A Pilgrimage is a physical challenge. These are the most common health problems on the Camino de Santiago.

Will I be in pain on the Camino de Santiago?

“No pain, no glory”– you hear this again and again on the Camino. Of course it’s total nonsense! The happiness of having completed the Camino de Santiago has nothing to do with the pain.

But yes, everyone who walks the Camino will feel pain — even if it’s only for a certain time. Most people are not used to walking 15+ miles a day while carrying a 20-pound backpack. The body is often overwhelmed at first with sore muscles, pressure pain from the backpack, aching feet and joint pain.

The good news is that our bodies have the ability to adapt quickly and the pain will go away (unless there is a more serious medical problem). Take it slow, don’t rush each day, and listen to your body. Important: if joints (knees, ankles) hurt, this is usually from overstraining, but will disappear again. However, if the joints swell, you absolutely have to take a few days off and ideally consult a doctor.

It usually takes me about a week for the pain to subside, but sometimes it takes 14 days, depending on my fitness, which that I start my way.

I work a desk job, so whenever I start a new Camino the muscles around my waist hurt so much at night that I sometimes can’t fall asleep. Then a painkiller will help. But after two weeks at most, the pain is over and the pilgrimage flies by!

What are common health problems on the Camino de Santiago?

Blisters. I don’t know of any pilgrim who doesn’t struggle with blisters. At the beginning of the hike, the skin at the feet is normally still very soft. With all the walking and the additional weight, the skin normally acts with blisters. The good news is: the longer you are on the way, the more robust your skin gets and blisters will not be a problem anymore.
See here my tips on how to treat blisters.

Tendonitis. I usually have tendonitis in my shins for a bit. Then I take an anti-inflammatory painkiller and try to cool my legs as often as possible. I remind myself: All of this will pass!

Gastrointestinal problems. Diarrhea can happen, especially if you drink water from a well (even if the water is labeled as potable). I’m a bit picky on this point and only use store-bought water whenever possible. Another possible place for infection is the drinking bottle and the mouthpiece of a hydration pack. Bacteria can happily multiply here so clean your water bottle and hydration pack mouthpiece regularly!

Heat stroke/sun stroke. When I walked the Via de la Plata Camino in July, temperatures rose to well above 40 degrees for days. I got heat stroke with headache, vomiting and fever. Luckily I wasn’t alone and I restedand recovered for three days in a hostel where I was lovingly cared for and a doctor was called. Heat stroke is a serious condition that makes the brain overheat thanks to heat and exertion. You can prevent heat stroke by not hiking the hot hours of the day and drinking enough water. In the Spanish or French summer this can easily be 3 to 4 liters of water a day. 

Dehydration. Your body loses a lot of water hiking for hours in the South in summer, which you hardly notice because of the dry heat. Again, 3 – 4 liters of water is a must!

Athlete’s Foot. The showers in the hostels and sweaty hiker’s feet are a paradise for this fungal foot infection. Don’t worry: athlete’s foot is easily treated with appropriate creams.

Read more about health on the Camino de Santiago.

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