Hiking-Related Injury Treatment & Prevention with Our Anchorage Physical Therapy Staff

Hiking is one of the most popular pastimes in Alaska, so don’t let an injury hold you back from hitting the great outdoors! Learn more about common hiking injuries from our Anchorage physical therapy team.

5 Common Hiking Injuries—And How to Prevent Them

1. Plantar fasciitis

What it is: tenderness, pain, and stiffness in the heel and along the bottom of the foot (the arch)

How it happens: the thick band of tissue which forms your arches (called the plantar fascia) can become inflamed and irritated for a variety of reasons, but especially if you “do too much too soon” or have exceptionally high or low arches

How to prevent it: Build up your hiking tolerance slowly! Tackle the relatively easy, flat, and shorter trails first before heading out on multiple hour trips with challenging terrain. You can also perform a self-myofascial technique to loosen up and relax your plantar fascia by stepping on a lacrosse ball and letting it roll around the bottom of your foot.

2. Ankle Sprain

What it is: tenderness, pain, and stiffness in the heel and along the bottom of the foot (the arch)

What it is: an acute injury to the ligaments, tendons, muscles, and other tissues around the ankle

How it happens: you can “twist your ankle” by awkwardly landing on it or tripping

How to prevent it: Wear sturdy hiking boots that offer some support to your ankles. Do exercises that stretch and strengthen your lower leg including calf stretches, calf raises, and single limb stance activities (like the airplane or tree position in yoga).

3. Knee pain

What it is: pain on the inside of outside of the knee, often accompanied by swelling, clicking, tenderness, or a feeling of joint instability

How it happens: any sort of overuse or repetitive strain can lead to an acute injury to a knee ligament, meniscus, or bursa; hiking downhill can be especially stressful on your knee joint and may lead to pain in the patellar tendon

How to prevent it: before hiking, do a few simple warm up exercises such as light jogging, brisk walking, or leg swings to prepare your knee joints for work Maintain a regular exercise program to ensure the muscles in your legs are strong and enduring. Be sure you are wearing supportive footwear.

4. Back pain

What it is: stiffness, pain, tenderness, and achiness anywhere in your back, including the upper, middle, and lower areas

How it happens: excessive time spent on your feet (especially with a heavy backpack on!) can lead to stress on your spinal joints, muscles, ligaments, and even nerves. If you already have an underlying back condition or a history of back problems, the normal challenge of hiking may exacerbate your symptoms.

How to prevent it: don’t carry more than you need on your hike. If you’re bringing a backpack, invest in a quality hiking bag that you can secure to your waist, keeping the straps short so that the bag is close to you (loosely hung bags may shift and increase strain). Pack your heaviest objects on the bottom of the bag and close to your body to reduce relative load. Take frequent breaks on your hike and stay well-hydrated to keep your spinal discs and joints healthy.

5. Muscle spasm or strain

What it is: acute micro-damage and tearing to the muscle fibers, or an altered amount of tension and adhesions within the muscle fibers

How it happens: any muscle in your body can become damaged because of slips, trips, and falls or repetitive/overuse injuries. You may be more at risk for injuring a muscle if you are dehydrated, not well-rested, and not properly warmed-up.

How to prevent it: Do simple arm swings and leg swings to warm up your muscles before your hike. Drink plenty of water. Stretch your heavily-worked muscles including quads, hamstrings, and calves after your hike to prevent spasms and soreness.

Are you struggling with a hiking-related injury? Give Reger Physical Therapy a call today at (907) 677-9112 to schedule an initial appointment. We’re proud to serve the Anchorage community Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

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