It’s official hiking season in Greater Vancouver, although our climate affords a year long opportunity to explore the trails of the great outdoors. With our clinic located near Burnaby Mountain, home to a bounty of trails on the east side of the range, we frequently see clients and patients who express an interest in improving their prowess on nature’s paths and peaks. Today, we take a look at how physical therapy can help.
Four Ways Physiotherapy Can Help Hikers Perform Better on the Trail
1. Can Prescribe Proper Warm Ups and Exercises
Avid hikers understand the importance of a proper warm up before hitting the trail. Failure to do so can result in significant muscle and joint discomfort, if not injury. However, far too often the warm ups do not target the appropriate muscle groups, which include the following primary players:
- Tibialis anterior
A physical therapist will prescribe a series of exercises and stretches and take you through the motions to ensure that you protect your leg muscles, while optimizing performance on the mountain. At the bare minimum, you should be doing five exercises prior to your next big hike, along with typical stretches. Below are some exercises that will help you prepare:
- Lay Down Hamstring Stretch – Lay on your back and grip the back of your thigh with both hands to bring your knee toward your chest. Straighten your knee until you feel a stretch in the back of your thigh.
- Kneeling Hip Flexor – Take a lunge position and rest your down knee on a cushioned surface. On the side of your up knee, place your same side hand on it, and engage your core so that you do not to arch your lower back. Lean your body weight forward until you feel a stretch in the front of your thigh while lifting the same-side arm up and over your head to intensify the stretch.
- Calf Stretch – Face a wall, and place your hands on the wall directly in front of your face. Take a slight lunge stance, keep the back knee straight, and hinge forward at the ankle without letting the heel rise from the floor.
- Calf Raises – Place the ball of your foot at the edge of a step. An aerobic exercise step is great, but even the bottom stair of your home will do. Keeping the knee straight, raise the heel as high as you can, and then slowly lower all the way down so your heel is lower than the step, while affording you balance. If you are unable to perform this feat one leg at a time, you can use both feet to start with the intent to graduate to single calf raises. An inability to do single leg calf raises is a sign that you need to build up strength before taking on a strenuous hike, such as the Grouse Grind in North Vancouver, the Stawamus Chief in Squamish, and so forth.
- Backward Lunge to High Knee – Take a lunge position so that each knee is at a 90-degree angle (without touching the back knee on the floor), while keeping feet hip-width apart. Return to a standing position as you lift the back leg, passing it forward until your hip and knee reach a 90-degree angle. Then, in a slow and methodic manner, swing the same leg backward into the lunge.
2. Physiotherapy Can Help Improve Your Hiking Technique
Your hiking technique will dictate your performance and ability to stay injury free. This really comes down to what is called cadence. Cadence in this context, is essentially a recurrent rhythmical series of steps. Optimal cadence occurs consistently at the same length (“x” amount of feet) and in the same amount of time (“x” amount of fractional seconds”) during a hike. Of course, this will vary by elevation and terrain, but when all else is equal, you will need to develop good cadence. There are many factors involved here, including quality of hiking boots/shoes and consistency of slope, but understanding proper movement in your lower extremity is also key. When working with a physiotherapist, you will better understand your gait (your manner of walking) so that you can improve your cadence. In some circumstances, the gait analysis will call upon the need for custom foot orthotics. Keep reading.
3. Custom Inserts Can Help You Take Better Steps
There are a wide variety of foot mechanic issues that can make hiking an extremely painful experience. These can include bunions or hammer toes, shin splints, and metatarsalgia (pain or inflammation in the ball of the foot). But one of the most painful problems, is plantar fasciitis, something that you as a hiker will most likely experience at some point in your life. Plantar Fasciitis is a disorder of the connective tissue which supports the arch of the foot, resulting in pain in the heel and in bottom of the foot. While all of the above ailments can be debilitating for many hikers, there is recourse in the form of custom foot orthotics. These custom-designed inserts are born from state of the art computer hardware and software systems that provide a detailed analysis of your feet in motion as you walk over a foot plate. The analysis in conjunction with a therapist’s examination and assessment will assist in providing you with a custom made orthotic based on your unique needs.
A custom orthotic can be one of the most impactful means to improving your hiking experience, and the only way to find out if you need them, is to begin with a gait analysis at a physiotherapy clinic (that performs them) near you.
4. Building Your Core
Core strength is unequivocally essential to hiking. While you can work your core in the gym and at home with the right equipment, a physical therapist will be able to assess your current core strength. They will be able to identify issues and will set a core fitness regime that will ensure you tackle all future trails with the strength and stability you need.
Before you embark on one of your more strenuous hikes, be sure to schedule a consolation with Absolute PhysioCare to better understand where you stand as a hiker, so that you can take corrective action before the potential for injury realizes itself.