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4 Tips to Treat Wilderness Injuries

By Kate Gardner 

In April of 2003, Aron Ralston was hiking by himself in Utah when a boulder slipped and pinned his right arm. After spending several days trapped under the rock, Ralston managed to amputate his own arm and hike to safety. Hopefully, you and I will never be in such a dire situation but if you love the outdoors and enjoy getting out in nature, it's important to know how to handle unexpected injuries. 

Wilderness First-Aid

While there are many books, classes, and websites you can check out to learn more about wilderness first aid, gives us a great breakdown of the basics. 

  • Evaluate the scene - Is it safe? Don't rush in to save someone until you know there is no further danger or threat to life. For example, if a hiker has slipped, it is important to make sure you won't also slip when trying to reach them. 

  • Head-to-toe check - If the person is conscious, ask them if it's OK for you to check them over. then suggests using the A-B-C-D-E list. A means to check the airway and mouth to see if they are clear. B means to check for breathing. C is circulation; is there any indication (like numbness or discoloration) that blood isn't flowing properly? D stands for Disability Decision; can the injured person walk or will they need to be moved? E is for exposing the injury; carefully cut or remove clothing so that the injury can be fully seen and checked. 

  • Vitals and patient history - You may not have a bunch of medical tools, but you can collect important information. First, determine the person's mental state. Are they conscious and aware of what is going on? Second, monitor their heart rate and respiration (number of breaths taken in a minute). You can also tell a lot by the skin. What color is it? Does it feel hot? Pale skin may indicate that blood isn't flowing properly to that area and skin that is hot to the touch may mean an infection or swelling is present. 

  • Plan - By now, you should have enough information to tell you what the injury is and you can make a plan. Small injuries that don't impact a person's ability to walk may be easy to treat. Larger injuries may require stabilizing and evacuation so that the person can receive treatment. Specialized wilderness first-aid classes can teach you how to use outdoor gear and items in nature to splint broken bones, stop bleeding, and more. 

Don't let the fear of injuries stop you from enjoying your time outdoors. If you're going out alone, make sure to tell someone where you're going and when you'll be back and bring a charged cell phone.  

To learn more about your health, wellness, and fitness, see your local chiropractor at The Joint Chiropractic in Boulder, Colo.

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