By Peter S. Harvey, M.D.
Georgia offers great hiking trails to enjoy year-round. Many people derive a real sense of peace from being out in nature. The trees, the water and the wildlife make a nice hike relaxing and pleasant. In this article, I will share some tips I use to help prevent back pain while I am out hiking and appreciating nature.
1. Keep Your Muscles in Shape
Hiking itself is great exercise, but it’s important to prepare before you get out there. Walking on the uneven surfaces you’ll find outdoors can be taxing on the legs as well as the core muscles that stabilize the spine and torso. Make sure you work out those muscles ahead of time so you’re prepared for your hike. It doesn’t matter if you’re hiking for a few hours or preparing for a grueling, multi-day hike, preparing the muscles you’ll be using will help prevent you from getting injured.
2. Stretch Before You Hike
Just because hiking is fun doesn’t mean it’s not a workout. And just like with any workout, you need to stretch beforehand. Hiking typically involves a lot of bending and reaching because of the irregular terrain. If you don’t stretch-especially your legs, glutes, neck and back-you could be opening yourself up to a painful pulled muscle that could keep you off the hiking trails for weeks. When you stretch ahead of time, you help ensure that your muscles will be limber and flexible so you can hike knowing you are decreasing your risk of injury.
3. Choose the Right Gear
Whether you’re doing a nice afternoon hike or climbing a mountain, choosing the right gear is important. It all starts where the rubber meets the road—your boots. Hiking boots should be sturdy with a thick sole and plenty of ankle support. Wearing the wrong footwear can mean foot pain or even a twisted or broken ankle if you’re not careful. In addition, wearing the wrong boots can lead to back pain during and after your hike. Next, choosing the correct backpack is important to prevent back and neck pain. Carrying all your gear and supplies can be hard on the spine if you don’t have a good backpack. Find one that evenly distributes the weight over your entire body. A good rule of thumb is that a fully loaded backpack should not weigh more than 20% of your body weight. This will prevent your back from having to do all of the work and will go a long way towards making your hike less tiring and more fun.
I hope these tips are helpful as you get out and see all the beautiful fall colors that Georgia has to offer. If you experience neck or back pain after your hike that is not alleviated by home remedies, the physicians at Resurgens Spine Center are here to help you get back to doing what you love.
Peter S. Harvey, M.D., received his medical degree from Perpetual Health College of Medicine in the Philippines. He completed his residency in orthopaedic surgery at Lutheran Hospital of Indiana in Fort Wayne. Dr. Harvey practices at Resurgens Orthopaedics’ Fayetteville and Newnan offices.
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