Losing Your Footing – Hiking Health

Oregon is truly a great place to be, especially for those who enjoy getting outdoors.  There are miles and miles of hiking trails all across the state with pretty much any kind of terrain you could want.  It’s easy to get the most out of your hiking experience in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest at just about any level of fitness. Read on to find out how to keep your hiking health up to snuff for the Oregon trails.

We’ve already discussed things you can work on to make sure you don’t have to worry about missing out on your next hiking or backpacking experience.  That article provides information regarding 3 major regions of the lower extremity – the ankles, hips and knees – and is a great place to start if you are having issues hiking.  To get more specific, this article will focus on the ankles, but be on the lookout for articles on the knees and hips and on the back coming later this month.  

The article referenced above mentions that you need dorsiflexion (the foot moves towards the front of the shin), simply because you’re going to need a significant amount of it for ascent and descent during a hike. You also need sufficient strength and control at your end ranges of dorsiflexion.  The article also states you should be able to balance on one leg for 30 seconds.  This is a pretty simple screen for balance, but what if you can’t do this?  Let’s get into some of the solutions to these problems.  

  • Calf raises – Calf raises really are the best solution for most ankle problems.  If you do them on a step, you can work on your mobility while working on your strength through dorsiflexion – a win-win.  Since the emphasis here is on building strength and mobility, your tempo will matter.  Make sure that you’re spending at least 2-3 seconds on the descent of the calf raise.  Hold at the bottom for at least one second – you should feel like you’re trying to hold yourself off the ground and not just “hanging” out.  You’re trying to hover as low as you can as opposed to finding a stretch.  Rise up quickly, then hold at the top for at least one second again.  Try 2-4 sets as many reps as possible.  
  • Soleus stretching – This will heel your sole (HA!).  The soleus is an often overlooked muscle group of the calf, but is vital when it comes to dorsiflexion mobility, especially with activities like hiking.  The soleus is best stretched with your knee bent – try one of these stretches (here or here).  WIth these stretches, try aiming the knee to 3rd toe, the pinky toe, and the big toe to get different angles.  Try 5-10 reps of 3-5 second holds
  • Balance work – Hiking requires significant balance, and your feet and ankles are some of the most important components of balance.  Your foot is supposed to be able to adapt to the ground to give the rest of your body a stable point of contact so you don’t fall.  Let’s say you’re stepping down onto a rock that looks stable, but it rolls just enough that your ankle shifts suddenly while your body weight is coming down onto your foot.  If you have good mobility and balance, nothing happens other than a brief moment of panic.  Working through a full range of motion on your ankle while balancing requires some sort of stability board like a wobble board or BOSU ball, but most people don’t have those at home.  You can try multidirectional reaching (shown here).  If you have a few planks of wood or solid books laying around, you can create a small incline and practice the reaching drill as well.  Just make sure your incline is sturdy first.  Try 2-3 sets of reaching, aiming for 1 minute straight without losing your balance.  

Hiking requires a lot from your ankle and foot, so make sure you’re doing a lot for your foot and ankle to make sure you can keep up your hiking health and keep yourself on the trails.  The exercises above are best done 2-3 times a week.  

For those of you who are looking for some extra equipment to improve your hiking health, wobble boards are inexpensive and incredibly useful tools to have for strengthening your ankles.  You can find a solid wobble board for under $25 easily (here’s one on Amazon).  BOSU balls (like this) are more expensive, but are more versatile.  Either way, you can’t go wrong to stay up on your hiking health!  

Have questions?  Feel limited in what you’re able to do?  The staff at Limitless Physical Therapy in Eugene, OR can show you how to discover your future without limits.  

***The above information, including text, images, and all other materials, is provided for educational purposes only, and not as a replacement or supplement to professional medical advice.  Please contact a certified healthcare professional or your primary physician for any personal concerns. 

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