This was my first time attending an ALDHA-West event and I was thrilled to share info on preventing overuse injuries using self-massage. I was able to highlight techniques used in my book Self-Massage for the Outdoors created as a practical guide to help those on the trail recover without tools such as foam rollers. Specific emphasis was placed on long-distance hiking and lower body techniques, given what ALDHA stands for: American Long Distance Hiking Association. ALDHA-West offers advice and resources for long-distance hikers, gear recommendations, and the Triple Crown award for those who have hiked the Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and Pacific Crest Trail in their entirety. Learn more about ALDHA-West here.

Here is a brief summary of what I covered at the event called the Cascade Ruck.

When hiking long-distance, recovery is paramount to hitting your goals injury free. I break recovery down into 3 large categories:

  • Nutrition
  • Hydration
  • Rest: Passive and Active

Passive rest is basically sleeping and some forms of meditation and sitting in an ice bath

Active rest refers to movement-oriented activities that promote recovery such as massage, stretching, breathing, foam rolling, etc.

Most long distance hikers I know don’t pack their foam roller or softball with them, so learning basic self-massage techniques to reduce tension, pain, achy joints, and to help speed recovery before the next 20+ mile day is extremely useful. A 2013 study reviewed over 100 thru-hikers and about 45% of them said they experienced more than a few days of general aches and pains. Close to 49% of those hikers said the foot was the main source of their pain. The remaining 40% stated the knee and lower leg comprised the rest of the issues experienced while on the trail. Check out these self-massage techniques for the feet here. 

There are 5 repetitive stress injuries we commonly see in long-distance hikers:

  1. Plantar Fasciitis
  2. Achilles Tendinopathy
  3. Shin Splints
  4. Knee Pain/Patella Femoral Issues
  5. Stress Fractures

Footwear, gait mechanics, muscular strength/endurance, progressive training leading up to long-distance travel, and rest and recovery routines all play a role in preventing these injuries.

I use the 3 P’s of injury prevention as a way to remember what I need to do for each long-distance adventure:

  1. Plan: Set aside time to work on your body throughout the day. The evening is the best time to decrease tension, reduce aches and pains, and boost circulation to overused muscle tissue before retiring for the night.
  2. Pay Attention: Don’t ignore the signals your body is giving you to stop, take a break, rest, or stretch/massage. The body is highly intelligent and will provide us signals before a serious injury occurs. Developing a deeper sense of awareness of your own personal trouble areas before embarking on your journey will go a long way to preventing injury.
  3. Practice: Self-massage/stretching techniques take time to practice on your body to start to feel the benefits. As you develop a subtle awareness of where you hold tension, practicing self-massage regularly will become a healthy sustainable habit.

A breakout session was also used to answer questions and demo techniques in a small group environment. Topics included a closer look at managing Achilles issues, plantar fasciitis, and foot care strategies. Strengthening the foot and hip using calf raises/eccentric lowers and single-leg balance drills were also demonstrated. Another common question was how to maintain good upper body posture while wearing a pack for long hours. We covered shoulder, pec, and thoracic mobility exercises and detailed correct spinal alignment. Self-traction techniques to counteract the wearing of a weighted pack for long hours as well as maintaining adequate hip sway while walking were also mentioned to help reduce the impact on the spine and whole-body loading.

If you’d like to learn more hiking long-distance trails, check out this blog post on the Top 55 Long Distance Hiking Trails.