5 Big Post-Trek Issues Trekkers Face And How To Tackle Them

I conducted a survey a few months ago, where I asked trekkers about ailments they faced after their trek. I got over a thousand responses. 

Even though I knew what ailments to expect, the ratio of these ailments surprised me. Here’s some insight for you.

Out of the 1070 trekkers, 47% said they suffered from post-trek ailments.

Out of these, 37% said they faced numbness in their toes, long after their trek was over. 

18% said they suffered sharp pain in their toes. 

Another 18% said they had intense body pain after the trek.

12% of them got a fever immediately after their trek.

5% of them suffered knee pain.

The rest of them mentioned cases that might be very specific to themselves, so we’ll not get into that. 

In today’s post, I’m going to talk about each of these ailments, why they could occur, how to tackle them and how to avoid them altogether. 

So let’s dive right in.

1. Numbness in toes

This is a problem that many trekkers write to me about — numb toes long after their trek has ended. And it seems to be the most prevalent of them all. Thankfully, it isn’t something to be very worried about, even though it may last several weeks. In fact, I am nursing a numb big toe as I type this. 

Why it occurs

This happens for of a couple of reasons. 

Firstly, on treks where there are long, steep descents, there’s a lot of pressure on your toes. With every step, your toe hits your shoe, and with the thousands of steps that you take, it damages the sensory nerves in your toes. When sensory nerves are damaged, they take away sensation from that area. 

Secondly, it’s likely that your feet are already swollen from 2-3 days of long-distance walking. So your shoes are extra compressed around your feet, causing your toes to hit your shoes more easily. 

Both of these together cause numb toes.

How long does it last

This can last anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of months. There have been cases of it lasting 4-5 months as well. But they eventually heal. So don’t worry about it.

How to treat it

Numb toes usually come back to life on their own. It takes some time for the sensory nerves to heal, so you have to wait it out. If you want to accelerate the healing, you could try alternating hot and cold packs on your toes. It increases blood flow in the region, which in turn accelerates healing. You could also dip your feet in a bucket of cold water (refrigerated cold) alternating it with a bucket of warm water (not super hot). It has the same effect.  

How to avoid it

You could avoid numb toes by doing a couple of things right during your trek.

  • Wear shoes that have enough space in the toe box to accommodate movement of your toes. Ideally, buy shoes one size bigger than your normal shoe size. That will accommodate any swelling in your feet as well.
  • Lace your shoes tight enough to ensure your foot doesn’t slide forward in your shoes. Make good use of the lace hooks along the ankle length of your shoes and also the top-most eyelet in your shoe. These help the most in terms of restricting your foot movement. 
  • Use two trek poles on the trek. It greatly takes the burden off your toes. 

2. Sharp pain in toes

This is different from the numbness. In the first ailment we spoke of, you don’t feel pain. Just numbness. In this case you feel an acute pain in your toes. This is the second-most occurring problem amongst trekkers. I’ve seen many trekkers get alarmed with this pain, and I don’t blame them — they imagine it to be frostbite. Despite the acute pain, thankfully, this too goes away soon.

Why it occurs

This sharp pain occurs in your toes because of spasms in your blood vessels. It could affect other extremities of your body too, but we’ve seen it affecting toes most often. 

This occurs if you have walked on snow for long. Or if you have walked wearing wet shoes. Or walked around the campsite in your sandals too long. Or haven’t worn socks when inside your sleeping bag (on a cold night). 

This is basically over exposure to extreme cold. 

Your blood vessels get constricted thanks to the cold. They have constricted to an extent that blood flow in them has greatly reduced. In a warmer temperature the blood vessels suddenly burst open to circulate blood. That’s what causes the sharp, sudden burst of pain.

How long does it last

Only for as long as your feet are unprotected and exposed to cold. 

How to treat it

This usually goes away as you enter warmer climate. It goes away even if you protect your feet with warm socks. If it persists long after your trek (which is rare), then dip your feet in warm water twice a day. Toss in some epsom salt, it’ll help. 

How to avoid it

Keep your feet dry and protected at all times. Avoid exposing them to extreme cold — an example would be walking around the campsite early in the morning or late in the evening in your sandals. As a good practice, always wear a pair of clean woollen socks when you get inside your sleeping bag. And never ever walk in wet shoes for too long — dry your shoes as soon as you can. If you cannot dry your shoes, change your socks often. Socks are easier to dry than shoes.


Footnote

There’s a combination of both these ailments that trekkers often complain about. A sense of ringing numbness coupled with a throbbing pain that lasts for days after a trek. Sometimes for over two weeks. Rest assured, this too does not last forever. It usually disappears within 2-3 weeks. 

The treatment is the same. Dip your feet in a combination of hot/cold water 2-3 times a day. Allow the blood circulation to return. 

As a precaution, pay attention to your shoes, your trek poles and your descending technique. When you descend try to follow a criss cross path with your toes pointing to the lower side of the trail rather than straight down.


Keep your hands and feet dry and protected at all times, even inside your tent and sleeping bag, to avoid spasm-like pains.

3. Intense body pain

It’s no surprise that so many trekkers face body pain after their trek. It’s the most normal reaction to what you have put your body through on the trek, and it will go away on its own. 

Why it occurs

On a trek, you are often pushing your body to its limit. You’re climbing uphill and downhill, you’re walking long hours, you’re carrying a heavy backpack, you’re battling cold weather, and you’re not in a very conducive place for all this — high altitude, with less oxygen saturation. 

All this takes a toll on your body. Your muscles are overworked, your core, glutes, hamstrings, calves, back, shoulder, neck, even arms! So it’s only natural when your body reacts with pain after the trek. 

How long does it last

Typically for around 3-4 days after the trek.

How to treat it

Rest it out. Sleep enough after coming back, don’t have packed schedules. Just this usually helps. There’s no need for other treatment. 

How to avoid it

Work on your fitness for at least 2 months before your trek. What most people don’t know about getting fit for a trek is that you not only feel less physical stress during the trek but you don’t feel any stress after the trek either. Your body recovers within a day after your trek, and you can bounce back to normal life immediately. 

Follow a good fitness routine for at least 2 months before your trek to avoid body pain after your trek.

4. Trek fever

We see lots of people getting trek fever. Sometimes it is a bout of cold. Maybe accompanied by a sore throat. They typically have the flu. 

Why it occurs

When your trek ends, your body’s immune system is at its lowest. It has used up all its resources to keep you going on the trek. 

The moment you get off the hills, the pollution, grime, bacteria and viruses in the air are almost waiting gleefully to attack you. And they do.

Your body, with its diminished charge, doesn’t have the strength to fight off the bad elements.

Invariably, you fall sick. It could be a bout of flu, sometimes even typhoid and jaundice.

How to treat it

Again, rest. Nothing works magic like resting can. You’ll bounce back to life within a few days. You really don’t need to rush to a doctor. However, after three days if you are still sick, then do meet your physician. You may need medication.

How to avoid it

There are a few things you can do to avoid trek fever. 

  • Run that extra mile before getting fit. This is the most effective way of beating trek fever. The more you prepare, the more you build your body’s immune system. It is as simple as that.
  • Don’t indulge in junk food immediately after your trek. Trekkers are usually in a celebratory mood after a trek. The first thing they do is gorge on food. Junk food is never good for your body. Especially not at those dhabas on your transit from the base camp. No chicken dishes at the nearest restaurant. Eat fresh, healthy food for at least 2-3 days after your trek. 
  • Avoid sightseeing immediately after your trek. Crowded places with sweaty tourists should be last on your agenda immediately after your trek. It’s better to go sightseeing before your trek, provided your “sightseeing” doesn’t involve bungy jumping or rafting.

We have a good article on trek fever and how to avoid it here, and this video with detailed explanations too. 

5. Knee pain

Out of the five problems I’ve mentioned in this mail, this could be the most problematic one. It could last longer than expected and sometimes could nag you in your daily activities as well.

Why does it occur

Knee pains could occur for multiple reasons, but on a trek, it’s usually three main reasons — bad descending techniques, weak ligaments around the knee, pre-existing knee problems. (Of course, I’m not going into impact injuries.) 

How to treat it 

Treating knee pain is a long term process. But if it isn’t too bad, it could go away soon too. The RICE therapy is a tried and tested treatment to relieve knee pain. That’s Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. You could also try simple exercises to strengthen the muscles around your knees to have less impact on your knees. 

If it lasts more than a week (which means it’s not just from the repeated impact), then you should meet a doctor.

How to avoid it

There are a few sure-shot ways of avoiding knee pain on a trek. 

  • Use two trekking poles. Using one trekking pole is a no-brainer. No trekker should trek without one. But we have seen that two trekking poles are much more effective than one, in terms of taking pressure off of your knees. So use two. 
  • Strengthen the ligaments around your knee much before your trek. At least 2 months in advance work on some knee strengthening exercises. 
  • Wear a knee brace on your descents if you have a known knee-problem. This gives your knees some cushioning and support, and eases the pressure around it. 

We have a detailed article on how to recover from a knee injury here. You could also watch this video on the same topic for more details. 


Follow these techniques to descend correctly and avoid knee pain

  • Don’t be afraid to descend. Most trekkers brake too often while descending, not allowing gravity to lead them. This is disastrous for your knees because it adds enormous pressure on them.
  • Descend in a slight criss cross pattern even on a narrow trail. Avoid pointing your toes directly downwards but angle it slightly to the left or right. This takes a good load off your knees. 
  • On the same vein, look for natural flats on the trail: A stone, a tiny mound, a dip. They act as steps. Turn your trail into a series of natural steps rather than a straight incline. This greatly reduces stress on your knees.

You could also watch a video tutorial on how to descend correctly below.


Other common ailments

Blisters

These seem to be a common problem mostly during the trek. And we have some resources that will help. You’ll find a video on how to treat blisters here and an article on how to avoid blisters here

Sunburns

Sunburns are also common after your trek. The sun’s rays are much more harmful at high altitude than they are in our cities because of a thinner atmosphere and easier exposure to UV radiation. Which is why most trekkers have skin peeling off for nearly two weeks after their trek. Here’s a good post on why sunburns occur, how to treat them and avoid them. We also have a video on how to avoid sunburns here.

Post trek depression

Gosh, “depression” is a strong word to use! But a lot of trekkers have put this down as an ailment they face — missing the mountains a bit too much after coming back. This could be a legit problem, because when you’re trekking, the exercise makes your body release hormones that make you happy. A good treatment is to continue exercising after your trek. This continues to release those happy hormones. It keeps you on a high. Better still, start planning your next trek. The anticipation keeps you going.

With that, I’m going to conclude this post. 

I hope I’ve covered what most trekkers go through and how you can tackle them. None of them are problems to worry about and can be treated with simple home remedies.

Let me know if you have faced any other ailments. Drop in a comment on this post so all trekkers can see and learn. 

If you have questions, don’t hesitate to comment. 

Swathi Chatrapathy

Swathi Chatrapathy

Swathi Chatrapathy is the Chief Editor at Indiahikes. She also runs a video series, Trek With Swathi. Before joining Indiahikes, she worked as a reporter and sub-editor at Deccan Chronicle. She holds a Masters in Digital Journalism and continues to contribute to publications such as Deccan Herald. Trekking, to her, is a sport that liberates the mind like nothing else can. Read Swathi's other articles. Watch Swathi's video series here.

5 thoughts on “5 Big Post-Trek Issues Trekkers Face And How To Tackle Them

  1. Shortness of breathing is also a common problem for trekkers including me. Can you please guide about the preparation and prevention before trek and during trek?

  2. Hi swathi.. After coming back from parang-la trek i suffered from sharp pain in toes as i can see blood clotted under my toenail.. After a week pain releived but misery happened 2wk after that.. My entire nail got separated from my nailbed.. It will be a great help if you share a trick to avoid this in future

  3. Post trek depression or ‘Trek Hangover’ as I call it for sure! Thank you for putting this together Swathi, really helpful!

  4. My friend commented after returning to Mumbai from a long trek that he had “low altitude sickness”, a pretty neat term for post-trek depression!! I was one of those who had a long duration of toe numbness after the Sandakphu trek. Strangely, it did not happen after the Hampta Pass Trek.

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