Kintip: Injury Prevention and Treatment

Article by Tristan Hogue

Kintip: Injury Prevention and Treatment

A few years ago, I found myself climbing a very sustained and exposed route in the heart of Switzerland. The cold temperature and raging wind made for a perfect early morning at high altitude, hoping to summit at sunrise. At nearly 4,200 m, as I was close to shutting my headlamp down, a rock fell off the mountain and hit my right leg. The pain was outrageous, and I could barely stay still as I looked down the thousand-meter drop below me. Once I reached a plateau, I found out the rock hit a major artery in my leg, resulting in high blood pressure and fast fluid loss. Survival instinct kicked in and I was able to cover the wound quickly and managed an injury that could have easily become fatal. I reached the summit shortly after sunrise with a numb leg, carefully climbed down, and headed straight to the hospital afterwards.

Injuries can happen at any time, so it is crucial to be best prepared for any eventuality in the outdoors. 

A few minutes before the accident.

From a physical standpoint, our body can break in a million different ways. However, we are all armed with strong tissues to hold everything into place during even the most intense activities. Unfortunately, accidents can still occur and if it happens at a bad time, it might just jeopardize the entire adventure.  

Let’s focus on how to prevent injuries from happening and the best methods to recover from them. 

Prevention 

There are three key injury mechanisms that will eventually push our body to its limit. 

 

CAUSE OF INJURY 

EXAMPLE 

Excess load 

Falling from a cliff 

Repetitive load 

Running at high speed 

Static load 

Carrying a heavy backpack 

 

As you can see, most of our injuries come from daily tasks or activities like running or hiking. They often come over time and can be easily avoided by following some simple principles. 

Evening session in the Canadian Rockies

Here are three fundamentals to keep in mind in order to avoid most setbacks during activities. 

Warm Up

Did you know that your muscles work best when they are warm? If you head out the door for a hard training session with cold (ambient temperature) muscles, they have much less strength and resistance against movements. Depending on what your training is, even a simple jog down the road could lead to a torn ligament. A good warm-up includes some light aerobic exercises and some dynamic stretching to make sure you wake up the entire muscle range. 

About to start a very long day out in the rain!

Cool Down

Your post-training routine is just as important as the activity itself. Training usually creates tiny tears in your muscles and it’s those tears that make you stronger as they heal. However, if you link multiple activities in a row without giving your body a proper recovery, the tears will persist and eventually lead to a real injury. That’s why helping your muscles recover with slower movements and static stretching goes a long way in injury prevention. (A protein-rich meal can also help maximize muscle recovery. See Nutritional KinTip for more information.) 

The perfect example of an ideal cool down!

Strength Training

Most outdoor adventures involve repetitive movements such as walking, running, or cycling. This is the tricky part: A muscle is like an elastic that can stretch, store energy, and return to its original shape. During repetitive movements, we only use a certain amount of muscle length and the rest of it slowly decreases in strength. So, when the time comes that we need to use the entire range of movement (let’s say, to jump over a dead tree on the trail), the muscle isn’t quite ready for this and you’re more prone to injury.  

Strength training allows the muscle to be used at its full capacity, so the elastic is fresh and ready to go as well as having stronger structures to hold everything into place. For most outdoor enthusiasts, strength training is underestimated but can be a lifesaver when practiced continuously. 

Training week around Chamonoix, France

Short-Term Treatments 

Even if we are being cautious, injuries can happen at any time on the trail. How to cope with accidents as soon as they happen? Here are the two main methods for most internal injuries. 

 

METHOD 

TREATMENTS 

AREAS 

EXAMPLES 

1 (first few minutes) 

Apply ice to the area 

Bones, ligaments,  

muscle 

Bone fracture, torn ligament, sprained ankle, muscle contusion 

Full rest 

Elevate the area 

Apply pressure 

2 (3+ days) 

Apply heat to the area 

Muscle 

Sprains, bruises stiffness 

Full rest 

Light stretching 

Massage 

As a rule of thumb, always apply ice first, then heat later! 

ICE will reduce the swelling and prevent further damage. 

HEAT will loosen up muscle fibers and recover your range of motion. 

Recommended First Aid Kit Materials 

The above methods are only relevant for light injuries. I suggest you build your own medical kit in order to be entirely sufficient for more serious situations. Here are a few items to start with: 

  • Bandages 

  • Sterile pads 

  • Multitool 

  • Medical tape 

  • Antibacterial wipes 

  • Topical adhesive 

  • Wound closure strips 

  • Painkillers 

 Very serious accident happened here just a few days earlier.

Long-Term Treatments 

Once the damage has been taken care of and we are on our way to a structured recovery, it gets important to follow some simple steps in order to strengthen the damaged structure and prevent injury from happening again. Here are three key rules to follow to ensure a safe and permanent recovery. 

Keep Moving

Yes! Full rest applies in the first few hours/days, but it’s important to keep moving in ways that don’t cause more pain. This is because the injured area is protected by many structures (bones, ligaments, tendons, muscles) and they need to be active in order to protect you. Also, some of them, like bones, require mechanical stress to be able to heal themselves! If walking/hiking still hurts, then cycling becomes a nice alternative to keep moving. 

Negotiating a steep traverse with a helmet to prevent head injury!

Prevention

Our three fundamentals cited above become even more important now (warm-up, cool down, strength training). The key point here is to build a routine to take care of your body. For example, proteins and vitamins go a long way into recovery. Some stretching and mobility exercises at the end of the day can boost and accelerate the recovery time as well. 

The 10% rule: It’s very tempting revert to our old habits after an injury, but our body has a very short memory — it only remembers what it did for the last few weeks. Therefore, it can only sustain a 10% increase in stress load each week. Going beyond this limit can lead to an even more serious injury, so listen to your body and progress slowly towards your goal! 

Resting at 2,900 m during a very cold morning with my NEMO Kunai™ 2P.

Unfortunately, each of us have very different responses to injuries, making it quite complex to share a precise recommendation of treatment and prevention for them. However, one thing remains true: our human biological adaptability is very high, but its response time is not. Progression, always, should be your golden rule. Have fun out there!  

Tristan Hogue is a mountain enthusiast, student, and trail runner based in Montreal. He hopes to inspire others to live their dreams by exposing himself to unique and challenging projects around the world and passing on his wealth of training techniques and practices. Follow him on Instagram at @trist.hogue.