Written by Patrick McGreal

Common Hiking Injuries and How to Prevent Them

Although the days are getting shorter and the temperatures are dropping we are most definitely experiencing an Indian summer. With that in mind, there has never been a better time to take advantage of the beautiful conditions and explore the beautiful Victorian countryside.

The options are endless with a vast array of both day and multi-day hikes around Melbourne. Whether you’re an experienced hiker or a weekend warrior looking to tackle the outdoors there are several things that you can do to get your body ready for the rigors of long-distance walking.

Injury and pain is a major factor influencing a hiker’s ability to both complete and enjoy the task that they have embarked on.

The graph below is taken from a survey of over 1000 long distance hikers. You will see that injury is the number one cause of hikers being unable to complete a trail.

Firstly, to understand how to make your hikes as comfortable as possible we must first look at the most common injuries experienced by hikers and how to prevent them:

  • Lower back pain
  • Knee pain
  • Shoulder and neck pain
  • Foot pain
  • Ankle and knee sprains


Posture and Stiffness

Lower back, shoulder and neck pain is a common issue experienced by hikers.

For long distance, multi-day hikers and day hikers, poor underlying lower back and neck postures, poor core strength and a lack of flexibility through the trunk can cause increasing discomfort during the walk. This coupled with a backpack that is not correctly fitted and does not dissipate the weight correctly through your body can result in an altogether miserable experience.

Sitting at an office desk for prolonged periods of time can increase the stiffness in our lower back joints and musculature. Prolonged sitting causes a tightening of your lumbar erectors, hip flexors and hamstring muscles which in turn can affect your resting standing posture.

Although physical activity is extremely good for reducing the stiffness accumulated during the working week, a drastic increase in physical activity can result in lower back and pelvic pain if these issues are not addressed.

Thankfully a specific stretching program to resolve tightness in this region will lead to an altogether more comfortable hike. The same can be said for neck issues during hiking.

Neck stiffness that accumulates from sitting at a computer screen for a prolonged period can be accentuated by carrying a heavy backpack and reinforcing poor postures in this area. Again, stretches in the weeks and days leading up to the hike will reduce the likelihood of developing neck and shoulder pain during the walk.

hiking blog

Fitted Backpack

One of the major factors that will influence lower back and neck pain is having a correctly fitted backpack.

In order to prevent back pain, you should take great care in picking out a pack with the proper fit. It is also important that you load your pack properly so that weight is distributed in a way that will not pull on your shoulders. The weight of your pack should be riding close to your body and most of the weight should be distributed across your hips.

Luckily there is an abundance of fantastic outdoor shops just a stone’s throw from the clinic on Little Bourke Street. Their staff is extremely helpful in picking out the right pack for you.

Alternatively, if you already have a backpack and are unsure of the correct setup then feel free to bring it in during your hiking assessment and we will adjust to find the position that is right for you.

Correct Footwear

Knee and foot pain are common issues experienced during hiking especially as you start to increase your distance.

Many believe that it is just an unavoidable part of long-distance walking and tend to grin and bear it or avoid hiking altogether due to the pain.

However, knee and foot pain is commonly caused by lower leg weakness and poor force distribution through your lower legs as you walk. As you increase your distance then this force accumulates causing pain in either the knees, foot or both.

Having supportive footwear, preferably hiking boots is the first step. These will increase shock absorption during walking and provide support to the arch of the foot as we walk. If you already have a pair of hiking boots then bring them in during your assessment as we can see if they are suitable for your foot posture (presuming they have got a good airing out since the last hike!)

Strength and Conditioning

Knee and foot pain can continue however even with supportive footwear.

Often this is as a result of overdominance and reliance on our thigh (quadriceps) muscle, poor core strength and poor stability in our hips as we stand on one leg. This increase’s as we fatigue over longer distances and in turn can and often does result in knee and foot pain.

To prevent this, completing strengthening exercises to increase core and gluteal muscle strength will reduce reliance on our quadriceps and increase hip stability resulting in reduced forces through our knees and feet, ultimately reducing the incidence of pain while hiking.

Acute Injuries

There are times when hiking related injuries cannot be prevented.

If you see a snake jump and sprain your ankle well then that just bad luck. If you roll back the years and race your kid to the nearest tree and twist knee on the uneven surface than that’s just a good story. If this happens, go through the routine for acute injury:

Rest, compression, ice elevation and gentle movement

If you have experience and acute injury while hiking and need help with diagnosis and management – book in with one of our helpful physios and they will assess the injury and get you back on the trail as soon as you are fit.

Ultimately hiking is an awesome experience and a great way to explore the outdoors. Whether you are a first-time hiker and are keen to start off on the right foot or an experienced hiker who can resonate with some of the issues outlined above – book in with one of our staff and we can steer you in the right direction.

Once you take the pain out of the equation then there can be no limit to your possibilities with regard to hiking. Who knows, this week it could be the 1000 steps, next week it could be Everest. You will never know unless you try.

Note: Picture taken during Patrick’s awesome multi-day hike in Wilson’s prom – from Tidal River to Refuge Cover. Put it on your hiking bucket list!