It’s that time of year. While the weather is still plenty warm, our trees are starting to fade into yellow and gold foliage and the tundra is starting to slowly turn that brilliant red. While many of us are scanning the hills admiring the fall beauty that our great state brings, we know many of you are glassing the hills with another purpose. Its hunting season and you are looking to fill your freezer.
At Alliance Foot and Ankle we love treating outdoorsman and outdoorswomen. Here are some of the ailments we often see during hunting season and tips to help keep your feet healthy while you are out on your hunt.
Protecting your skin
There are a variety of skin conditions we see in hunters. Here are some of the big ones and how to protect yourself better.
This is a common problem among many people, but we especially see it in hunters after they have been out in the wild for days in the same pair of boots. Athlete’s foot as it is commonly known is called Tinea Pedis in the medical world. It is a superficial fungal infection that tends to cause skin to start to dry up and blister or even itch or burn-especially in between the toes. The fungus belongs to a group called dermatophytes. Dermatophytes particularly love damp, dark environments, exactly like your boots. Waterproof boots/waders which can be a necessity, do a great job at keeping water out of your boots but don’t allow your feet to “breathe”. As your socks get more damp, so does your skin. This is perfect for fungus to grow in but also weakens your skin making it easier to get blisters. It is important to swap out socks during the day if you can and make sure to air out your boots at night; put on a fresh pair of socks and a different pair of shoes at your campsite to let the swampy boots and socks air out. If you have the room, consider bringing along boot warmers or boot dryers to help this process.
In cases where your feet are wet and cold for extended periods of time, you can get something called immersion foot. You might be more familiar with its more severe form, trench foot, which was, unfortunately, a grave problem for many soldiers in WWII out in the cold damp conditions for extended periods of time. When feet are wet for extended periods of time, there can be damage to not just the skin but also the nerves and blood vessels in the feet. Wet feet lose heat very easily; this puts you at risk for increased vasoconstriction (Blood vessels constricting) causing poor circulation in your feet, starving your soft tissue of oxygen. As a result of this, you can have pain, swelling, pins and needles sensation, skin color and temperature changes Again, this all goes back to making sure your feet stay warm and dry during your time outdoors.
All of that hiking through uneven terrain up and down elevation puts you at risk for a pretty significant ankle sprain. When packing out an animal or carrying all of your gear, there is obviously increased strain on your joints- ankle included. High topped ankle boots are preferable to give you good stability but often times people are hunting in their high rubber or neoprene waterproof boots which do not have good ankle support. In this scenario, consider getting a good figure-8 type ankle brace to wear in your boot to help restrict excessive side to side motion of your ankle. This is particularly important if you feel that you have “weak” ankles, chronic instability or previous history of sprains.
Past injuries to your ankles can cause damage to your proprioceptors- little receptors in the ligaments of your joints that tell your brain where your foot is at-making it harder for you walk without tripping. If you find yourself needing to stare at the terrain a lot, consider wearing a good brace to give you better stability. A favorite of mine is the trilock ankle brace. We are big proponents of physical therapy and will often prescribe PT to help patients improve their proprioception, increase the strength of the ankle and decrease their chances of another injury. Also, do not forget your trekking poles.
Pain in the big toe joint
There are many conditions that can cause pain in the big toe (the metatarsal phalangeal joint) but the one we tend to see affect hikers and hunters most often is a condition called hallux rigidus. In Latin, this basically means your big toe joint is becoming stiff from arthritis. This can affect adults of all ages and can happen on just one foot or boot depending on whether it is caused from previous trauma or from the joint being misaligned due to your own individual anatomy. Going up and down steep terrain tends to really increase the discomfort in this joint. With this problem, there is progressive loss of motion to the joint, loss of cartilage and development of bone spurs.
If this is becoming problematic for you there are several options. Try to wear a more stiff-soled shoe to temporarily help limit motion at that joint. You can also use topical pain creams/gels like Biofreeze gel or salonpas on the big toe joint. This may be worth bringing with you on your hunt for those achy joints. Anti-inflammatories may also help but should only be taken as directed and for short intervals. Sometimes physical therapy can help or a steroid injection directly into the joint. This problem is often improved or completely alleviated with surgery if conservative treatment options are not helping.
We hope you have a great hunting season taking in the beauty of Alaska. And of course, we hope you fill that freezer.
Dr. Kristin Klingensetin