High temperatures, solar radiation, mosquitoes, overload… easily avoidable inconvenient companions that could mess your pilgrimage up.
Foot blisters are caused by excessive friction with socks/footwear and excessive moisture on your feet.
The four key points to avoid foot blisters are:
- Worn-in footwear
- Footwear made for walking, of the proper size
- Feet always as dry as possible
- Natural fiber socks with no or smooth seams
New footwear should never be used for prolonged hiking. They are the most straight way to serious blisters that could keep you unable to walk for several days.
The footwear should be made for walking and be of the right size, keeping your feet firmly snug, but not too tight. Some people can suffer substantial swelling when walking for hours, possibly needing footwear of a bigger size than usual.
Footwear must keep your feet reasonably dry when walking under the rain or along some of the muddy or puddly paths that you will most probably come across. Many people suffer from sweaty feet; they must by all means keep them dry when walking. Foot powder and even open walking footwear should be considered.
Natural fiber keeps your feet dry and is smoother than synthetic. Socks should be made for walking, with very smooth seams or even no seams at all.
Tendinitis is the single most diagnosed chronic connective tissue disease in Western medicine.
Symptoms of tendinitis typically include:
- Pain, often described as a dull ache, especially when moving the affected joint
- Mild swelling
Tendinitis is a condition of a substantial seriousness that requires immediate attention to avoid further complications. If you suspect this condition, it is essential and unavoidable to proceed to immediate care, that will include rest, ice and over-the-counter pain relievers. Unfortunately, it will likely mark the end of your pilgrimage.
Causes of tendinitis, in the context of the pilgrimage, are:
- Overloaded joints due to excessively heavy backpack
- Lame walking due to blisters or other minor previous injuries
- Lack of physical training
- Excessive daily mileage
- Dehydration is bad for connective tissues
There’s no risk of serious infections being transmitted via bug bites in Spain, but mosquitoes and other flying biters are an irritating concern that can be avoided with the use of insect repellents that can be found in every supermarket.
In northern Spain, UV radiation index can reach red-zone values (“very high”) during every day of the summer.
A UV Index reading 8 to 10 means very high risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure. Unprotected skin and eyes will be damaged and can burn quickly.
Minimize sun exposure between 12:00 and 18:00 (Spain’s timezone in summer is shifted more than 2 hours from its natural meridian. In the westernmost parts, like Santiago, around summer solstice sun sets at around 22:15). It’s recommended to seek shade and wear protective clothing, wide-brimmed hat, and UV-blocking sunglasses. Apply SPF 30+ sunscreen every 2 hours, even on cloudy days, and after sweating or swimming. Watch out for bright surfaces, like sand and water, which reflect UV and increase exposure.
Even when not engaging in intense physical activities, low-grade dehydration is a common, widespread problem that can have major impacts over your health.
Early signs of dehydration are thirst, general discomfort, dark-colored urine, and —a less obvious symptom— headache; it’s usually resolved by simply drinking.
People not accustomed to prolonged outdoor exercise must be aware of these symptoms. If ignored, dehydration can lead to loss of strength, and even heat exhaustion and heatstroke.
In the context of pilgrimage, dehydration occurs when body water loss exceeds water intake due to exercise and/or high environmental temperature.
Dehydration is easily prevented by drinking regularly. Don’t wait for your thirst signal to kick in. Our body needs a steady supply of water. There isn’t a magic figure of liters per hour; just make a point of drinking a little more water, rather than a little less.
Caffeinated, sweetened and alcoholic drinks should be avoided for a proper hydration.
Heat exhaustion and heatstroke
Heat exhaustion and heatstroke are two potentially serious conditions that can occur if your body gets too hot. They can occur during strenuous physical exercise in a hot environment. In northern Spain summer diurnal temperatures rarely rise above 40ºC/ 104ºF, but it’s still hot enough.
Heat exhaustion occurs when your body becomes depleted of water and salts. When you are affected by a heatstroke, your body is no longer able to cool itself.
Heat exhaustion or heatstroke can develop quickly over a few minutes, or gradually over several hours or days.
Symptoms typically include:
- Tiredness and weakness
- Decreased blood pressure
- Muscle cramps
- General discomfort
- Heavy sweating
- Intense thirst
- Fast pulse
- Urinating less often, and much darker urine than usual
If left untreated, more severe symptoms ensue.
Persons under these conditions need immediate help, and must lie down in a cool place. Their body must be cooled by any means possible: remove clothes, wet and fan their skin. And they need urgent hydration.
They mustn’t be left alone until they feel better, which shouldn’t take longer than 30 minutes. If the condition persists or the person looses conscience, medical help is needed. Call 112 (the emergency services number in Spain).