Heal thyself from outdoor injuries

One of our greatest gifts is the ability to move our bodies. But when we do — especially when exercising or enjoying Scout activities outdoors — our bodies sometimes complain.


With movement comes blistered feet, twisted ankles, road rash and scary-sounding maladies like patellofemoral pain syndrome, more commonly known as runner’s knee.

These injuries can be a real proximal hamstring strain (aka pain in the butt) for someone like you who likes to stay active. So don’t let mishaps sideline you. If you experience severe pain or swelling, see a doctor. But if it’s minor, try these first-aid tips and follow up with preventive action to avoid repeat injuries.

Ankle sprain

Rolled your ankle while hiking or playing hoops? You know the drill: Elevate the foot and ice the swelling for 15 minutes at a time. Then compress the injury with an elastic bandage. To further reduce swelling and pain, consider taking an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen.

Prevent it: Boost ankle stability by doing calf stretches and balance drills. Balance on one foot for as long as you can. Make it harder by swinging your arms or closing your eyes.

Runner’s knee

Patellofemoral knee pain typically rears its ugly head after you’ve been exercising for a while. You usually feel the pain under the kneecap, and it tends to be worse when you walk up or down a flight of stairs.

To rehab the injury, employ dynamic rest, advises Jordan Metzl, a New York sports medicine physician and author of The Athlete’s Book of Home Remedies: 1,001 Doctor-Approved Health Fixes and Injury-Prevention Secrets for a Leaner, Fitter, More Athletic Body! Dynamic rest means staying active without further irritating the injury. Try bicycling or pool running to stay in shape without the pounding and pain caused by running.

Prevent it: “Muscle imbalances can cause runner’s knee,” Metzl says. “Building up your quads makes your knees more stable and less susceptible to injury.” Try mountain-climber calisthenics, body-weight squats and lunges.

Athlete’s foot

The remedy for this fungal infection is the same whether you are an athlete or a couch potato: Cool the itch and inflammation by soaking a clean washcloth in a solution made from 2 tablespoons of Domeboro powder, which is available over the counter, and 1 pint of cool water. Apply it as a compress for 15 minutes four times a day. An over-the-counter antifungal cream can help, too.

Prevent it: The fungus likes moisture, so dry your feet well after a shower and before putting shoes back on. Alternate wears between two pairs of athletic shoes. Also, since the fungus is contagious, wear shower shoes when showering in public places.

Plantar fasciitis

A telltale sign of plantar fasciitis is when you step out of bed and flinch because it feels like you stepped on a sharp stone, but nothing’s there. The sharp pain is triggered by inflammation of the band of tissue (the fascia) running along the bottom of your foot (the plantar). Having high arches and tight calf muscles can cause the tension that brings on the pain.

To remedy it, take an anti-inflammatory medicine. Refrain from running, hiking or playing sports until the pain and swelling go away.

Prevent it: Loosen your tight fascia by sitting in a chair and rolling a tennis ball back and forth under each foot. Some people prefer using a golf ball that has been left in a freezer for a few hours for this self-massage. Also, stretch the area by placing the toes and ball of your foot against a curb or wall with your heel on the ground. Lean forward, keeping your leg straight until you feel the stretch at the top of your calf.

Road rash

Scraping off a few layers of skin when you fall off your bike can really hurt. Cleaning the abrasion will sting, too, but it must be done. These kinds of scrapes are usually peppered with dirt. Flush the wound by pouring mild soapy water over it. Pick out the bigger specs of road dirt or gravel with tweezers, and gently dab the wound with a wet soapy washcloth. Dab it dry, and then apply triple antibiotic ointment and a sterile gauze pad held in place with tape.

Swimmer’s ear

You went swimming in the lake, and now you have an earache. It’s likely swimmer’s ear, a bacterial infection caused by water trapped in the ear canal. A warm compress held over the affected ear should soothe the pain. So will taking ibuprofen. It’s best to see your doctor to make sure you haven’t perforated your eardrum, and get a prescription for antiseptic/antibiotic ear drops.

Prevent it: Wear earplugs when swimming to keep water out of the ear canal. Drying your ears with a hair dryer on a low setting can help, too. If you suffer from recurring swimmer’s ear, buy over-the-counter eardrops to dry up excess water in your ear. Or use a homemade solution of a half-teaspoon of white vinegar and a half-teaspoon of rubbing alcohol. Pour into the ear, and then let it drain out.

Muscular lower-back pain

Spasms are the most common type of back pain, and they can be debilitating. You’ll want to lie down for a long time, but don’t do it, Dr. Metzl warns. Stay mobile. Bed rest only deconditions your muscles. Instead, apply ice for 15 minutes several times a day for the first two days, and then apply a heating pad at 15-minute intervals thereafter to stop the spasms. Ibuprofen or naproxen can help with pain and inflammation.

Prevent it: Strengthen your core muscles, which include all the muscles of the girdle — the lower back, obliques on your sides and abdominals up front — and stretch your hamstrings, quadriceps and hip flexors.

Two of the best preventive exercises are the plank and the superman. Plank: Get into a pushup position, but bend your elbows and rest your weight on your forearms. Keep your back arrow-straight from heels to head. Hold for 30 seconds, rest and repeat four more times. Superman: Lie face down and stretch your arms in front of you. Now contract the muscles of your lower back and glutes while raising your arms and legs off the floor. Hold for five seconds, rest for five, and then repeat up to 10 times.

Jeff Csataris latest book is The 14-Day No Sugar Diet.

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