As aspen leaves turn golden, hikers and hunters head to the mountains, but unfortunately they are not always prepared for the beating their feet will take.

Many outdoor enthusiasts don’t realize how strenuous it can be to withstand constant, vigorous walking on uneven, mountainous terrain. 

Inadequate physical conditioning and inappropriate footwear can give rise to foot and ankle problems such as chronic heel pain, ankle sprains, Achilles tendonitis, fungal infections and severe blisters.

Walking up and down steep slopes and tramping through wet, slick fields or wooded areas puts stress on the muscles and tendons in the feet and ankles, especially if you haven’t conditioned properly before hitting the trail.

Investing in high-quality hiking boots can help reduce the risk of injury. Strong, well-insulated boots with steel or graphite shanks offer excellent foot and ankle support and help lessen stress and muscle fatigue. 

The supportive shank decreases strain to the arch by allowing the boot to distribute the impact as the foot moves forward. If a hiking boot bends in the middle, don’t wear it.

In wet and cold weather, donning the right socks can help prevent blisters, fungal infections and frostbite. Wearing synthetic socks as a first layer helps keep feet dry and reduces the friction that causes blisters. 

As a second layer, wool socks add warmth, wick moisture away from the skin and help make the hiking boot more comfortable. Wool lets moisture evaporate more readily than cotton, so fewer blisters develop.

What should you do if your feet or ankles hurt during a hike or hunt? Pain usually occurs from overuse, even from just walking. If you’re unaccustomed to climbing on sloped or uneven ground, your legs and feet will get tired and cause muscles and tendons to ache. 

To avoid a serious injury, such as a severe ankle sprain or an Achilles tendon rupture, rest for a while if you start hurting.

Pain is a warning sign that something is wrong. The risk of serious injury escalates if you continue hiking while in pain. Much like skiing, beginners should hike on less difficult trails until they become better conditioned.

Evaluation by a foot and ankle surgeon is recommended if pain persists following a hike or hunt. 

If problems such as ankle instability or a strained Achilles tendon are ignored, it may lead to a more serious injury that can sideline you for a long time.

To learn more about foot and ankle conditions and when to visit a foot and ankle surgeon, visit FootHealthFacts.org.

Dr. Ralph Wentz is a foot and ankle surgeon in Salida. He can be reached at 719-539-6600.

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