Note: If arthritis symptoms evolve quickly and are accompanied by fever, you may have infectious arthritis. If they arrive quickly without fever, you may be suffering from gout. See your doctor to be sure.
Arthritis is a generic term for inflammation of a joint. It can appear in any joint of the body and different types of arthritis may have quite different causes. Two types account for most arthritis cases.
Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage that naturally cushions joints begins to stiffen and deteriorate. This may occur because of age or it may be a result of an injury. Osteoarthritis typically develops slowly, often in the fingers or the weight-bearing joints of the body.
Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the lining of a joint. It often occurs in the same joint on both sides of the body at the same time.
Arthritis pain may not initially occur in the joint itself. Hip arthritis in particular may appear as pain in the buttocks, groin, or inner thighs. Always see your doctor for proper diagnosis and initial therapy.
If you suffer from arthritis and you want to keep hiking or start hiking, you’ll be happy to know that walking is one of the most frequently recommended therapies for arthritis, and is specifically recommended by the CDC for arthritis patients. Walking reduces stiffness and inflammation, builds muscle strength, and increases mobility, making it an ideal activity for arthritis patients.
That does not mean, of course, that arthritis sufferers should rush out and schedule a month-long hike. As with most movement-related therapies, you’ll want to start with relatively short distances, light loads, and slow paces.
Many arthritis sufferers find that exercise programs focused on smooth, gentle movement, like tai chi or yoga, are an excellent way to build joint mobility in between hikes or while preparing for hikes.
Start on relatively smooth trails and look to go a little farther or a little faster each time you hike. Minimize the weight you carry, especially when you’re beginning to hike, and consider losing weight.
As you gain mobility and confidence, you can take on more challenging walks, but don’t push it too hard or too fast. Consider cycling between hikes as an additional low-impact exercise to work opposing muscles and strengthen your whole body.
If your arthritis pain follows a daily pattern, start by walking during your low-pain times of day and expand gradually from there.
If you’re hiking with arthritis, you’ll want to put some effort into finding shoes that fit well, are comfortable, and provide protection and support. Hiking poles can also be very useful.
Start with trails with relatively soft surfaces, like grass, and use cold packs after hiking to reduce inflammation. Stretching and warming up thoroughly before a hike can help reduce pain. Always stay well hydrated by drinking water before, during, and after your hike.