpacks, having a backpack fit you correctly will take the strain off your neck, shoulders, and upper back. REI and other outfitters will fit you for a backpack right in their stores and help you make sure the straps are secured properly around your hips and the shoulder straps are where they need to be to avoid strain. The distribution of weight in your backpack, especially if you are carrying a child in a hiking backpack or going on a long backpacking trip, can make a world of difference. By having the correct fit for your backpack, you can avoid injuries not only to your neck and shoulders but also to your knees, hips, and ankles.
Stretch before you hit the trails
It may seem like a silly thing to do in the middle of a parking lot or at the trailhead, but doing simple stretches for your legs, arms, and shoulders can help loosen the muscles and joints that are about to be used for your outdoor enjoyment. Stretching for a few minutes before you start hiking can prevent back pain as well by alleviating tension. Stretch your shoulders, your quads and hamstrings, your calves, and your neck before trekking off into the woods. Also take a few minutes to do those same stretches after your hike. It’s always a good idea to cool down your muscles before you head home.
Drink enough water
Hydration is necessary while on the trail. Your muscles need water to work properly and prevent injury. Spinal discs are comprised of mostly water and receive nutrients through a process called imbibition, which requires ideal motion in the joints that are above and below the disc. Subluxations (a point where joints are not aligned correctly) can inhibit water getting to the discs, which can lead to degeneration. This is an important reason why chiropractic care is so critical to anyone who likes to move around, participate in sports, and of course, go hiking. While you are being treated to remove subluxations, hydration is so important, no matter what you may be doing or where you may be hiking. Always carry enough water while hiking and don’t forget to drink it.
Know your limits
While it would be amazing to hike the hardest trail to the highest mountain your first time out, you may be setting yourself for a negative outcome and injuries. Work up to the harder trails by hiking easier ones first. Plus, you’ll need to break in your hiking boots and backpack anyway. Knowing your body and how much you are able to push yourself without injury is important in any athletic activity but especially with hiking, being prepared and knowing when to push yourself and when to hold back can go a long way in preventing injuries.
Get adjusted before your hike
Pounding the trails for miles puts pressure on your joints and forces your muscles to work hard for balance and stabilization. Your back, hips, and knees are all working together to get you where you need to go but taking a beating in order to get there. By getting properly adjusted before your hike, you will be starting off on a good foot. No pun intended. If you’re new to hiking, seeing a chiropractor before you get on the trails is an excellent idea. You’ll know where the weaknesses in your body lie and take steps to prevent injury and be more mindful of actions that could lead to injury. If you’re a seasoned hiker, you likely know where your weaknesses and a good chiropractor can help relieve pain and get you back on the trails.
Ready to hit the trails? If you need suggestions of where to go, see this great list.