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A Bushwalker's Guide to Pain-free Walking!

Top tips for preventing and managing injuries.

We asked Lauren Campbell, physiotherapist, and director at The Optimal Health Lab to give us some advice on avoiding and dealing with common ankle and knee injuries often suffered by bushwalkers. Here are her top tips:



Appropriate footwear

With such a rapidly growing footwear market, the numerous brands, models, and designs of walking shoes can be overwhelming! How do we even know we are in the best shoes for our feet? As everyday consumers we are not expected to know it all, so here are a few tips to help with your choice:

  • All shoes have different purposes – for instance for tennis, running, climbing or bushwalking.
  • Different shoes for different feet – shoes range from lightweight and neutral to heavy and more structured. Your type and choice will depend on your specific body type and individual needs, previous injury history, current pain/discomfort, etc.
  • Fit and function – The length, width, and depth are incredibly important. A factor often overlooked is function. Function determines how the shoe moves with your foot during gait and how it may assist your gait - for example, how much it may support or resist certain movements (such as pronation)
  • Injury risk – Ill-fitting footwear that does not address the above factors, could increase your risk of injury. Adequate support and cushioning, good sole grip, and fit and function, are always important considerations when choosing appropriate footwear.

The best way to ensure a good fit is to have your shoes fitted by a trained shoe store attendant or to see a podiatrist who has knowledge in the area. 

Ankle Sprains

Ever had that niggle in your ankle that never quite went away? And all it took was a slight twist? That niggle could actually be a little more serious than you think.

Ankles are incredibly important and complex joints. They have a big role as they form the connection between our leg bones and foot bones. They are held together by an intricate array of ligaments and supported by tendons and muscles. An ankle sprain or twist can cause disruption and damage to any of these structures, and often go unnoticed for a while.

Noticeable symptoms of damage may include pain, swelling, stiffness, bruising and inability to walk. If left untreated, our body ‘glues’ things back together in the way it knows how, but that is often not the best way. Our ankles may become weaker and more flexible, which makes it easier for an injury to occur again.

It is thought that these injuries and their symptoms are progressive. This is where rehab is crucial. Your recent major ankle sprain may have been avoided entirely if the last couple of little ones were addressed early. Your biomechanics - the way your body moves and functions - could also be contributing to your overall risk or reason for sprains.

As the saying goes, prevention is the best cure, so book an appointment with your podiatrist for a thorough biomechanical assessment to reduce your risk of ankle problems.


Knee pain – why up is better than down hills

Bushwalkers often present to physiotherapists with soreness on descending hills but are bemused/ confused that they can ascend hills with less pain. This is why this is a common presentation to our clinic and what factors may be involved.

When you are descending hills or walking downstairs, it requires your knee joint to perform a mini single leg squat to lower the other leg to the next step and/or patch of a walking trail. This single leg squat movement is stressful on some structures on the front of your knee, like Hoffa’s fat pad, and for the cartilage which lines the back of your patella (knee cap). It can also require your knee to bend at a larger angle than you are prepared for, which can put a strain on any structures within the knee joint itself. This could include any meniscal injury and/or any osteoarthritis in your knee compartments. Conversely, when ascending a hill, there isn’t the degree of stressors on internal or frontal knee structures, simply because you don’t need to perform a single leg squat with every step.

So what factors are involved in reducing pain around knees when heading downhill… because it’s certainly not all bad news and we don’t want you to despair… there are answers and help available.

Muscle strength is an important factor. With enough muscle strength supporting your knee complex, your knee structures are not stressed to a painful level. These muscle groups include your thigh, hamstring, glute and calf muscles. Strengthening these muscles at home and/or through some gym work or pilates may be part of your knee pain management plan.

Sourcing appropriate footwear for walking and considering your ankle stability and foot anatomy can ensure that your foot lands in the evenest way possible on the ground. Lastly, and most importantly, if you have had previous injuries or are experiencing pain when walking/climbing, you need an effective diagnosis and treatment plan from an experienced physiotherapist on the exact cause of your pain. A physiotherapist's aim is to keep you moving rather than removing you from all activity when dealing with knee pain. There are numerous benefits to bushwalking and we want to keep you on the tracks and trails.


Bushwalking in Extreme Weather

Extreme Heat

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Bushwalking in hot and humid weather interferes with the normal body cooling process of evaporation from the lungs and skin and may lead to heat exhaustion. If this state is not recognized and treated promptly it may progress to the more serious and potentially fatal condition of heat stroke in which the body temperature rises due to failure of the heat-regulating center in the brain.


  • When walking in hot weather, drink plenty of water
  • Avoid activity in the hottest part of the day by planning to rise early, take a midday siesta or reduce the distance to be covered during the day
  • Plan mid-summer trips near watercourses and do not overextend the party
  • Wear a hat and avoid sunburn
  • Drink plenty of water before commencing the day's walking


Early symptoms are thirst, muscle cramps, and weakness, headache, feeling hot, faint, giddy and nauseous. The victim develops rapid pulse and breathing accompanied by excessive sweating. As the dehydration becomes more severe, the skin becomes hot and dry, with headache, nausea, vomiting and mental disturbance common prior to collapse and unconsciousness.


  • Assist the victim to rest in a cool and shaded area.
  • Remove unnecessary clothing, sponge with cool water and fan the victim.
  • Give frequent cool drinks.
  • Gently stretch any cramped muscles.
  • In extreme cases immerse the victim in water or if this is not possible, cover with a wet sheet or tent.
  • Where Heat Exhaustion has developed into Heat Stroke, the condition is potentially fatal, and the first aider must act urgently to call emergency services.

Extreme Cold

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The gradual onset of the effect of exposure to extreme cold may be overlooked in the early stages. When the body loses heat faster than it can create it and the core temperature is lowered, the condition is known as hypothermia. It is responsible for several deaths each year in Australia.


  • Carry and wear suitable clothing to ensure you always have adequate protection from the cold particularly when combined with wet and windy conditions (ref clothing)
  • Ensure a regular intake of food (high calorie) and drink. Do not drink alcohol which accelerates heat loss.
  • On overnight walks be self-sufficient and do not rely on reaching mountain huts for shelter.
  • Avoid physical exhaustion by walking within your party's capabilities.
  • Take particular care when walking with more susceptible people, such as young children, slightly built, weak or less fit individuals.
  • Take into account that long stops or immobilisation due to injury increase susceptibility.
  • Be aware of the early signs of hypothermia.


The early warning signs of tiredness, shivering and lagging behind and stumbling are a signal to assess the situation and take preventative action with respect to clothing, food, drink and rest. Difficulty unwrapping a sweet such as a barley sugar is a simple test for loss of usual co-ordination.
As body temperature continues to fall, mental and physical performance declines rapidly, often unbeknown to the victim. The danger signs requiring prompt action to prevent a potential fatality are uncontrollable shivering or cessation of shivering, pain in the limbs, unusual or irrational behaviour, poor judgment, apathy, lack of coordination, exhaustion, confusion, hallucinations, slurred speech, and blurred vision. The victim will feel cold to touch and is usually pale. Untreated they will collapse, pass into a stupor, unconsciousness, and death.


The basic principles of first aid and resuscitation apply, in addition to the following measures to prevent further body cooling.

  • Protect the victim from the cold environment by finding a nearby or improvised shelter from the wind and the wet, and insulating the body from the ground.
  • Put on extra layers of clothing and a sleeping bag if available, remembering to cover the head.
  • Enclose in a waterproof layer, such as a large plastic garbage bag pack liner, bivvy bag, ground sheet or safety blanket.
  • Huddle together to warm the victim by body heat from other party members.
  • DO NOT attempt to restore body heat by massage, warming beside a fire or hot water bottles. External heating that is too rapid may actually cause the core temperature of the victim to drop.
  • Give warm sweet drinks and easily digestible food if conscious.DO NOT give victim alcohol, cigarettes, coffee, tea or hot drinks.
  • Ensure other party members are adequately clothed and not in similar danger.

Electrical Storms


Check weather conditions with the Bureau of Meteorology before commencing your walk. Wherever possible, do not go out when thunderstorms are predicted.

Take Action

Avoid high ground, isolated objects such as a tree in a clearing, overhanging cliffs or caves. If possible, insulate yourself from the ground by sitting on your pack. Members of a party may sit together but should not be in contact. 

Celebrating Women Bushwalkers

International Women's Day focus on women-only bushwalking clubs

2018 05 09 FB Susie Hale The Pacific Crest Trail USA2 

We have three member clubs who are women-only bushwalking clubs and many women are members of our other 59 member clubs as well and we are celebrating each one of you today!

The main photo is of Suzie Hale, president of The Victorian Mountain Tramping Club (VMTC) who did a solo trip of the 4,280km Pacific Crest Trail which she completed in 153 days last year. Other major accomplishments on her impressive walking CV include leading a VMTC group who completed the Australian Alpine Walking Track in 42 days.


Escaping your Comfort Zone

The first women-only bushwalking club we would like to introduce you to is Escaping Your Comfort Zone. Not only are they trailblazers in many ways, they have just won a Victorian Sports Award for the Outdoor/Active Recreation Initiative of the year!
Loey Matthews, Volunteer Walk Leader for Escaping Your Comfort Zone, shared this about their club:

If you’ve never been on one of our hikes before, you might wonder what makes Escaping Your Comfort Zone (EYCZ) different from other bushwalking clubs, and what “body positive” hiking is all about anyway? Let's break down what drives us, and what you can expect at a body positive hike that’s different from other hiking groups.


What is body positivity?

Body positivity is a tricky concept to define, but there are some things that we can all agree on.

We live in a society where there is immense pressure to conform to a certain size, shape, and have other physical characteristics that are considered “good looking”. When people don’t fit that size or shape, it is expected that we should diet and exercise, and use makeup, hair product and even surgery until we do fit that expectation.

Body positivity comes out of the fat acceptance movement, and aims to help people overcome dissatisfaction with their bodies, so they can lead happier and more productive lives. At Escaping Your Comfort Zone, we are all about accepting that our bodies are unique and realistic, and furthermore, they are amazing and powerful just the way they are.

We want to throw out the guilt of “good” and “bad” food, throw diet talk in the bin, and take away any obligation that you might feel from “having” to get active.

We want our members, and everyone else, to know that we are not broken, our bodies are enough. They are whole, and powerful and capable of amazing things. We are not a project to be fixed. We accept you all as you are.

The outdoors doesn’t care what you look like, and neither do we!


So what is different about body positive hiking?

We aim to be an open group for every woman and gender diverse person who wants to get outdoors but doesn’t know where to start. Many groups are fantastic places for people who are already hiking or having outdoor adventures regularly to meet each other, but we aim to be a starting point.

The majority of our hikes are beginner friendly, and usually take between 1.5 hours to 2.5 hours to complete. We don’t focus on how many kilometres you’ve done, because more often than not, our hikers are capable of much more than they think!

We always go at the pace of the slowest hiker, and there is never any rush to the finish on one of our hikes. We expect and plan for lots of stops along the way, to take selfies and point out the mushrooms and animals we meet along the trail. I’ve heard from some of our members that when they’ve been on  hikes with other groups, the hike was promoted with the expectation that they would support the slowest hiker, but found themselves rushed along.  At EYCZ we take the need to support everyone at their own pace really seriously – you’ll find a leader at the rear of each of our hikes, chatting to the person who is taking their time.

We enjoy the experience of being outdoors, caring for our physical and mental health through reconnecting with the natural world. It means we build friendships with people we would never have met otherwise – one of the things I cherish most is the diversity of age in our group, and the ability to connect with people way outside my normal social ‘bubble’.

Escaping Your Comfort Zone hikes want you to feel that no matter your size, skin colour, where you were born, your religion, your favourite song to dance to, who you’re attracted to, your disability or anything else, your body will never be seen by us as a problem to solve, but rather as an individual person who is on your own journey and wants to have adventures along the way.

They hike multiple times a week all over Melbourne, Geelong and beyond, and also have groups in Gippsland, Canberra and Sydney.   You can get all the details at  Or find them on Facebook @escapingyourcomfortzone or Instagram @escapingyorucomfortzone


Melbourne Womens Walking Club

The Melbourne Women's Walking Club was founded in 1922 and still going strong! You can listen to the story of how they started here
Melbourne Women's Walking ClubThree women laughing
The Melbourne Women's Walking Club is an active club for women walkers of all ages and includes both metropolitan and country members. Their program covers a wide range of activities, however the club's primary focus is bushwalking with walks of various types, gradings and distances frequently scheduled.
These activities include daywalks, backpacking, base camping and accommodation trips. Members can also participate in urban walks, cycling, canoeing and conservation work. They have regular social gatherings throughout the year and a training program in bushwalking skills.
You are welcome to join the club as a guest on one of their walks if you would like to give bushwalking a go!  Contact Jane Matthews This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 Image may contain: one or more people, tree, plant, grass, outdoor and nature

Bushranger's Women's Walking Club

Fed Walk 2018 Bushranger Bay to Fingal Beach 6

The idea for the women only club was mooted at a large Girl Guide Camp. Many of the leaders were bemoaning the fact that they had no like-minded women to walk with. Consequently the club was formed, a walk planned and a cake made! Many of their foundation members are active in the Girl Guides but membership extends to all women who love walking, talking, laughing and dare we say it, eating!

Members come from all over Victoria, communicate and plan by email only and meet for the Annual General Meeting each June. At this meeting, walks are decided, leaders volunteer their services and decisions are generally decided by consensus.

Their annual itinerary of walks includes monthly walks, which often are walks from a weekend base. Twilight walks, pack carries, interstate and overseas walking trips are also included throughout the year. Each year a ballot is conducted for the best walk of the year and 'Ned', a replica of their mascot is awarded to the leader of this walk. Ned hitches a ride on each walk.

Overseas trips have included trekking in Sapa, Vietnam, and hiking from the source of the Thames to the sea along the Thames Path. This was not as everyone suggested a lengthy pub crawl, but an historical and educational ramble! The Bushrangers Womens' Walking Club Inc goes from strength to strength each year with a growing membership of women who love the bush. The can be contacted This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  

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