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Contrary to what most people believe, sprained ankles aren’t one of those things that just happen. Not only can they be effectively treated when they happen, but with a little forethought, and some preparation, they can be prevented. I know, since, over the past 40 years, I have taken or led countless hundreds of hikes across the country, and although I have had many a sore feet, I have never had a sprained ankle on the trail.
Preventing a Sprain
Sprained ankles and other foot injuries are common in hiking. But you can dramatically decrease your chances of a sprain by taking some precautions.
Strengthen your muscles – Taking a hike, even a short one, is something that should be prepared for. Work up to your participation on a hike by gradually building up your distance over a period of weeks. You should also do a little cross training in order to build stronger muscles.
Wear protective shoes – Wearing the right shoes are a critical part in safe hiking. Without wearing good shoes, you are almost inviting an injury. Make sure that your shoes provide support from the toe all the way to the heel. If your arches are stiff or high, be sure to wear higher and softer cushions there. And as much as some people dislike them, wear boots that have a good ankle support.
Replace worn shoes – Those old favorites might have taken you over countless trails, but if your soles are worn down, replace them. If you do buy new shoes, however, make sure you break them in enough before your big hike. Otherwise, you will get blisters.
Be careful where you step – It might be obvious to say this, but uneven surfaces are plentiful whenever you walk in the wilds.
Despite this, you can avoid injuries by simply being careful about where you step in rocky terrain or loose gravel. And one thing that is overlooked by many hikers is a good set of trekking poles. Trekking poles not only give you support for every step you take, but they help you to keep your balance when things get rough. Perhaps best of all, however, especially if you are looking to burn calories, trekking poles increases the amount of work your upper body does, burning more energy all the way.
Prevent recurring injuries. As much as most of us try, some injuries persist in rearing their ugly heads. Whenever you decide that you want to begin pursuing a sport such as hiking, try to learn better what your body likes and doesn’t like. And when there’s something such as hiking that causes your body to rebel, prepare for it. This might include lots of stretching exercises prior to beginning, using tape, or wrapping with elastic wrap. Whatever time and effort you put into this prior to beginning will pay back big dividends in not only injuries prevented, but many miles of relaxing hiking.
Listen to your body. If at any time during a hike you experience pain, stop or modify what you are doing. Remember that pain is your body telling you to stop what you are doing or do it differently. Everybody has heard the old saying that pain is weakness leaving the body, and to a certain extent it’s true, but it’s also true that you should heed the lessons your body is trying to teach you. Ignoring pain and stiffness can also make an injury much worse.
Taking to the Trail
It’s hard to admit this, especially since I have put in so many miles on trails all over the United States and Canada, but despite all of your preparations, accidents happen. And these accidents can include a wide variety of injuries. These occur most often when hikers are not careful or they are fooling around, but they do happen. It’s in these cases that the best prevention is to know how to deal with an injury when it happens. Below are some tips on how to do that.
Know what you are dealing with. Besides sprains, feet can fall victim to many problems on the trail. Unfortunately, unless you are familiar with those problems, you might not know exactly what you are dealing with until you reach medical help. Until then, all you can really do is to immobilize the injury enough so that you can get back to civilization. Most often, this entails wrapping the injury so that it is supported.
Remember RICE. If you really are out in the middle of nowhere with medical help unavailable, remember RICE. This means Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. If you think the injury is minor and you have the time, just quit for the afternoon for a rest. Add ice if you have it, or cold/cool water from a stream or other source is great. Wrap the injury with some kind of cloth, and elevate it. Only do this for your journey back. Once your home safely, then let your foot be. I know this is counterintuitive, but the swelling is your blood cells going to the injured area to heal it! You want to let it go through its natural progression to lesson the recovery process.
Get medical attention – If a sprain or other foot injury is causing you to limp or experience swelling, you should get to medical help as soon as possible. In these case, make sure the injury is wrapped and stay off of it as much as possible, relying on your trekking poles for support, much like a crutch.
After you have gotten to medical help, depending on the extent of the injury, further treatment might be called for. This might mean more extensive immobilization such as a cast or a wrap. In extreme cases, an injury might require surgery.
Hiking is a sport that practically anyone can enjoy, and not only that, but it will take you to new and exciting places you never thought you would experience. All of this, however, depends on how safely you do it. I can testify that when it is done safely, hiking is a sport that can pay handsome dividends in the things you get to experience and enjoy your whole life. Even better yet, hiking is something that is easy and can be done very safely for many years, long after the ability to take part in other forms of exercise is past.