Avoid Heel Pain While Hiking
Running a marathon is a nice goal for some people, but there are many of us who would be content and benefit from just being more active on a regular basis.
If this is something you’re interested in doing, you might want to consider engaging in one of the more underrated exercises—hiking.
Sure, there are other activities that may come to mind more often when people think about exercising, like running and lifting weights.
Hiking, however, is an outstanding form of exercise!
Depending on your level of fitness and conditioning, you might not break a sweat when you go for a hike, but what you will do is raise your heart rate, burn calories, strengthen the muscles in your legs, core, and even shoulders (from swinging your arms).
And those are just physical benefits! In addition to them, you can relieve stress, think more clearly, and sleep better at night.
The great thing about hiking is that you’re able to achieve all of those benefits, but you don’t put excessive stress on your feet and ankles (the same way you would from high-impact activities).
Now, if it’s been some time since you’ve last been active on a regular basis—or perhaps your weight has managed to creep up more than you’d care to think about—it’s important to ease into this activity. If you’re thinking “it’s only hiking,” something to keep in mind is that just walking actually places greater force loads on your lower limbs than you realize.
When you walk, you place as much as two times your bodyweight on the landing foot with every step.
Even though our feet and ankles are generally structured in a way they can handle the physical forces well, the extra pound in force for every one pound of bodyweight can start to add up—and especially if you’re outside the recommended maximum weight limit for your height and gender.
Please not that this doesn’t discriminate. No matter if you have an extra 50 pounds of muscle or an extra 50 pounds of “not muscle,” you are still applying an additional 50 pounds of force on the landing foot when you step.
Whether hiking, walking around the block, or doing any other kind of cardiovascular exercise, your goal should be at least half an hour of activity 3-4 times per week.
Even though hiking and walking seem like simple exercises—and they pretty much are—you still might need to start at a lower level and gradually ease into it.
Start by walking for five minutes—use your watch or phone as a timer and turn around at the two-and-a-half-minute mark—for the first day. Repeat this for the next 2-3 scheduled “exercise days” during the week. The next week, bump your number up to six minutes for the next week, seven for the following week, and eight for the week after.
In your fifth week, jump up to ten minutes each time. From there, you will likely have enough of a “base” established that you can increase by greater intervals. And then you’ll be at 30 minutes/session before you know it!
Something to keep in mind is this:
If it’s been a while since you were last exercising on a regular basis, the first thing to do is schedule appointments with both your primary care physician and our office. This is important because medical professionals can identify potential health risks and provide advice to keep you safe and healthy.
At this time, hikers in our greater Albany communities are probably quite excited for cooler temperatures that accompany the season. Dedicated hikers might hit the trails no matter the weather or conditions, but the fall air has just the right amount of coolness—without any bitter cold—to make hikes in John Boyd Thacher or Peebles Island State Parks (or other awesome local hiking sites) rather enjoyable—even for those who only have a casual interest in this fantastic outdoors activity!
Of course, the time of year doesn’t matter when we talk about foot and ankle injuries hikers might develop—including heel pain. As such, you should know how to avoid heel pain from hiking all year long.
Fortunately, many of the same things you should do in the other seasons apply right now in fall. Heel pain prevention tips while hiking include:
- Choose the right shoes or boots. This is a pretty major consideration, so we’ll break it down in greater detail for you in just a moment.
- Warm up and stretch. Before hitting any intense or rough terrain, take a couple of minutes to walk briskly on a flat surface and then do some easy dynamic stretches before heading out on your hike.
- (If “easy” and “dynamic” seem like opposites, we just mean to use stretches where you move your body in a slow, intentional manner—instead of stretches where you hold a position for 30 or so seconds.)
- Ease into hiking. We’ve already covered this a bit, but it absolutely bears repeating. Remember, too many injuries—including heel pain and other foot and ankle problems—are caused by people trying to do too much too soon.
- Hydrate. This is usually (but, sadly, not always) a no-brainer for running and other intense activities, but it’s important to drink enough water before your hike so as to avid cramping in your lower limbs. One of the great things about this activity, though, is that it’s generally easy enough to bring a water-containing vessel with you.
- Eat well. As wither other physical activities, make sure you fuel your body properly before you go hiking. This will keep your energy levels up so you don’t start altering your gait in a fatigued state—something that could lead to uneven distribution in your feet of those force loads we talked about.
Okay, let’s get back to the subject of footwear.
No matter the activities you to love to perform or tasks you need to complete in life, knowing how to choose the right shoes is an essential component of your foot health—including injury prevention!
That’s true for just about any kind of footwear you sport, but it’s even more important when you are going to be active in them.
So, this means you need to know how to choose proper hiking shoes or boots.
Here are some questions you should ask while shopping for them (at an actual brick-and-mortar store, and not online):
- Do they fit correctly? There are many foot and ankle issues that could be avoided by simply wearing footwear that fits like it should—and, again, this importance is ramped up for physical activities like hiking.
- A hiking shoe or boot should firmly cradle the heel, but still have enough room in the front for toes to wiggle. You should be able to slide your index finger down the back and up to your second knuckle, as well (when the footwear is laced tightly).
- Do they provide arch support? Foot arches play a major role in helping your body absorb the physical forces that come with every step and contributing to biomechanical processes. Shoes, especially athletic footwear, should provide robust arch support to ease the force load on the arches. In doing so, they can decrease your risk for plantar fasciitis—a leading cause of heel pain from a connective tissue that has a key role in foot arch structure and function.
- Is there ample cushioning under the heel? Heel injuries can keep you out of your favorite activities—and off the hiking trails on beautiful fall days in the Capital District—so make sure that your footwear choices are from models that feature enough cushioning in the back. This is especially important for those of you who plan on hiking frequently.
- Are they constructed from breathable materials? A major step in preventing fungal and bacterial infections is to keep feet as dry as possible. To that end, shoes made out of breathable materials like leather or nylon mesh are best.
We hope these tips will help keep you safe in your hiking program, but remember that Capital District Podiatry is here to provide the effective care you need if injuries happen.
For more information on preventing heel pain while hiking—or to schedule an appointment with either our Troy or Clifton Park offices if you need professional podiatric care—call us at (518) 273-0053.