Remedies on the (off)road
I recently went on a hiking adventure in the Northern Territory. My partner and I decided to walk the Larapinta trail through the West MacDonnell ranges near Alice Springs. (Read the actual story of the hike here.) The trip was absolutely incredible, the Australian desert completely and unexpectedly stole my heart!
RED AND ROCKY ROAD
However, this desert that I’m talking about isn’t flat sandy dunes as far as eye can see. Nope.
The Larapinta trail criss-crosses over rocky mountain sides, rocky riverbanks, rocky gullies, rocky gorges… You get the idea. Beautiful, red, rolling rocks under every step!
It was only a few days into the hike that our knees started to develop a sharp, painful niggle. We both felt it in the outside of the knee when going up or down hills (which there are a lot of). I suspect we both had tendonitis (inflammation) in the iliotibial band, often called “the runners knee”. ITB is a wide, strong tendon that runs from the crest of the pelvis along the outside of the thigh into the shin bone just below the knee. With uneven rocky climbs with an extra 10-12kgs on our backs we well and truly overexerted our poor ITBs.
So what do you do when you are out in the middle of nowhere, and need get better quick to continue the trek?
OUR RECOVERY REGIME
We were simply forced to do this! Our knees were in too much pain to walk, so we had no choice but to take couple of days off. (These rest days ended up being important learning curves and helped us re-think the whole purpose of our walk.) And it really helped with physical healing. As it often does!
Yep, lucky we had a massage therapist on board. Me! I did deep tissue massage, triggerpoint work and myofascial releases on our ITBs, quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves. And luckily I have trained my partner pretty well over the years, so we could both have few massages a day. Especially triggerpoint releases proved very relieving.
It wasn’t until our knees really started playing up that we took a serious approach to stretching. (Here’s another classic example of not walking my massage therapist talk. Ouch!) We had done a little bit of stretching at the end of the day, but now it became an important part of our daily routine. In the morning before we took off, during lunch breaks and in the evening whilst laying down watching the billions of stars above us. The last session especially we looked forward to!
Ice is a great way to reduce inflammation. We didn’t have ice packs, however, we did happen to be camping near an icy cold waterhole at Ormiston gorge. What a perfect way to ice the legs and take in the beautiful views of red rock formations and observe all the wildlife around us. (Not-very-true to my Finnish heritage, I had to wear a puffer jacket and beanie to withstand the icy soak! Swimming was definitely not an option for me!)
I’m a big fan of earthing (which I’ve written more about here) so going barefoot as much as possible was part of our healing plan. The electromagnetic field of the earth has a stabilising effect on us on a cellular level and barefoot walking is a great way to strengthen the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the feet, which in turn will help correct the whole posture.
- Salt compress
Something made me think salt compresses as a way to address muscular complaints. My Mum’s friend, a traditional Finnish healer/ bodyworker, is always talking about them. I figured it must have something to do with salt’s ability to draw out fluid and reduce inflammation. (Think of Epsom salt baths). We didn’t have salt, but the campsite we were staying at had a “donations” box where people could leave any unwanted food etc for fellow hikers to rummage through. And miraculously someone had left a half a bottle of table salt for my compress! Epsom salts would have been ideal, but I was happy to try anything.
This is my intuitively crafted recipe for the salt compress: I disolved about 2 TBSP of salt into a cup of warm water, let it cool, then dipped my little travel towel into it, wrung out the excess water, and placed it on my knee for 10-15minutes. Placebo or not, I was convinced it added to my recovery.
We carried a roll of sports tape with us, which we used to tape our sore knees with when we got back on the trail. Taping isn’t something I use much, but I didn’t want to take any chances. Any extra support was welcome, as I knew there were a whole lot of rocky mountain sides to climb up and scramble down.
I’m all for natural cures, but we did also take anti-inflamatories when the pain was at its worst and just before going to bed at night for the first few days.
DID IT WORK?
For me, yes! I don’t know which of the many remedies worked the best, but after couple of days of rest (plus all of the above) my knee felt a whole lot better. Not 100% at all times, but the improvement was significant. I still felt an occasional twinge in my knee going downhill, especially at the end of a day, but it was fine to keep going.
My partner, however, had a few good days of walking after a rest day, but the pain always seem to come back after a couple of days, finally to a point where we needed to finish the walk a few days earlier than originally planned.
But we both agree that despite of niggles and changed plans, we had the most amazing time in the desert and would do it all over again! Next time around making sure stretching and massaging is a big part of our daily routine right from the start!