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Your Healthy Family: Avoiding common hiking injuries

Posted at 11:10 AM, May 14, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-14 13:10:34-04

COLORADO SPRINGS – We’re finally getting longer periods of warm weather here in southern Colorado, which means more people will be enjoying our great outdoors.

Hiking is a staple of Colorado living, and if you have had a low-key winter – or even a very active winter – there are a few things you should think about before you hit the trails.

Dr. Matt Javernick, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist with UCHealth Memorial, says he frequently sees patients in his office with hiking injuries big and small and there are a few simple steps you can take to avoid the most common ones.

Dr. Javernick says: “The most common complaints I get from hikers is anterior knee pain.  This is usually the result of some mal-tracking of the patella and softening of the cartilage behind the kneecap.  This results in pain that you feel behind the kneecap. You likely start to feel more pain the longer your hike is, and it’s more pronounced when you go downhill.”

One of the most basic steps you can take to prevent injury is to start small, even short walks around your neighborhood, says Dr. Javernick.

“Start walking now even if it’s just 10 to 15 minutes, two to three times a week.  That will stimulate the cartilage and will strengthen your hips and your core,which will help your knee cap track better.”

As with any physical activity, Dr. Javernick says remember to warm up and stretch.  “Stretching will keep your hamstrings and your quadriceps flexible. If you can stretch those hamstrings and knee flexors, your quads and knee extenders, you can relieve a little bit of stress across the kneecap.”

Hikers often don’t put much thought into their trip aside from where to go or which trail to take.  Dr. Javernick says if you are trying to manage knee pain, thinking about the route is not just important, it’s also key. “Once you start if you know you had (knee pain problems) in the past, start with shorter hikes and know that if that hike is going to end with a long descent, that’s when that pain is going to start to come on most.”

Finally, ask your doctor if an anti-inflammatory medication is right for you, and closely follow the dosing instructions, says Dr. Javernick.  “Using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications like Motrin or Aleve can also help if you’ve had problems in the past. It’s OK as long as your primary doctor allows you to take that medication.  Take that the day before, or even two days before to start to get ready for a hike.”

Finally, always follow the basic safety tips of hiking that will protect more than your knees, especially if something unplanned happens, says Dr. Javernick.  “Remember the common things you need to be aware of when you go hiking. Always hike with somebody, and if you are hiking alone let somebody know where you’re going and stay hydrated so you can enjoy Colorado.”

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