According to the Outdoor Industry Association, nearly half of the U.S. population participated in some sort of outdoor activity in 2017. Among these activities, hiking and camping were reported to be among the most popular. As we are packing our backpacks and lacing up our hiking boots there are some tips we can remember to protect ourselves from injury.
Take a Hike
- Ensure that you have the proper footwear – hiking trails often consist of several different types of terrain that can cause falls if you are not prepared. It is important that you have hiking shoes or boots that have soles to help maintain your footing in slippery grass, rocks, mud, snow, or while crossing creeks. A fall could cause injuries to your hands and arms, like cuts, sprains, strains, or fractures.
- Take along trekking poles or a hiking stick – use of one of these can also help you maintain your balance, keep your footing, and prevent falls.
- Make sure that you are dressed appropriately for the season – hiking in the winter in particular can present some perils to your fingers. Frostbite is a serious threat when you let your hands become too cold, and can result in injury or even loss of all or part of a finger if severe enough. It is important to wear properly insulated gloves, and to carry a spare pair in case your hands get wet. Pocket hand warmers can also be helpful.
Spiders and Snakes and (Bare) Hands, Oh My!
Creepy crawly things and other animals go hand in hand with the outdoors, and an animal bite can put a damper on an otherwise enjoyable experience. Many times these bites involve the hands, but there are some simple things you can do to protect them.
- Insects and spiders like to hang out in places that we might stick our hands. Spiders and snakes can both be found hiding in hollow logs, in woodpiles, under rocks, and in trees. Spiders like the Brown Recluse like to hide in gloves, hats, and shoes. If you have not worn them in a while, always make sure to shake them out or turn them inside out first.
- If you do see an animal while you are outdoors, give them space. Do not try to pet, pick up, or feed a wild animal. If you see an animal that is hurt or acting strangely, notify a forest ranger or other authority, but do not try to interact with them. Doing so might result in a nasty bite that could become infected or may require treatment in case the animal has rabies.
Sitting around the campfire singing Kumbaya and making s’mores is an iconic element of camping, but it is also one that can result in serious injury if some basic safety precautions are not followed.
- Injuries like flexor or extensor tendon lacerations are common when working with sharp objects like axes, saws, and knives. Be cautious when cutting wood. Make sure you have the proper tools for the job and make sure that you have been trained to use them correctly. Be sure that no one else has their hands in the way while you are working.
- Watch for poison ivy or poison oak while you are collecting wood. Exposure to these can result in a very uncomfortable rash.
- Burns are the most serious injuries related to a campfire. One study noted that upper extremities and hands account for nearly 65% of the burns sustained in campfires. Fire should always be respected. Do not run or play around a campfire. Do not build a fire that is larger than necessary. Do not grab burning logs to move them, and do not handle fire tools with your bare hands. Do not assume that a fire that is “burned down” is safe. According to the American Burn Association, 70% of these burns are caused by the embers and can still cause a serious burn up to 12 hours later.
In all of these situations, in case the worst should happen, it is important that you are not tackling the great outdoors alone. If you do decide to go alone, always make sure that you have notified a friend or family member about where you are going and when you anticipate that you will return. In addition, you should always carry a first aid kit and ensure that you and the members of your party have training in basic first aid. Being able to care for a potential cut or fracture until you can get professional help can potentially prevent more serious complications.
As soon as possible, a hand surgeon should be consulted in order to advise you of the best treatment for your injury. Your surgeon may refer you to a Certified Hand Therapist (or a CHT, for short) to manage wounds, fabricate an orthosis, or address any other symptoms you might have, such as pain, stiffness, swelling, abnormal sensation, and loss of function.
For more information about Certified Hand Therapists and how they can help you with these and other types of conditions, please visit: https://www.asht.org/patients
If you would like to find a Certified Hand Therapist in your area, please visit: https://www.asht.org/find-a-therapist
Kimberly Masker, OTD, OTR/L, CHT, is a Certified Hand Therapist, and is a member of the American Society of Hand Therapists and an affiliate member of the American Society for Surgery of the Hand.