Taking care of yourself on the trails!

Take care of Yourself on the Trail.

With spring in full swing a lot of the gorgeous mountain trails are open for some of the world class hiking that the Kootenays have to offer.  As many of us are shifting gears from skiing, snowboarding and sledding to the pounding of not only going up the mountain, but also to racing down it, muscle soreness and injuries tend to pop up.  Of course we will always be here to help you when and if those issues arise, but how can you take care of yourself and try to prevent injuries?  There are a couple of easy steps you can take to minimize the stress on your body during this transition from winter to spring activities.


1. Duration

Yes, you can probably spend a whole day trekking the mountains to find those fresh lines to ski and not be a hurting unit at the end of the day, but the reality is you are going to be using different muscles now.  For most people it has been 4-6 months since they last hiked, so don’t head out on that 8 hour trail at the first chance you get.  The first trip up to Pulpit shouldn’t be the time you try to beat last year’s record time.  Being overly aggressive in the first couple of weeks of the season can easily lead to muscle strains.  Build up your endurance slowly to help avoid this. Remember that most people hurt themselves when they get tired!!


2. H20 – how much, and how quickly!!

Not properly hydrating can quickly lead to dehydration as you sweat the winter pounds off.  Low levels of water in your system can result in muscle soreness and the dreaded cramps.  Nothing like waking up in the middle of the night with blood curdling screams because of calf or foot cramps.  The key point here is how quickly you consume your water.  The human body is only capable of absorbing 1 cup (8oz) of water maximum every 15 minutes, so pounding back a litre at one time doesn’t really help you.  Slow, consistent consumption leads to the best results!  Remember, you will perspire more on longer trips and when the temperatures start to rise, so plan your water consumption accordingly.


3. Stretching

I know, you’ve heard this before.  One of the most frequent things I see in my practice is people stretching, but doing it incorrectly.  In fact, improper stretching can lead to injury!  The 2 questions I get asked the most are 1) how long should I hold my stretch, and 2) when is the best time to stretch?  There are many different theories on how long you should hold each stretch, and truthfully the answer depends on the technique you are using.  A great rule of thumb is to hold any isometric stretch for 30 seconds.  Static stretching is the most frequently used type of stretch and the one that can be the easiest to do if you don’t have a partner.  For the first 20 seconds you get 20% benefit, but in the last 10 seconds you get 80% of the benefit, so stick it out for the full 30 seconds.  So, is it better to stretch before or after activity, and the answer is both!  But if you can only do one, research shows that there is more physiological benefit to the muscle post activity.


4. H2O – in another form

Soreness from new activities is almost inevitable, and most of us like that feeling, but we don’t want the soreness to persist or become more intense.  This soreness is often a consequence of the body’s natural inflammation processes.  There is usually a very simple way to help reduce the inflammation and soreness…ice the affected area!  Ice is a great natural anti-inflammatory and literally slows down the speed that pain fibres transmit signals.  The best way to ice is to have it on for 20 minutes (no longer), and then off for at least 40 minutes.  Never place the gel pack (my preference) or ice/bag of frozen peas directly on your skin, no one wants frostbite in the summer!  Remember, frequency of icing is more important than duration of icing.


5. Snacking

Eating snacks as you hit the mountain is a crucial, often overlooked, part of injury prevention.  This ties into the first point I made.  Most injuries happen when you get tired.  Food will help you keep your energy up so you don’t fatigue as quickly as you are trying to locate your next geo-cache.  Having some electrolyte powder to add to your water is another great way to keep your energy level up!


These are some general tips for taking care of yourself on the trails this spring and summer.  If you have any specific questions, or have specific health conditions you can always contact me or your trusted health care provider.