I conducted a survey a few months ago, where I asked trekkers about ailments they faced after their trek. I got over a thousand responses.
Out of the 1,075 who responded, more than half of the trekkers faced issues after their trek.
Even though I knew what ailments to expect, the ratio of these ailments surprised me. Here’s some insight for you.
Out of 1075, 37% said they faced numbness/swelling in their toes, long after their trek was over.
19% said they had intense body pain after the trek.
18.5% said they suffered sharp pain in their toes.
12% of them got a fever immediately after their trek.
8% of them suffered knee pain.
5% suffered from sunburns after their trek.
The rest of them mentioned cases that might be very specific to themselves, so we’ll not get into that.
In today’s post, I’m going to talk about the most common post-trek issues, why they could occur, how to tackle them and how to avoid them altogether.
So let’s dive right in.
1. Numbness and/or swelling in toes
This is a problem that many trekkers write to me about — numb/swollen toes long after their trek has ended. And it seems to be the most prevalent of all issues. Thankfully, it isn’t something to be very worried about, even though it may last several weeks.
Why numb/swollen toes occur
This happens for of a couple of reasons.
Firstly, on treks where there are long, steep descents, there’s a lot of pressure on your toes. With every step, your toe hits your shoe, and with the thousands of steps that you take, it damages the sensory nerves in your toes. When sensory nerves are damaged, they take away sensation from that area. They also make the area swell. It is often accompanied by pain in the toes too.
Secondly, it’s likely that your feet are already swollen from 2-3 days of long-distance walking. So your shoes are extra compressed around your feet, causing your toes to hit your shoes more easily.
Both of these together cause numb/swollen toes.
How long does numbness/swelling last
The symptoms of numbness / swelling usually go away within 10-15 days, even without treatment. However, there have been cases of it lasting 4-5 months as well (these are usually extremely unusual situations). They eventually heal. So don’t worry about it.
How to treat numb/swollen toes
Numb/swollen toes usually come back to life on their own. It takes some time for the sensory nerves to heal, so you have to wait it out. To accelerate the healing, try alternating hot and cold packs on your toes. It increases blood flow in the region, which in turn accelerates healing.
Also, dip your feet in a bucket of cold water (refrigerated cold) alternating it with a bucket of warm water (not super hot). It has the same effect.
How to avoid numb/swollen toes
Learn to descend correctly! Bad descending techniques are the biggest culprits responsible for numb toes. No matter what gear you buy and precautions you take, if you don’t descend correctly, there’s a 95% chance you’re going to have numb and painful toes after your trek.
Few other things you should ensure to avoid numb/swollen toes:
- Wear shoes that have enough space in the toe box to accommodate movement of your toes. Ideally, buy shoes one size bigger than your normal shoe size. That will accommodate any swelling in your feet as well.
- Lace your shoes tight enough to ensure your foot doesn’t slide forward in your shoes. Make good use of the lace hooks along the ankle length of your shoes and also the top-most eyelet in your shoe. These help the most in terms of restricting your foot movement.
- Use two trek poles on the trek. Two trek poles work like magic. They take all the pressure off your feet and knees and let you have a comfortable descent.
2. Sharp pain in toes
This is different from the numbness, constant/dull pain that I talked about earlier. In this case you feel an acute pain in your toes. This is the second-most occurring problem amongst trekkers. I’ve seen many trekkers get alarmed with this pain, and I don’t blame them — they imagine it to be frostbite. Despite the acute pain, thankfully, this too goes away soon.
Why your toes hurt after a trek
This sharp pain occurs in your toes because of spasms in your blood vessels. It affects other extremities of your body too, but we’ve seen it affecting toes most often.
This occurs because of over-exposure to extreme cold — if you have walked on snow for long, or if you have walked wearing wet shoes, or walked around the campsite in your sandals too long, or haven’t worn socks when inside your sleeping bag (on a cold night).
Your blood vessels get constricted thanks to the cold. They have constricted to an extent that blood flow in them has greatly reduced. In a warmer temperature the blood vessels suddenly burst open to circulate blood. That’s what causes the sharp, sudden burst of pain.
How long do painful toes last
Only for as long as your feet are unprotected and exposed to cold.
How to treat painful toes
This usually goes away as you enter warmer climate. It goes away even if you protect your feet with warm socks. If it persists long after your trek (which is rare), then dip your feet in warm water twice a day. Toss in some epsom salt, it’ll help.
How to avoid painful toes
Keep your feet dry and protected at all times. Avoid exposing them to extreme cold — an example would be walking around the campsite early in the morning or late in the evening in your sandals. As a good practice, always wear a pair of clean woollen socks when you get inside your sleeping bag. And never ever walk in wet shoes for too long — dry your shoes as soon as you can. If you cannot dry your shoes, change your socks often. Socks are easier to dry than shoes.
3. Intense body pain after a trek
It’s no surprise that so many trekkers face body pain after their trek. It’s the most normal reaction to what you have put your body through on the trek, and it will go away on its own.
Why you get body pain after your trek
On a trek, you are often pushing your body to its limit. You’re climbing uphill and downhill, you’re walking long hours, you’re carrying a heavy backpack, you’re battling cold weather, and you’re not in a very conducive place for all this — high altitude, with less oxygen saturation.
All this takes a toll on your body. Your muscles are overworked, your core, glutes, hamstrings, calves, back, shoulder, neck, even arms! So it’s only natural when your body reacts with pain after the trek.
How long does body pain usually last
Typically for around 3-4 days after the trek.
How to treat body pain
Rest it out. Sleep enough after coming back, don’t have packed schedules. Just this usually helps. There’s no need for other treatment.
How to avoid body pain
Work on your fitness for at least 2 months before your trek. What most people don’t know about getting fit for a trek is that you not only feel less physical stress during the trek but you don’t feel any stress after the trek either. Your body recovers within a day after your trek, and you can bounce back to normal life immediately.
4. Trek fever
We see lots of people getting trek fever. Sometimes it is a bout of cold. Maybe accompanied by a sore throat. They typically have the flu.
Why trek fever occurs
When your trek ends, your body’s immune system is at its lowest. It has used up all its resources to keep you going on the trek.
The moment you get off the hills, the pollution, germs, bacteria and viruses in the air are almost waiting gleefully to attack you. And they do.
Your body, with its diminished charge, doesn’t have the strength to fight off the bad elements.
Invariably, you fall sick. It usually is a bout of flu, though we have seen even typhoid and jaundice.
How to treat Trek Fever
Again, rest. Nothing works magic like resting can. You’ll bounce back to life within a few days. You really don’t need to rush to a doctor. However, after three days if you are still sick and your fever hasn’t dropped, then do meet your physician.
How to avoid Trek Fever
There are a few things you can do to avoid trek fever.
– Run that extra mile preparing for the trek. This is the most effective way of beating trek fever. The more you prepare, the more you build your body’s immune system. It is as simple as that.
– Don’t indulge in junk food immediately after your trek. Trekkers are usually in a celebratory mood after a trek. The first thing they do is gorge on food. Junk food is never good for your body. Especially not at those dhabas on your transit from the base camp. No chicken dishes at the nearest restaurant. Eat fresh, healthy food for at least 2-3 days after your trek.
– Avoid sightseeing immediately after your trek. Crowded places with sweaty tourists should be last on your agenda immediately after your trek. It’s better to go sightseeing before your trek, provided your “sightseeing” doesn’t involve bungy jumping or rafting. The mantra is to avoid crowded places after a trek. Even at airports stay away from crowded zones.
We have a good article on trek fever and how to avoid it here, and this video with detailed explanations too.
5. Knee pain
Out of the five problems I’ve mentioned in this mail, this is the most problematic one. It lasts longer than expected and sometimes nags you in your daily activities as well.
Why does knee pain occur after a trek
Knee pain occurs for multiple reasons, but on a trek, it’s usually three main reasons — bad descending techniques, weak ligaments around the knee, pre-existing knee problems. (Of course, I’m not going into impact injuries.)
In our experience we have noticed weak ligaments is the biggest culprit of knee pain. On a long descent (most treks have them), our ligaments are stressed again and again, resulting in swelling. Sometimes these swellings are visible. At other times they just show up as pain around the knees. After 3-4 hours of this abuse, our knees cannot take it anymore. Our knees are in excruciating pain.
How to avoid knee pain
One knee pain starts, it’s not easy to make it go away. But there are a few sure-shot ways of avoiding knee pain on a trek.
- Use two trekking poles. Using one trekking pole is a no-brainer. No trekker should trek without one. But we have seen that two trekking poles are much more effective than one, in terms of taking pressure off of your knees. So use two.
- Strengthen the ligaments around your knee much before your trek. At least one month in advance work on knee strengthening exercises.
- Wear a knee brace on your descents if you have a known knee-problem. This gives your knees some cushioning and support, and eases the pressure around it.
How to treat knee pain
As I mentioned earlier, your knees get busted especially after long descents. The best treatment is to rest your knees for at least a week or ten days after your trek. Avoid cycling, running after your trek.
The RICE therapy is a tried and tested treatment to relieve knee pain. That’s Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. Treat your knee with this therapy for 7-10 days. You’ll immediately start seeing a difference.
If your knee pain lasts more than a week (which means it’s not just from the repeated impact), then you should meet a doctor.
Follow these techniques to descend correctly and avoid knee pain
– Don’t be afraid to descend, more so, don’t slow yourself down. Most trekkers brake too often while descending, not allowing gravity to lead them. This is disastrous for your knees because it adds enormous pressure on them.
– Descend in a slight criss-cross pattern even on a narrow trail. Avoid pointing your toes directly downwards but angle it slightly to the left or right. This takes a good load off your knees.
– Look for natural flats on the trail: A stone, a tiny mound, a dip. They act as steps. Turn your trail into a series of natural steps rather than a straight incline. This greatly reduces stress on your knees.
Sunburns are also common after your trek. Around 5% of our trekkers say they face sun burns. Trekkers with very sensitive skin suffer a lot more — chapped lips, skin peeling off, extremely dry hands and feet — these are all common after a trek.
Why do sunburns occur
The sun’s rays are much more harmful at high altitude than they are in our cities because of a thinner atmosphere and easier exposure to UV radiation. Which is why most trekkers have skin peeling off for nearly two weeks after their trek.
How to treat sunburns
Sunburns take time to heal, but they usually heal on their own once you come back to warmer weather. A good way to speed up the process is to moisturize frequently, especially your hands and feet.
Coconut oil, mustard oil and petroleum jelly help moisture better than most other moisturisers.
A few other hacks that our Trek Leaders vouch for are face packs — a combination of tomato pulp + sugar works very well.
How to avoid sunburns on a trek
Here are a few hacks to avoid sunburns
– Use a sun hat with flaps to cover your face and neck while trekking. This takes care of 95% of the issue. You’ll find some terrific sun hats here.
– Always wear full-sleeved tshirts or arm sleeves.
– Apply sun screen before you start your trek. More importantly, re-apply the sunscreen every 3-4 hours. It usually gets washed away and becomes ineffective within 3-4 hours.
– Apply sunscreen after applying your moisturiser for more protection.
A Few Other Common Post-Trek Issues
These seem to be a common problem mostly during the trek. And we have some resources that will help. You’ll find a video on how to treat blisters here and an article on how to avoid blisters here.
Post trek depression
Gosh, “depression” is a strong word to use! But a lot of trekkers have put this down as an ailment they face — missing the mountains a bit too much after coming back. This could be a legit problem, because when you’re trekking, the exercise makes your body release hormones that make you happy.
A good treatment is to continue exercising after your trek. This continues to release those happy hormones. It keeps you on a high. Better still, start planning your next trek. The anticipation keeps you going.
With that, I’m going to conclude this post.
I hope I’ve covered what most trekkers go through and how you can tackle them. None of them are problems to worry about and can be treated with simple home remedies.
Let me know if you have faced any other ailments. Drop in a comment on this post so all trekkers can see and learn.
If you have questions, don’t hesitate to comment.