Hiking – How to Prevent Swollen Legs and Ankles

6924462211_1731888c3b_zI recently saw an interesting question related to hiking on Backpacker.com:

Q.} Just had a wonderful time hiking the Grand Canyon. But after 28 miles, I have swollen, painful legs from the knee through the ankle. Any tips for recovery?

Buck Tilton, who answers medical related questions in the Ask the Expert section of Backpackers.com, responded by suggesting hikers stay hydrated and consider wearing compression socks.

We couldn’t agree more – hikers should wear compression socks! Hiking long distances can put a great deal of pressure on your vascular system. When you’re on your feet all day long, your veins have trouble working against gravity to move blood from your feet to your heart.  This pressure on your veins can cause aching pains, a heavy feeling, and swelling in the ankles and feet The best way to take pressure off of your veins is to do exactly what Buck suggested – wear support hosiery. Compression socks enhance the body’s ability to move blood from your legs to your hearts, so fresh oxygenated blood is able to get to the muscles and tissue in your legs.

In addition to preventing swelling and pain, you may find that you’re able to hike for longer distances in your compression socks and have an easier start the next morning. Studies have shown that wearing compression during and after physical activity improves performance and reduces recovery time – all due to that improved circulation of blood.

There are tons of athletic compression socks on the market now that will fit in perfectly with your more traditional hiking outfits and look great too. You should always look for socks that promise to wick away moisture, provide arch support, and are well padded. We recommend the Sigvaris Performance Series Socks as well as the VitalSox Outdoor and VitalSox Athletic compression socks.

Sigvaris Graduated Compression Image

To be clear – in Buck’s post on Backpacker.com, he suggests that support hosiery applies pressure from the toes up, but this is not the case. Proper compression hosiery applies graduated compression from the ankles up. This image from Sigvaris explains exactly how compression is applied to the leg. As you can see, the total percentage of pressure on the leg decreases from the ankle up. Many brands of compression socks will fit snugly around your feet, providing great arch support, but not applying pressure.