11 June 2014…Camping and Health

With summer approaching, it’s that time of year when many families venture out into the great outdoors for a little camping.  Getting some R & R while also getting in touch with nature has many health benefits, but it’s also important to safeguard your health and your spine to ensure you get the most enjoyment out of your trip.

1 – Backpacks – When possible, pack your belongings in multiple smaller bags, rather than one large, heavy pack that may put your back at risk when lifting or carrying it.  Use ergonomic, internal-frame backpacks with supportive, cushioned straps (fitted in the store by a professional to best fit your spine) when possible to carry your gear, and use the shoulder straps and waist harness as the pack was designed to be used (ie. not carrying a bag on one shoulder and ignoring the waist harness).  Also, ask the professional in the store for tips on the best ways to pack your backpack (ie. heavy items at the bottom, no hard or sharp objects near your back, etc.).

2 – Stretch – During a long drive, or if hiking a long distance, stop and stretch every hour or two to prevent stiff joints and sore muscles.  If you’re hiking, also ensure you have good quality, sturdy hiking shoes to support and protect your feet, as well as your ankles, knees, hips, and back/pelvis.

3 – When arriving at your campsite, park as close to your site as possible to decrease the distance that you have to carry your equipment.

4 – Remove any rocks or sticks from the tenting area before setting up your tent, and don’t put your tent up over tree roots, either.

5 – Mattresses – Avoid sleeping on the cold, hard ground whenever possible.  Obviously, you’re probably not taking your mattress from home with you, so it’s important to find one for camping that is comfortable and supportive.  Foam mattresses or air mattresses are available at most camping/outdoor stores and can provide a little cushion and support for your back.  If you’re buying a new camping mattress, try to find a store that has sample mattresses available to try in the store before you purchase one.

6 – Pillow – If possible, bring your pillow from home, but if you’re travelling lightly, a blow-up pillow is light, reasonably supportive, and very portable.  Ideally, the pillow/mattress combo will mimic your natural “at home” sleeping position as much as possible, meaning it maintains a neutral spine position (ie. if laying on your side, your spine, neck, and head are in a straight line and your knees are relatively close together…if laying on your back, don’t have a pillow that’s too thick in order to maintain the natural curve in your neck…try to avoid sleeping on your stomach).  This will help to reduce the risk of having a sore or stiff neck or back when you wake up.

7 – Watch your posture when lifting equipment, bending, or setting up your tent.  This also applies to sitting in folding camp chairs, eating, and working in different cooking positions.  The more aware you are about what positions you’re putting your spine into, the more you can protect yourself during the trip.

8 – Ticks/insects/animals – Protect yourself against bite irritations or infections, for example from mosquitoes (West Nile Virus) or ticks (Lyme Disease), by knowing in advance what insects or possible diseases have been reported in your camping area, and then by using insect repellents, wearing protective clothing, and checking yourself and your family members for bites.  And never feed wild animals or try to attract them to your campsite.  You can never know if they carry disease, or if they may attack someone in your group for food or in fear.

9 – Sunscreen – Protect your skin while camping, not only to reduce the risk of a painful sunburn, but also for the long-term negative effects (ie. increased risk of melanoma, or skin cancer, early signs of aging, etc.).  Avoid being in the sun during the peak intensity hours (midday), cover up with clothing, and use sunscreen regularly.  For more information on choosing a good sunscreen, click here.

10 – Pre-trip or post-trip chiropractic treatment – If you’re already dealing with a nagging back or neck issue, odds are it won’t get better with sleeping on the ground.  A pre-trip treatment can correct any spinal misalignments and get you in top shape to get the most enjoyment from your camping trip.  Or, if you rather, checking in with your chiropractor after your trip can make sure a small problem you picked up from camping doesn’t linger or grow into something worse after you get back home.

None of this is meant to scare you or discourage you from enjoying Mother Nature this summer.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite.  Information is power, and the more you know about camping safely, the more you can maximize your enjoyment by staying healthy during your travels.  For additional information on outdoor safety, please check this website.  And for more motivation on why you should consider a camping vacation this summer, here’s an great article on “7 Surprising Health Benefits of Camping.”  Coincidentally, one of the benefits is “Strengthened Family Bonds,” which, as we discussed in our last blog post on Blue Zones, is one of the keys to living longer.

As always, for more information on camping safely, or for a pre- or post-trip chiropractic treatment, please don’t hesitate to contact us.  Happy camping!