I’ve always tried to avoid my hiking blogs becoming litanies of pain and discomfort. I wouldn’t hike if I didn’t enjoy it, overall. But discomfort is definitely involved, and pain too, especially as you get older. I’ve been lucky (so far) in avoiding acute injury while actually hiking but I’ve nonetheless had several brushes with bodily disintegration that, at the time, seemed to threaten my outdoor activities.
I have no medical qualifications or expertise and cannot stress too much that, as we are all unique, if you experience persistent pain or discomfort you must seek advice from a qualified medical professional. Bodies are complicated and your injury might be completely different from mine. Don’t assume what worked for me will work for you, it might make your problem worse. Having said that, just for anecdotal amusement here’s a run-down of my own recent moans and groans.
- Awful lower back pain, that for a while a few years ago was making it very hard to get around at all.
Back trouble has a huge number of possible causes, but luckily I had a proper MRI scan (see a professional, get proper diagnostics!) which clearly revealed a congenital deformity in one of my vertebrae that was niggling a nerve root. Surgery was a possibility but problematic. Instead I saw a physio who was also trained in traditional Chinese medicine. Her prescription: exercise, exercise, exercise, starting with gentle movements targeted at the supporting muscles then working up to a much higher level of general activity. While she was at it she changed my diet and lectured me with quite remarkable aggression to give up smoking. As she was also poking needles into me I figured I’d better obey. Worked a treat – no back pain now for years, touch wood, and no surgery.
- Arthritis in a big toe joint, which can get very painful.
Troublesome, this, most of all funnily enough in bed when on some nights my toe can hardly tolerate the weight of a duvet. To get any sleep I periodically have to wear a toe brace I bought on Amazon. Again I have had this x-rayed (see a professional, get proper diagnostics!) and it isn’t going to get better. I find Comfrey ointment helpful (ask a professional first, although my own GP said ‘what’s Comfrey?’) and a stiff shoe is a blessing on bad days but, again, exercise is in the mix. Targeted toe-waggling to build support. This hurt at first but it seems a lot better now.
- ‘Morton’s Neuroma’ type metatarsal problem.
Very painful for a while and still from time to time that maddening feeling of definitely having a small pebble in my shoe, right under my metatarsal when of course there’s actually nothing there. An x-ray (see a professional, etc) showed no convincing structural damage and a steroid injection hurt like mad for three days, then gave three months of blessed relief. In the mean time I got rid of my cafe, owning which had involved running round in small circles on a hard tiled floor six days a week. The really bad pain stopped, and hasn’t returned, touch wood. Again a change in activity level involved, this time a decrease in repetitive joint impact.
- A mysterious bad knee.
For a long time I was getting cry-out-loud pains in my knee and intermittently it would even collapse, dumping me on the ground embarrassingly in shops and at at social events. This got pretty bad the year before I planned to walk the Scottish National and for a while I thought I’d have to cancel. I got an MRI scan (see a professional, etc!) which showed only minor deterioration, based on which a physio – again – prescribed exercise. After a few weeks of gentle leg waving I progressed to the swimming pool, in dismay as I hate swimming. For four months, several times a week, I ploughed up and down, on my back, no arms, just scissor kicks. It was one of the most boring things I’ve ever done. When it came to SNT-time the knee was still a bit sensitive, so I set off from Kirk Yetholm to hike the length of Scotland in a lightweight knee brace (off Amazon) which was a great help in stabilising the joint – I found the key thing was to concentrate on keeping my feet straight, no twisting, and walking lightly with a camel-like gait – “camel feet”, I regularly shouted at myself. By the time I got to the Great Glen the knee brace was in the backpack, and, touch wood, I’ve never needed it since. Exercise.
- A terrible embarrassing cough.
For years I had a chesty cough that was so bad I would double up and hack as if I was going to expire. It came on especially at any moment of stress – sometimes it was quite useful. My diaphragm used to hurt all the time; I envisioned myself expiring horribly on a ventilator quite soon. I think this had been brought on by scarring from teenage bronchitis and years of subsequent sinus infections that always went to my chest. Plus, ahem, smoking. X-rays were inconclusive but showed nothing seriously alarming (see a professional!) Now I hardly ever cough at all and it may not surprise you to hear that this is due to – exercise.
Unexpectedly and quite accidentally I took up playing the Tuba. A friend invited me to hear her brass band rehearse and when I admitted to the conductor I’d played brass at school, forty years previously, I found a Tuba thrust into my hand, or rather onto my lap. For the first year I thought I’d never have enough puff to get a proper parp out of the enormous thing, but with practice it gradually improved. Things then improved further when I took up running, via the miraculous ‘Couch to 5k’ app. You may wonder how this works with the other problems listed above, and the simple answer is I never run on a hard, even surface, only ever off-road. Hence every step, every footfall is different, there’s no destructive repetition. For the first couple of years the cough was shocking after and even during running and I was plagued by nosebleeds too. Now I just run, well, stumble, the 5k three times a week and the cough has virtually disappeared. Exercise. It’s changed my life. It may change yours for the worse, so get professional advice before doing any.
A definite theme in the above list – adjust your activity level, stay active, get more active, subject to proper professional advice and diagnostic imaging. If you have an underlying injury or physical deterioration exercise could make your problem much worse. Talking of which, this year I’ve been faced with a problem that exercise can’t fix. I thought it was just a ‘groin strain’ and was trying to stretch and exercise it better in various amateurish ways. It was only when I went to the docs for something else that she spotted it. ‘By the way, you have a hernia.’ ‘What?!’ I thought hernias were a joke, or for very old people – I’m ‘only’ 62. To cut a long story short, professional diagnosis (get proper advice) has revealed a double inguinal hernia that needs surgical repair, and we all know the state of play with regards to routine surgery at the moment.
A maddening thing, it gets really painful if I don’t sit or lie down for most of the time. Walking is now quite difficult without elaborate support arrangements (off Amazon), with the aid of which I can still manage my 5k ‘runs’, but the said arrangements quickly become intolerable and have to be removed after anything longer than an hour or so. This year’s planned long hike had to be cancelled, and there’s no way of knowing when future adventures will become possible. Consequently I have nothing to write about, other than more endless boring gear reviews.
Consequently I plan to retire the blog. It will disappear on November 22nd when the subscription expires. WordPress blogs cost a significant chunk of my tiny pension that I can better deploy elsewhere. Even though I activated the irritating adverts the tiny sums they generate have nowhere nearly added up to the cost of the blog.
I have enjoyed writing up my hikes and would like very much to thank everyone who’s taken the time to read about my trivial exploits, when, let’s face it, there are much more significant things happening in the world. Feel free to pinch any of the photos as a souvenir. My Pennine Way book is available to buy on Amazon. I wish you all well, and many pain-free adventures.