How to Ease the Soreness From Hiking
Hiking allows you to exercise and explore the great outdoors at the same time. It's a suitable getting-to-know-you activity for a first date or a chance to have a deep conversation with an old friend. However, a hike could leave your muscles achy and your joints swollen. Fortunately, home remedies can ease the pain significantly. The hardest part might be forcing yourself to stay off the trail until the soreness goes away.
Rest your injured muscles as soon as possible. If you have sore feet, ankles or shins, you might find that you need to rest for several days with your sore leg elevated above your heart. To keep it comfortably elevated, lie on your back with your calf and ankle propped up on a stack of pillows.
Apply an ice pack to any injury that has a tendency to swell, for example, a twisted ankle. If you don't have a specially designed cold pack, wrap a bag of frozen corn, peas or berries in a dish towel and place it over the swelling. The more of the swollen part you cover, the better. Keep the ice pack on intermittently, as long as you can stand it, for the first 48 to 72 hours after the hike. If the swelling has gone down after 48 hours, alternate heat and ice packs every 20 to 30 minutes for added relief.
Eat plenty of lean protein -- such as nuts, beans and low-fat dairy -- and drink plenty of water. Your muscles need these for repair.
Get up and walk occasionally during the rest period. Gently using your muscles helps fight stiffness. After a short walk, when your muscles are warmed up, do static stretches. Stand on a step with your heels hanging off and raise and lower yourself on your toes to stretch your calves. Press your hands against a wall with your arms extended, put one leg behind the other, bend the front leg and press the back heel to the floor to get a stretch that goes all the way up the back of your leg. Pull each foot up to your butt, one at a time, to stretch your quads.
Fill a bathtub with the warmest water you can stand and pour in 1 cup of Epsom salts. Soak in the bath and let the mild muscle relaxant do its work.
Have a massage from a therapist who offers sports or deep tissue massage. Massage therapists with a physical therapy background know how to ease the soreness of repetitive-stress injuries.
Take over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen according to the package directions. If you're taking prescription medications, consult your doctor before using OTC meds.
Visit a doctor if the pain lasts more than a week, as you might have done more serious damage than you think. Orthopedists and sports-medicine physicians can order the right tests to help determine the extent of your injuries.
Prevent hiking soreness by getting fitted for the right shoes. Warm up with a few moderate-intensity walks across short stretches of the terrain without your pack. Always wear appropriate moisture-wicking socks to help prevent blisters, carry a first-aid kit and take hiking sticks on long hikes. Drink lots of water and eat plenty of carbs and protein, such as fruit-and-nut trail mix, along the way.
S.R. Becker is a certified yoga teacher based in Queens, N.Y. She has a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and has worked as a writer and editor for more than 15 years. Becker often writes for "Yoga in Astoria," a newsletter about studios throughout New York City.