Planning a Fall Hike? Here’s How to Avoid an Injury

With autumn approaching, many people are excited to dive into fall activities.

With autumn approaching, many people are excited to dive into fall activities. One of the best ways to get outdoors and soak in the fall weather is hiking—a move that is great for both your physical and mental health. Hiking is a great way to get in some cardio, improve our blood pressure, and clear our heads while being surrounded by nature. 

The Pacific North West is an especially great place for hiking adventures with so many excellent trails (keep reading for our staff picks of the best hiking trails in the area). While hiking has so many incredible benefits, there are a few injuries to be on guard for; this article will help you learn how to prevent those injuries so that your next hike is as fun and stress-free as possible. 

Common hiking injuries—what you need to know

A twisted or sprained ankle

Due to the often uneven terrain of hiking trails, a sprained ankle is one of the most common injuries that hikers experience. It can happen when your foot suddenly twists or rolls in a way that causes your ankle joint to be out of its normal position. If your foot turns too far, either inward or outward, it can cause the ligaments around your ankle to stretch or tear, leading to a sprain.  

If you notice pain, swelling, bruising, stiffness, or the inability to put weight on your ankle, there’s a good chance you could have a sprain. If you think you may have a sprained ankle, make sure to seek medical attention right away. Sprains are an injury that you don’t want to ignore, as it could lead to serious long term problems such as chronic ankle pain and arthritis. It also increases the likelihood of reinjuring your ankle in the future. 

The good news is that there are some practical steps you can take to prevent this injury, so there’s no need to let the fear of a sprained ankle stop you from hitting the trails. One of the best things you can do for your ankles is to warm them up before you set out on your hike. You can do this by stretching, walking, or doing some dynamic movements to help warm up your muscles. (Make sure to do this both before and after your hike. While you’re on the trail, be conscious of the terrain you’re walking on so that you can safely walk over any obstacles. And, of course, wear the proper equipment! You first want to make sure that your shoes are the right size, fitting snug but not too tight. Ankle boots are a good option because they offer more ankle support and protection simply because of their design, and their firm soles can provide more excellent stability to prevent sprains.

Achilles tendonitis

The Achilles tendon—the tendon that attaches the calf muscles to the heel—can easily be injured from overuse, resulting in Achilles tendonitis. This can happen when we cause strain to our Achilles tendon by suddenly increasing our activity without allowing our body to adjust, exercising without first taking the time to warm up, or repeated overuse of our muscles. 

 

Common symptoms include pain in your calves or the back of your heel, tenderness in the lower half of your calf muscle, or pain while walking uphill. 

 

You can prevent this injury by starting slow, especially if you’re new to hiking. As tempting as it may be to jump into your recent favorite outdoor activity by making the most challenging core trail. You can find start with some more accessible courses to allow your body to warm up and get used to the activity—your body will thank you for it! Once you’re ready to go on your hike, make sure you take enough time to stretch before (especially your calf muscles) and take frequent breaks throughout your walk to try so that you can avoid exhausting your muscles. Lastly, it might be a good idea to look for a hiking shoe or boot that offers more heel support so that you can avoid unnecessary strain.

Wrist fracture

Wrist injuries happen most often during a hike because of a slip, trip, or fall. Wrist fractures can be by direct trauma—such as falling and landing directly on an outstretched arm or hand. They tend to be quite painful.

If you’ve fallen and you notice swelling in your wrist, severe pain in the area, or if you feel hesitant to move your wrist, hand, or fingers, it’s possible that you have a wrist fracture. It’s essential to treat a fractured wrist right away; otherwise, your bones may not heal properly. Seek medical attention right away to get a diagnosis and treatment.

One thing you can do to help prevent wrist fractures is frequently exercising as well as stretching your wrists to ensure that they are healthy and flexible. The best way to avoid a wrist fracture is to prevent falling, so make sure to pay close attention to your footing and the terrain. 

Back Strain

A back strain is a tear of any of the muscles in the back, causing severe pain and discomfort. Having bad posture can put pressure on your muscles and joints, leading to a strain. 

Backpacks can be linked to back strain. If a pack isn’t worn correctly or isn’t the proper size, it can decrease your balance and can lead to improper form and back pain. We know it’s tempting to bring the most oversized backpack that you can find and pack it full with as many things as you can—you can never get too many snacks!—but it’s essential to find a backpack that is the right size and weight for your body so that it won’t make you compromise your form. Don’t forget to use both of your backpack straps, not just one, to avoid causing unnecessary strain. 

Stretching helps to prevent back strain, so make sure you’re taking time to stretch both before and after your hike. If you want some extra support, you might want to try using trekking poles, which will help keep your body upright and avoid bad posture. 

 

Meniscal Tear

A tear of the knee’s meniscus is severe, as it damages the cartilage that acts as shock absorbers for the knee. This injury can be caused by direct pressure from a forced twist or rotation of the knee. 

Symptoms can include pain in the knee, swelling, the feeling that your knee is locking up, inability to move your knee in a full range of motion, or feeling like your knee is unable to support you. If left untreated, a meniscus tear can affect your daily life, limiting your ability to engage in physical activity and possibly leading to arthritis. 

As with almost all of the injuries on this list, one of the best ways to prevent it is by stretching before setting ours on a hike, regularly performing exercises that strengthen your legs can stabilize the knee and help prevent a meniscus tear. Abruptly increasing your level of activity can easily lead to a meniscal tear, so try to keep an even pace during your hike so that you can avoid causing unnecessary strain or pressure. Be extra careful when going downhill to avoid twisting your knee or putting too much pressure on it, as your knee absorbs most of the impact while going downhill.

Prepare for Your Hike

Aside from taking steps to avoid injuries, there are several other things you can do to make your hike as fun and relaxing as possible. Here’s how to prepare for your next hike:

  • Dress in layers. There is nothing worse than feeling too cold or too hot on a long hike! You may start off feeling slightly chilly, but you’ll most likely start to feel overheated soon after you start moving. Dress in layers so that you can easily adjust your clothing as your body temperature changes.
  • Bring water. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Bring lots of water to maintain your energy and avoid becoming dehydrated. Taking water breaks is also a great way to make sure that you’re taking enough rest time along the way so that you don’t overexert yourself. 
  • Pack snacks. No one likes a hangry hiker, so make sure that your backpack has some delicious and healthy options that will help keep you going and keep you in a good mood. Trail mix, anyone?
  • Wear SPF. Something that often slips our minds when hiking is how much direct sun exposure we’re getting. Make sure to bring sunscreen with you so that you can protect your skin and avoid getting a sunburn. 
  • Avoid blisters. The dreaded blister is one of the quickest ways to ruin your hiking experience. To avoid this, make sure that you wear comfortable shoes and bring bandaids to use in case you notice any blisters starting to appear.
  • Bring a first aid kit. As most hiking trails aren’t exactly perfectly smooth, there’s a chance that you may end up falling or getting a small cut or two along the way. Make sure you’re prepared to take care of these minor injuries by packing a general first aid kit in your bag.

Whether you’re an experienced hiker or looking to try something new, there’s no doubt that going on a hike is the perfect way to get active and enjoy the nature around you this fall. Now that you know what steps you can take to avoid any possible injuries and how best to prepare for your adventure, we know that you’ll have a fantastic time on your next hike. So what are you waiting for? Pack your rucksack, lace up your boots and get out there—the trails are calling your name!

Staff Picks for the best local hiking trails. 

Mount Eleanor for a good workout and excellent view!—Ann Means, Nurse Case Manager

Mount Eleanor is a fun hike with creeks, rivers, bridges, etc. Poo Poo Point and Mailbox are two of my favorites. They are challenging but have great views! There are great spots for lunch at Poo Poo Point (while watching hang gliders take off from the top!), and Mailbox has the crazy goats, gorgeous views, and of course, the fun mailbox area. Denny Creek is a more leisurely hike and has a nice lunch/ waterfall area.—Shannon Muller, Clinic Administrator

Little Mashel Falls is a fun family one. I recently just made Green Lake Trail, and that was spectacular! I highly recommend downloading the All Trails app to start your bucket list! It has pictures and pretty accurate reviews. —Jennifer Lewis, VP of Revenue

Mildred Lakes in the Olympics. I just got back from a hiking trip there!—Tricia Brush, Clinic Administrator

Pinnacle Peak and Plumbers Peak! Super easy, right next to each other, and beautiful views. The only downfall is the mosquitoes are horrendous.—Grace Bird, Westside Receptionist

Goat Lake out in Arlington Washington, or Lewis River Ralls in Pinchot National forest.—Sheron Glenn (I don’t remember)

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