Can You Hike with Gout?

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Gout is one of the most painful forms of arthritis imaginable. It is also one of the most unexpected and misunderstood.

In 2017, 92 out of every 100,000 Americans received a new diagnosis of this painful condition, bringing the estimated number of sufferers to over 9 million!

That said, simply being given a gout diagnosis is not enough to stop avid hikers and outdoors enthusiasts from hitting the trails. The condition does require precautions, however.

Note: The following article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, or serve as medical advice for dealing with gout. Please consult a physician before taking on any form of moderate or intense physical activity, especially if you have gout or gout-like symptoms.

What is Gout?

Hiking with Gout
Photo via Stephen Leonardi/UnSplash License

Gout is a form of arthritis characterized by sudden and severe attacks of pain, swelling, redness, and tenderness in the joints. It is caused by the buildup of uric acid crystals in the affected joints, typically starting with the big toe. Gout can also affect the heel, sole, and other toes.

Gout is a chronic condition that can recur over time, with periods of active symptoms known as “gout attacks” or “flare ups.”

Uric acid is a natural waste product that forms when the body breaks down purines, which are found in certain foods and are also produced by the body. Under normal circumstances, uric acid dissolves in the blood and is excreted through the kidneys. However, in individuals with gout, either the body produces excessive amounts of uric acid or the kidneys are unable to eliminate it effectively, leading to elevated levels of uric acid in the blood.

When uric acid levels become too high, uric acid crystals can form and accumulate in the joints, triggering an inflammatory response. Gout attacks typically occur suddenly, often during the night, and can cause intense pain, swelling, and limited mobility in the affected joint.

How Painful is Gout?

Gout is considered an extremely painful condition. The affected area can become highly sensitive to the touch and walking can be unbearable.

It is common for doctors and gout-sufferers to equate the pain of gout with childbirth.

Recovery Time

Gout is considered a chronic condition that should be treated with a mixture of diet, lifestyle changes, and, when necessary, medication.

“Flare ups” tend to be most intense within the first several hours of onset, but lingering pain can last for up to two weeks. Permanent damage to the joints can occur if the condition is treated improperly.

Can You Hike with Gout?

This is a tricky question. The answer depends upon the recency and aggressiveness of your most recent attack.

During an Attack

If you are dealing with a current (or recent) flare-up, hiking with gout can be challenging and potentially painful. Moreover, adding unnecessary stress to the inflamed joints can lead to lasting damage. Hiking, even on low-intensity trails, requires a certain degree of physical mobility and balance. Adjusting for inflamed joints can cause other issues if you find yourself overcompensating on the unaffected foot/leg.

All things considered, it is unlikely you will even feel like hiking (yet alone moving) during a gout attack. The desire to get outside might be there, but the discomfort will probably end those desires quickly.

After Recover

Even after an attack – especially if it is your first – there are things to consider before hiking with gout. A “best practice” would involve working with your primary physician and a specialist (often a rheumatologist) who can help you manage your symptoms and recovery.

It is also important to listen to your body. Just because the pain may be tolerable, you will want to avoid putting unnecessary stress on the joints that were previously aching. Unfortunately, since hiking often involves a series of thousands (or tens-of-thousands) of steps – all of which put pressure on the foot and joints – you may need to focus on rest and recovery before jumping back to the trails.

Choosing the Appropriate Footwear

If you have determined that hiking with gout is possible, then choosing the right hiking footwear is an important next-step.

When choosing any footwear for gout, it is important to consider comfort, support, and the ability to accommodate any swelling or sensitivity in the affected joints. The right mixture of width, cushioning, shock absorption, arch support, sturdiness, and (ideally) light weight are all factors.

Likewise, if possible, it is a good idea to try on any hiking boot or shoe before purchasing, especially if you are dealing with a condition like gout.

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