Hikers, hunters, and others who love the outdoors often don’t realize how strenuous it can be to withstand constant, vigorous walking on uneven terrain. Lax physical conditioning and inappropriate footwear bring scores of outdoor enthusiasts into our office each fall for treatment of foot and ankle problems such as chronic heel pain, ankle sprains, Achilles’ tendonitis, fungal infections, and severe blisters.
Walking up and down steep hillsides and tramping through wet, slippery fields and wooded areas puts stress on the muscles and tendons in the feet and ankles, especially if you haven’t conditioned properly before hitting the trail. Also, many don’t realize that cross-training athletic shoes aren’t the best choice for extended hiking and hunting. Wearing sturdy, well-constructed hiking boots could have prevented sprained ankles or strained Achilles’ tendons.
Dr. Hopkins advises hikers and hunters to make the investment in top-quality hiking boots. Strong, well-insulated and moisture-proof boots with steel or graphite shanks offer excellent ankle and foot support that helps lessen stress and muscle fatigue to reduce injury risk. The supportive shank decreases strain on the arch by allowing the boot to distribute impact as the foot moves forward. So, if a boot bends in the middle, don’t buy it.
In wet and cold weather, wearing the right socks can help prevent blisters, fungal infections, and frostbite. Dr. Hopkins recommends synthetic socks as the first layer to keep the feet dry and reduce blister-causing friction. For the second layer, wool socks add warmth, absorb moisture away from the skin, and help make the hiking boot more comfortable. Wool lets moisture evaporate more readily than cotton, so fewer blisters develop.
What happens if your feet or ankles hurt during a hike or hunt? Pain usually occurs from overuse, even from just walking. If you’re not accustomed to walking on sloped or uneven ground, your legs and feet will get tired and cause muscles and tendons to ache. To avoid a serious injury, such as a severe ankle sprain or an Achilles tendon rupture, make sure to rest for a while if you start hurting.
Serious injury risk escalates significantly if you continue hiking in pain. Dr. Hopkins compares hiking to skiing, in that beginners should take on less difficult trails until they become better conditioned and more confident.
Evaluation by a foot and ankle surgeon is recommended if there is persistent pain following a hiking or hunting outing. Dr. Hopkins is most concerned about ankle instability and strained Achilles’ tendons, although heel pain is probably the most common complaint. Inattention to these problems at their early stages may lead to a serious injury that will keep you off the trails for a long time.
Anyone seeking further information about ankle sprains, Achilles’ tendon injuries and other foot and ankle problems may contact Dr. Hopkins office at 360-456-3171 or visit our website at WWW.SSFOOT.COM to schedule an appointment.