Dealing With Pain While Hiking

by | Jul 23, 2019 | 2 comments

How Will You Deal With Pain While Hiking?

Are you wondering how you are going deal with aches and pains while hiking? It’s true that you will most likely face some aches and pains on your hike, but it’s important to know how to manage them beyond aspirin and ice.

The reality is that you will deal with aches and pains on a long distance hike. If you are walking a long distance everyday with less than ideal rest, hydration, and nutrition, issues are going to come up. Let’s hop off the “no pain, no gain” wagon and explore two different techniques that you can do anywhere.

First, a look at the cause of pain.

What Causes The Pain?

With daily activity your body generates micro trauma, or small tears in the tissue. Micro trauma is small, physical stress related damage to the tissues of the body. Recall a time you went to the gym and had sore muscles afterwards- that is micro trauma. This is a normal process the body uses to help build stronger more resilient tissue.

With micro trauma, we don’t always feel discomfort so we don’t have any internal clues that alert us to investigate. Without some regular maintenance, some of this micro trauma can lead to aches and pains.

Muscles should slide and glide over each other but sometimes become a little “sticky”. That loss of slide and glide can cause discomfort – think foam rolling over your IT band for example.  Exactly why this loss of slide and glide is painful is a bit of a mystery but we know that doing a little bit of self care helps.

By massaging or scraping, you can improve blood flow, and introduce a positive stimulus to decrease pain and improve the slide/glide component.

Hydration levels may also play a role in having healthy muscles since your muscles are nearly 80% water. Drink up!

A Little Disclaimer

Let me be transparent here before we start. While these two techniques have been around for a very long time, the current research does not support their effectiveness. Science still has a lot of questions around pain itself that are unanswered. The same goes for foam rolling, massage, and scraping.

We may not fully understand the “why” behind these techniques, but they have been effective for many people, myself included.

What you read below is based off of the most commonly understood theory, to my knowledge. There will no doubt be new studies coming out that will affect my current understanding. As my understanding evolves, this article will be updated.

On with the show…

How Do These Techniques Work?

Both of these techniques are effective because they enhance blood flow, which is essential for proper healing. Tendons and ligaments are avascular, meaning they have very little blood supply. Blood carries with it vital nutrients and oxygen for healing so it helps to aid in a more efficient recovery process.

You don’t need to be a skilled clinician to perform these techniques! I have taught many clients and patients how to do these. People have been scraping and massaging tissues for a very long time and it’s a great way to take charge of your self care.

The process is a actually fairly intuitive. You will be able to feel which areas need more attention and which pressure feels good/bad. You’ll know when you feel done and if you are ever in doubt, just stop. Being conservative vs aggressive is a better game plan.

Cross Fiber Friction Massage

This technique works well for tendonitis issues and requires nothing but your fingers. Use it for aches and pains near joints that involve tendons and ligaments. It is beneficial because it helps improve blood flow to poorly perfused tissue like tendons and ligaments.

It also frees up adhesions and scar tissue – scar tissue is often a source of pain. It also restores the sliding nature of the tissue which is quite handy.

Do Not Perform If You Have The Following:

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • If you have a bacterial infection
  • Over a nerve
  • Over an inflamed bursa (bursitis)
  • A known bone spur (you need an x-ray to diagnose this)
  • On a new injury (within the past 48-72 hours)

The Technique:

  • Place your middle finger over your pointer finger to maximize the pressure you will give
  • Rub with moderate pressure – whatever that means to you
  • Rub ACROSS the tendon or ligament, not lengthwise
  • If after 30 seconds to 60 seconds it doesn’t start to feel better or feels worse, STOP
  • If it feels better, numb, or neutral, continue rubbing
  • Rub 15-20 minutes total per day, every other day over achy and painful areas

For The Knee

The patella actually floats in the patella tendon, which is pretty unique. Try this technique if you are experiencing runner’s knee, or any pains around your knee cap.

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  1. Keep your leg straight and relaxed
  2. Locate the knee cap
  3. Locate the bump on the top of your lower leg bone (tibia)
  4. Rub below the knee cap and above the bump on the front of your tibia

For the Achilles

This tendon tends to scar on the edges not the center of the tendon so a slight pinch of the tendon is needed. Generally, you’d perform cross friction massage across the fibers but in this case you will go with the fibers for best results.

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  1. Relax your ankle and lower leg
  2. Locate the Achilles tendon
  3. Using your thumb and pointer finger grasp the tendon
  4. Slide up and down the tendon over the painful area

Gua Sha

Gua Sha is a scraping technique that restores tender, overused tissues back to a healthy state. It brings blood flow to the tissues that need it, desensitizes the painful areas, and restores the sliding surfaces of the tissue. Scraping helps to bring back smooth tissue (healthy) and get rid of the bumpiness, and roughness (unhealthy) you’ll find when scraping.

I have used rocks, camp spoons, specialty scraping tools, a butter knife, a spoon – you get the idea. It doesn’t need to be fancy to work. Some sort of oil or lotion is really helpful; olive oil and coconut oil work great.

Do Not Perform If:

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • If you have a bacterial infection
  • Over a nerve
  • Over an inflamed bursa (bursitis)
  • A known bone spur (you need an x-ray to diagnose this)
  • On a new injury (within the past 48-72 hours)

The Technique:

  • Spend 5-6 minutes per leg
  • Direction doesn’t matter; up and away from joints or down and towards them
  • Use a 45 degree angle when scraping
  • Speed isn’t critical but it should feel like it’s doing some good. Too slow is less effective in my experience and too fast you tend miss the areas that need it.
  • Each area only 30 seconds at a time
  • Sensitive areas over bone will likely require lighter pressure to desensitize, so go easy.

When To Stop

  • When the tissue feels raw
  • Doesn’t feel good anymore
  • Redness is good, and expected. Little red dots (petechia) are normal and a sign that the area is “done”, move on to another area or stop all together

For The Knee

Final Notes

Use your best judgement and err towards being conservative with any suspected tendon or ligament injury. It’s best to have a short recovery with an injury than press on and find yourself off trail for the season.

Don’t forget to Download the free article on ways that you can improve your odds of being successful during your through hike!

You can reach me with any injury issues, past or present that you feel will impact your hike. Training questions are also welcome – I am happy to help!

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author avatar
Lee Welton