You heard me right. Yes, every hiker should consult with a physical therapist. You might be thinking, but I’m not injured, so why would I need a physical therapist. Stay tuned and you’ll find out why! Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.
1. Pain resolution (or if not at least pain management): If you’re a hiker, you likely have experienced some sort of nagging pain or perhaps it’s not quite in the painful category but an area that gets tight and can impede your hike. Maybe you do have an actual chronic pain that you’ve been dealing with for years and it limits your hikes. Wherever on the spectrum you fall, from outright pain that is chronic to just feeling some tightness or stiffness in certain areas, a physical therapist can help you! If you’ve never seen a physical therapist before (and then again even if you have, you might not have had this experience, unfortunately) but when you have an evaluation whether it’s for an injury or for wellness and prevention, the physical therapist ideally will perform a full body evaluation that will examine ALL areas of your body and look at how you are moving in all different joints, identifying areas of limitation (that you may or may not be aware that you have). They will also get specific and look at your strength in a variety of areas and also identify any muscle imbalances that you may be having. These are often key as to why we start to feel outright pain or even just stiffness or nagging discomforts that come and go. In many cases, you can resolve the pain or nagging discomfort that you thought you just had to live with. In some cases, pain resolution might not be fully achievable (but please don’t ever just assume this). However, if this is the case a physical therapist is a movement expert and can also educate you on how to manage your pain and also still successfully participate in your beloved activity…in this case…hiking!
2. Injury prevention: So let’s say you really have no pain whatsoever…(I’m honestly not really buying that you don’t have any sort of stiffness or discomfort anywhere but let’s move on). By doing the same full body evaluation even in wellness, a physical therapist will identify areas where your body is not working optimally with the way it was designed to move. When your body is not moving in the manner, in which it is supposed to, you are more prone to injury. By completing this evaluation and then working on those targeted areas of limitation, you can prevent an injury from occurring in the first place! Also part of this that is important to note, with hikers one of the biggest category of injuries is overuse injuries. And overuse injuries ARE preventable. (more on this in future posts, so stay tuned), but basically, an overuse injury means you’ve basically asked that tissue (whether it’s bone, muscle, tendon, etc) to complete a task that it’s really not strong enough to do. There has not been sufficient training to really be able to complete that task (task in this case is your hike). You can run into a huge repetitive cycle if you don’t address this correctly (example: you get Plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, (fill in the blank with another ‘itis type of overuse injury), you rest it and do some stretches that you learned on Youtube, and then it feels better. So you’re feeling great, and you decide to hit the trail again (thinking you can get back to exactly where you were when you last were on the trail. And then dammit your PF or AT (or whatever) is back again. And so the cycle continues. And you’re frustrated and still not able to hike. Well first and foremost consulting a physical therapist, you prevent this altogether as they can help you to train smart and not experience this from the start. Another common problem with hikers is ankle sprains. A physical therapist can help create a program appropriate to you and your ankles to help you prevent an ankle sprain in the first place as well.
3. Improve your performance: reach the peak quicker, hike farther: So I may sound a bit like a broken record, but back to that full body evaluation where the physical therapist is identifying the areas specific to you and your body (while we are all human and should move in similar ways, we rarely do and given our experiences and activities, we learn to compensate and move in different ways, developing abnormal movement patterns that may not actually over time be so great). So a physical therapist is going to pinpoint these things specific to you. Whereas even following a physical therapist on social media, while helpful, you are still guessing on whether what they are talking about this week really is specific to you and your body. An evaluation takes the guess work out of it! So the evaluation identifies your areas of limitation and then creating a program specific to you is key. So addressing those mobility issues, or weakness or muscle imbalances, will make your body more efficient and effective in how it moves. And ultimately that means you and your body will perform better. You will reach the peak quicker. You can go on longer hikes. AND you will feel good (which leads to number 4).
4. Enjoy your hikes more: By identifying and then addressing these areas that are less than optimal in your body, you will have less pain, will move better, and so as a consequence, you will just enjoy your hikes more! Because you are not worrying about whether your back will bother you, or whether you have to stop and rest and stretch your left hip flexor before you even take another step. You have the confidence that your body will support you and you can just enjoy your hike! Along these lines also, you're training smart and not spinning your wheels guessing and so you have more time for other things...like more hikes!
5. Educate yourself and better understand your body so you know what is normal and what’s not. Which translates into better overall quality of life. So while I’m saving this one for last, it may actually be the most important of all of them. By consulting a physical therapist, you learn more about your body and what is considered normal and what isn’t. You also learn valuable information that is specific to YOUR body; you may have less mobility in your hips and that was just how you were made. But now you know that you need to keep them as mobile as possible, in order to prevent back pain and such. You also learn what is considered to be appropriate soreness that is part of a workout and what is the kind of soreness that you should not push through (thus leading to one of those overuse injuries previously mentioned). All of this will serve you in EVERY activity of your life, not just hiking. I often have people tell me that they are surprised that they are feeling better in one area (like their knees) and this ended up improving another area (for example: their back). Sometimes it’s even the remark of my back hasn’t felt this good in years! (when in actuality they hadn’t mentioned they had back pain, but just that aching stiffness had become such a normal occurrence for them that they didn’t even consider it was a problem). Basically, if every area moves optimally and in the manner that it should, then that will translate into better movement overall. You feel better. You want to do more and you want to enjoy your life to the fullest.
So my question for you…have you ever consulted a physical therapist? Even if you aren’t experiencing an injury or pain? Did you know that a physical therapist could help you in wellness? Let me know in the comments below!
If you’re looking to improve your hiking or to take it to the next level and prevent injury, reach out to me today for a free consultation call here. I would love to help reach your next summit!
Coming soon! Are you new to hiking and want to reach the summit safely, confidently and to crush your goals? Click here to learn more about a new coaching program for the beginner hiker!