Hiking as a form of rehab

Hiking has easily one of the most popular outdoor activities in Ireland after field sports. Irelands landscape allows for some of the most enjoyable and challenging hikes possible. As enjoyable as hiking can be, due to the environment in which it is done in, it can also help train or challenge several different aspects of our health. The long-distance pushes our cardio, the changes in incline and decline push our entire lower bodies and backs, the altitude makes it tougher on our respiratory system and the list goes on and on. Instead of the obvious benefits to general health and fitness, we will speak about the not so obvious benefits that hiking has for rehab. So here are some of the most beneficial effects that hiking can have for rehab.

  • Tendon Rehab

Tendinopathy or issues/damage to the tendons are a very common condition that can occur s a result of many different factors. They can often become chronic, long-lasting issues where rest alone won’t lead to the issue resolving. Due to the type of tissue tendons are made from loading it through specific exercises is the best form of rehab for them. The incline of a hike causes a constant concentric load to occur. Due to this incline even when stopped the muscles remain contracted and will then load the tendons. On the decline of the hike, muscles are under an eccentric contraction while lowering our bodies downwards. This eccentric loading while maintaining our position will load a tendon in the best possible fashion. This is the best form of rehab exercise for a tendon and is easier to manage due to it being based entirely off body weight and the difficulty of the hike itself.

  • Muscle Rehab

As much as hiking benefits tendon health, it is only possible due to our, muscles. Hiking is a perfect way to improve muscle strength and stamina which are very beneficial in both the rehab and prevention of reinjury for muscles. The long and constant levels of muscle activity lead to a steady workout for our muscles helping to increase strength and stamina of the tissues. DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Syndrome – nowhere near as dramatic as it sounds!) doesn’t occur after a hike as they would after a gym session as the loading of our muscles is very different, as well as the time in which our muscles are activated as well. This also means as a form of rehab it can be done for longer periods of time and not lead to the issues of DOMS or movement being even more difficult the day after.

  • Joint Rehab

Similarly to the muscles and tendons, the loading of joints is also one of the most beneficial ways to rehab or strengthen them. Hiking places a lot of pressure upon the ankle, knee and hip joints which at first can be difficult for people to become accustomed to. Repeated hiking session will eventually make the joints adapt to the loading much better than attempting to do so on the incline of a treadmill or concrete floor due to the forces being applied to the body when weight is placed upon certain surfaces. The relationship between joints, muscles, and tendons often means that when one suffers so do they all in some form but the same goes for when you make them stronger and more resilient through rehab. They all benefit from similar forms of rehab and activity and this can be done uniformly through hiking unlike many other forms of activity.

  • Metabolism

As important as it is to rest directly after an injury, soon afterwards the best possible thing to do is to keep active after the initial inflammatory stages of healing ease. Although tiring due to the injury, keeping active keeps your metabolism high which will keep the healing rate high as well. Obviously, everybody needs to work around the injury they have had when it comes to being active but when a person can be active they should do whatever they can. Finding a balance between rest, activity levels and finding an activity which will suit your situation can be tricky. Yet hiking can allow for a nice mixture of levels and can be used to keep a person active or as rehab. As such depending on your own situation, pick a certain part of a hike, or an entirely different place to do it depending on the levels you can do it in.

  • Altitude

Hiking along a track or up mountain may not be the same kind of altitude that athletes often travel abroad for but it still has similar effects even when the increase is minimal. Training at altitude helps improve the respiratory rate and absorption of oxygen by the haemoglobin in our red blood cells. By hiking in high altitude areas, in comparison to where you live and work, it will improve the level of oxygen we take in and absorb at areas of lower altitude. This will help to improve energy levels in everyday life as well as when in activity. If a person can improve the level of oxygen they both take in and absorb more oxygen it will also help healing rates as well as the energy we are able to produce by our metabolism.

Really hiking has a massive number of benefits be they obvious or obscure, strength or rehab related. Even down to details like balance or just an activity that can help clear your head, its something that can help nearly everybody regardless of age, activity level or injury history. As long as you do it in a way that suits you best you can get a huge amount from it. Plus it makes for more entertaining rehab which will mean you are more likely to do it, and inevitably you will get greater results!

Don’t be intimidated if you don’t know where to start – contact me and I will try my best to point you in the right direction. There are loads of groups you could start with. This blog was inspired by hiking the Sugarloaf with GymPlusCoffee who host a birthday hike each year, and have plenty more activities to come! We all have to start somewhere so don’t let being a beginner intimidate you if you are new to hiking.

**Remember to consult with a medical professional first – You can book appointments on owenfeeneyat@gmail.com 

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