Subscribe Contribute Advertise Facebook Twitter Instagram Forums Newsletter
Effect of long-term long-distance hiking on health
Display Avatars Sort By:
Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Effect of long-term long-distance hiking on health on 02/19/2011 18:38:11 MST Print View

We are each a statistic of One, and didn't have much control over who our grandparents are, but, the following video has some nuggets when it comes to the health, happiness, and physical integrity of the
Tarahumara,who also spend a lot of time covering a lot of ground.


Edited by greg23 on 02/19/2011 18:39:41 MST.

Ryan Powell
(AimlessRyan) - F

Locale: Central Ohio
Coast to coast on 02/19/2011 23:08:17 MST Print View

Hi everyone,

Last year I walked from Santa Monica, CA to Coney Island (Brooklyn), NY. I started the 3,500-mile walk on February 14 and finished on September 12 (211 days), carrying an average of about 55 lbs between my backpack and camera gear.

For a couple weeks after finishing the walk, my body held together pretty well. Soon, though, I began feeling numbness in my hips/buttocks area, which gradually worked its way down my legs to my feet. Within another couple weeks or so, the numbness mostly went away, and I felt like it was just part of the healing process. Ever since then, though, my legs have not worked very well, and I'm not sure it's getting better.

For the past four months or so, it's been hard for me to pick up my feet more than a few inches. It's hard to walk up or down stairs. My balance is all messed up. I still don't have much feeling in my legs or feet (but I wouldn't call it numbness). About the only thing I can do with my legs is walk slowly and clumsily. This is really frustrating, and that's just the short list of problems I've been dealing with.

When you do what I've done, the way I did it, there's basically no one to turn to for answers when your body starts falling apart, and it's a really lonely place to be. So I'm hoping to find some answers here, and I also hope sharing my experience will help others avoid the misery I've been going through. I have plenty more to say, but I need to get to sleep.

Thanks in advance for any help.


Robert Cowman
(rcowman) - F

Locale: Canadian Rockies
advice on 02/19/2011 23:18:01 MST Print View

guys like skurka, trauma and the like should chime in. Colin Agnus and his wife Julie too crazy long distance trips and the keep going on them year after year.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Re: Effect of long-term long-distance hiking on health on 02/20/2011 02:08:42 MST Print View

Just for a start: Google 'piriformis' or 'sciatica'

From Wikipedia, under 'piriformis'.
Caution: I have NO idea whether this is relevant to YOUR problems (anyone).

Main article: Piriformis syndrome

This syndrome occurs when the piriformis irritates the sciatic nerve, which comes into the gluteal region beneath the muscle, causing pain in the buttocks and referred pain along the sciatic nerve.[1] This referred pain is known as sciatica. Fifteen percent of the population has their sciatic nerve coursing through the piriformis muscle. This subgroup of the population is predisposed to developing sciatica. Sciatica can be described by pain, tingling, or numbness deep in the buttocks and along the sciatic nerve. Sitting down, stretching, climbing stairs, and performing squats usually increases pain. Diagnosing the syndrome is usually based on symptoms and on the physical exam. More testing, including MRIs, X-rays, and nerve conduction tests can be administered to exclude other possible diseases.[1] If diagnosed with piriformis syndrome, the first treatment involves progressive stretching exercises and physical treatment. Corticosteroids can be injected into the piriformis muscle if pain continues. A more invasive, but sometimes necessary treatment involves surgery exploration as a last resort.[1]
(My italics)


Erik Danielsen
(er1kksen) - F

Locale: The Western Door
Re: Coast to coast on 02/20/2011 10:24:47 MST Print View

That definitely sounds more like a nerve issue than anything else. Perhaps an aftereffect of spinal compression that your heavy-ish backpack caused on the trail?

If it is a nerve issue (sciatia sounds about right) then it's likely that you could see a full (or nearly so) recovery. There's nothing wrong with your legs, just the interface between your legs and your brain (assuming a nerve disorder, of course).

Ryan Powell
(AimlessRyan) - F

Locale: Central Ohio
Re: Re: Coast to coast on 02/20/2011 11:21:19 MST Print View

Erik and Roger: Having spent the last couple hours looking into the things Roger mentioned, I just saw Erik's post. I think both of you are leading me in the right direction, as Piriformis Syndrome seems to be what I've been dealing with. I probably would have figured it out on my own sooner or later, through exhaustive googling, but this message board was only the second page I read last night when I began searching for an answer. So thank you for directing me down what appears to be the correct path.

Even though I've carried a backpack 7,000 miles over the last four years, I don't consider myself a hiker or backpacker. I'm more a tramp/traveler/hobo who decided to walk across the United States, so I've never spent much time in environments where I could learn about this kind of stuff.

I feel really relieved now, thanks to your help. Hopefully I'll be feeling better and more mobile soon. I'll try to remember to post some updates here if/when I start feeling more mobile.

Thank you!

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Coast to coast on 02/20/2011 12:18:07 MST Print View

A proper diagnosis from an experienced knowledgeable sports medicine professional (very hard to find IMHO) would be a great place to start. But...

+1 piriformis impacting the sciatic nerve

A GOOD physical therapist will know exactly what to do and how to help you do it. It is Not easy to stretch the piriformis, so specific guidance from someone who knows is critical.

Be sure to work on both sides, even if one is not (yet) symptomatic.

Dug Shelby
(Pittsburgh) - F

Locale: Bay Area
Roger on 02/20/2011 12:55:59 MST Print View

Hey all,

Fun thread, loving the trail offshoots the topic is bringing up. Sounds like the TIFLTHOTH (of course, referencing "The Institute For Long-Term Health Of Thru-Hikers") has it's work cut out for them.

Roger, quick question from a few posts back. Regarding your statement:

"By 'reasonable' I mean that you are (mostly) enjoying it."

What did you mean by this?

Glorious sunny day here in the Bay Area of Cali, after a week of rain. Hope this holds out until the weekend for the BPL event!


Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Roger on 02/20/2011 15:04:53 MST Print View

> "By 'reasonable' I mean that you are (mostly) enjoying it."
> What did you mean by this?

Um .... gee .... how to answer this one? :-)

Like anyone else, I have sweated up a steep pass and muttered under my breath ... but I enjoyed the view from the top and was happy once there.
And I have trudged along in freezing cold rain and mumbled a bit then too, but a hot dinner in my tent and a warm sleeping bag sorted that out. And the next day was fine and sunny.


Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
disease resistance, and aqua mira use on 02/20/2011 18:08:43 MST Print View

Roger said:

"In fact, provided that you are staying within your limits, it would be fair to say you should be at a high state of good health, and very resistant to most diseases.
So the moral is - go and do it again!"

FWIW, I've not come down with anything like a cold, sniffles or whatever while long distance hiking, nor have I seen anything like that among thru-hikers. Not very convincing evidence, but this makes a lot of sense to me. As does the "go and do it again" advice, iterate until too old or infirm to continue (and then what ... ?).

Extended Aqua Mira use: I'm certainly no expert here, but my recollection is that chlorine dioxide is what's used in city water systems --- no? Perhaps it's a matter of concentration or something. Would be interesting to get some truly knowledgeable, expert feedback on this, as I've been using A.M. on my trips and plan to do so again starting in June. Steripen is nice, but I've heard multiple stories of them not being sufficiently reliable --- even if I can get batteries whenever I need them, chemicals also are unlikely to get damaged (not impossible to puncture the little bottles, I suppose, but I've not heard of this happening to anyone).

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: disease resistance, and aqua mira use on 02/20/2011 18:50:28 MST Print View

"Extended Aqua Mira use: I'm certainly no expert here, but my recollection is that chlorine dioxide is what's used in city water systems --- no?"

I don't believe that chlorine dioxide treatment of public water supplies is all that common. I think that the generic forms of chlorination are cheaper and easier to manage. Chlorine dioxide treatment and chlorination are actually quite different.

Chlorine dioxide is one popular choice for backpackers simply because of its portability and stability (before mixing).


Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
Chlorine Dioxide in city water supplies on 02/21/2011 10:14:02 MST Print View

Hoping this doesn't turn into a major thread drift issue, but ...

"I don't believe that chlorine dioxide treatment of public water supplies is all that common. I think that the generic forms of chlorination are cheaper and easier to manage. Chlorine dioxide treatment and chlorination are actually quite different."

I imagine that everyone agrees on the latter statement (that use of Chlorine Dioxide is not the same as chlorination), non-issue I believe.

But your comment made me curious, and in fact a quick web search with text like "chlorine dioxide city water supply" turns up lots of links. I don't know how common it is, but some cities definitely are using chlorine dioxide for water treatment; here's a somewhat random example:

I think I'll keep on with Aqua Mira. For me, at least, there are additional benefits including weight, and knowing that with sufficient dose and treatment time it kills everything. And (back to original topic) I've not seen any clear data suggesting that long term use is dangerous.

Ryan Powell
(AimlessRyan) - F

Locale: Central Ohio
Piriformis syndrome on 07/08/2011 11:14:17 MDT Print View

If anyone is interested in an update regarding the problems I've faced since walking across the United States last year (self-diagnosed piriformis syndrome), here ya go:

I think it's been five months since I first posted here (nine months since my difficulties began), and it's still hard for me to walk. At times I've been really focused on stretching and staying well-hydrated, but at other times I've kind of slacked off. I've felt a gradual change throughout these last five months, which feels like improvement, yet it's still really hard for me to walk, and I can't run or jog. Even though I feel definite improvment in some ways, sometimes I think I've declined in other ways. Also, people have told me I look like I have more trouble walking now than I did five months ago.

One major improvement has been in my feet. For several months my feet were cold, purple, and numb. And they weren't just cold; they were uncomfortably cold. So cold that I regularly had to soak them in about 130-degree water. Even after soaking them in hot water for half an hour or longer, they still wouldn't feel warm. At one point my feet were also covered with small raised white spots that looked almost like warts, which I could rub off without any pain. (I once googled some of the characteristics and found a name for this condition, but I can't remember what it's called. It was the least of my concerns at the time.)

For the last couple weeks I've been pretty serious about stretching several times a day, as well as staying hydrated. I've also been using a swimming pool as tool to help me incorporate more lateral movement into my gait. I can already feel a difference in my feet, which are starting to feel close to normal. (It's been at least a few months since my feet felt cold.) However, my hip sockets still feel destroyed.

This has been so hard. I can't do any physical labor, and just being out in public is really difficult because people can't tell how hard it is for me to get where I'm going without tripping or losing my balance and running into them. To them I look very able-bodied, so they don't give me the room I need to avoid running into them awkwardly. Every step is an adventure. Even taking a shower wipes me out. (I tend to take long, hot showers, though, so that's part of it.)

As frustrating and difficult as this has been, I still feel like I might be one minor adjustment from walking normal again. In fact, earlier this week I started thinking about doing a much longer walk than the one I did last year. I'm now thinking about doing a 48-state walk, which would be around 10,000 miles. If I can walk remotely normal by the end of next month, I'm gonna hitchhike to Maine and start this two-year walk.

Even with as much as I think I've learned about what's going on with my legs, there's one thing that really puzzles me: Why didn't this problem present itself during the walk? I was fine until a couple weeks after finishing the seven-month walk. In fact, I felt so good toward the end that I was doing 22 miles a day for the last month. It hurt like hell, of course, but I didn't have any trouble doing that kind of mileage. ?????

Edited by AimlessRyan on 07/08/2011 11:28:49 MDT.

a b
Lyme Disease? on 07/08/2011 11:31:38 MDT Print View

Ryan, your symptoms sound very much to me like chronic Lyme disease.
I had some foot pain for a few months after my PCT thru but since then nothing. The only other hikers I met that had long lasting pain had Lyme disease.

Ryan Powell
(AimlessRyan) - F

Locale: Central Ohio
Re: Lyme Disease? on 07/08/2011 12:29:05 MDT Print View

Thank you. I'm gonna look into that right now.

Charles Grier
(Rincon) - M

Locale: Desert Southwest
Human evolution and age. on 07/09/2011 07:57:47 MDT Print View

A lot of responses to this thread seem to assume that humans have evolved to live long lives and that modern civilization has interfered with this trend. This is simply wishful thinking.

During human evolution, reaching old age was largely a matter of luck, not diet or exercise or pure thought. Those who were able to avoid disease, predators, genetic flaws, male combat, childbirth death, and starving to death may have lived to old age. But, old age then was nearer 40 than 80 and has been for most of the evolution of humanity. That is not to say that some humans did not live to be old and wise but these individuals were the exception rather than the rule.

Simply put, old age, per se, does not confer any evolutionary advantage to the continuation of the species. Sure, mature wisdom might have contributed something to survival of the population but age does not necessarily equal wisdom. And, a major premise of evolutionary ecology is that evolution acts on populations, not individuals.

Discussions of whether humans evolved to eat vegetables or fish or whatever, theories of how far our ancestors walked each day and notions of how all this made for long and healthy lives ignores the fact that most humans, over evolutionary time, simply did not live very long. Certainly most did not live long enough for joint and connective tissue damage to become an issue.

Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Effect of sitting on long-term health on 07/09/2011 11:52:48 MDT Print View

OTOH, there's been some recent articles on long-term sitting being hazardous to human health too (in terms of sedentary lifestyles), if one cares to Google. The Doritos lift and 3-liter Pepsi chug does not count as exercise.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: Human evolution and age. on 07/09/2011 20:14:02 MDT Print View

Actually, old age does confer an evolutionary advantage for humans in that child-rearing takes a lot of work and a lot of time and also interferes with the productivity of the parent. A grandparent is in a position to be very helpful, and is in a position to actually care enough to help.

Ryan Powell
(AimlessRyan) - F

Locale: Central Ohio
Re: Piriformis syndrome/Lyme Disease? on 07/12/2011 11:20:03 MDT Print View

I appreciate the tip regarding Lyme Disease, but I'm almost positive I don't have that. Right after my most recent post, I started using a tennis ball to massage my piriformis muscles, and it seems to be making a huge difference.

I left out a lot of details in my original posts, including the fact that I probably had serious piriformis issues before I even began my coast-to-coast walk. I just didn't know it until the last few days. Now that I can feel improvement, I can connect a lot of new dots, and now I realize this condition was building for a long time before and during my walk.

Going through what I've been going through for so long is probably a blessing in disguise. Sometimes you just have to learn things the hard way. If I am finally on the right path, as it seems, you can bet I'll never have to go through this again because now I know how important my butt muscles are. Now I know how important my hips are, and how the piriformis muscles allow the hips to function. Now I know how to spot potential problems with these muscles. Now I know how to keep these muscles in ideal condition.

I'll let y'all know if this tennis ball therapy continues helping me walk more like I used to walk. Thanks, everyone, for your help.

Benjamin Crowley
(benajah) - F

Locale: West, now
Re: Re: Effect of long-term long-distance hiking on health on 07/12/2011 23:25:35 MDT Print View

pretty good point. I was a carpenter before I went in the army. I was an infantryman in the army. Spent 20 years or so carrying loads around, running around, hiking all day every day.
Now I got the government to send me to college, grad school too, and have a nice cushy office job. My back hurts every day. Knees too.
Is it from running around every mountain range on the planet carrying 200 pounds of water, food, and machine gun ammo?
or is it from sitting in a chair?
Im not sure.