If you have arthritis, you might be wondering if walking the Camino de Santiago is possible in your condition. While doing our research on the Way of St. James, we saw that many people with arthritis have successfully completed the pilgrimage.
Can you walk the Camino de Santiago with arthritis? Yes, it is possible to walk the Way of St. James with arthritis. Pilgrims have found that walking ends up helping their pain, and recommend using walking poles, lightening the load you carry, and walking shorter distances to ensure you make it to St. James. Below, we share some tips that will help you walk the Camino de Santiago with arthritis.
1. Take the time to train before you go.
Before your Camino, take the time to walk or hike to practice for the Camino. You should be wearing the shoes, socks, and gear you plan to take. Taking the time to train has two important goals.
First, by taking the time to train, you will be able to see how long and how far you can go before your arthritis flares up. You can then use this information to plan how many miles to walk each day on the Camino.
Second, taking the time to train will strengthen your body and prepare it to undertake the pilgrimage. For more information on what to do, please go to our post on training physically for the Camino.
Pilgrims have mentioned that exercise, especially walking and strength building exercises, have been beneficial in their struggle with arthritis.
2. Use walking poles.
Pilgrims have noted that the constant walking, as well as the uphill and downhill parts of the Camino, can be difficult. Peregrinos with arthritis have indicated that walking poles have been invaluable in the trek. Walking poles have been noted to be especially helpful in the downhill parts of the Camino.
You can buy walking poles before your trip, so you can begin training with the poles. Or, you can buy walking poles at the starting location of your Camino.
3. Lighten your load.
Carrying a heavy load can worsen your arthritis pain. Take a look at your backpack and what you plan to bring: can you bring a lighter backpack? Are there things you can leave behind?
Many pilgrims have recommended luggage transport services for those who have arthritis. These services pick up your bags and drop them off at your next albergue. That way, you can walk without the burden of your backpack.
In addition to lowering or eliminating the weight of your backpack, many have recommended weight loss (if possible) as a means of easing your arthritis pain. Training before the Camino has the added benefit of potentially helping with weight loss.
4. Bring anti-inflammatory medication.
Anti-inflammatory medication has helped pilgrims manage their arthritis pain. While it might be a good idea to bring some with you, know that you will be able to find over-the-counter pain medication in the pharmacies along the Way as well.
Of course, if you have any prescription medication, you should be bringing that with you.
Pilgrims have also suggested looking into anti-inflammatory supplements, and have specifically mentioned turmeric. A holistic or functional medicine doctor might have more information on appropriate supplements.
5. Walk at a slower pace.
As mentioned above, training will let you know how many miles you can comfortably walk. As you plan your route, don’t go over that number of miles in a given day. You might end up walking at a slower pace and walking less miles than others do. Remember that the Camino is not a race. It is better to get to Santiago at a later time, and do so without pain, than to hurt yourself by trying to keep up with others.
If you only have a certain number of days for the Camino, consider starting at a closer town (instead of St. Jean Pied de Port), starting in Sarria, or picking a shorter Camino route, such as the Camino Ingles.
6. Schedule your breaks.
Throughout your walk, make sure you schedule breaks to let your body rest and recover. Taking an afternoon off or a day off has also been recommended when walking the Camino with arthritis.
Taking a cab or bus to the next town is an option if you would like to take a rest day without falling behind on your schedule.
7. Schedule your pilgrimage during the appropriate time of year.
An additional suggestion that has been offered to pilgrims with arthritis is walking at the best time of year for their arthritis. For example, is your arthritis worse when it is hot, cold, or rainy?
Avoid walking to St. James during the worst kind of weather for your pain. Our post on the best times to walk the Camino will provide you with more information about weather on the Way.
8. Remove inflammatory foods from your diet.
Certain foods can promote or reduce inflammation. The Arthritis Foundation listed several foods that promote inflammation.
Removing these foods from your diet can help with your arthritis. Some of these foods, as indicated by the Arthritis Foundation, include sugar, saturated fats (including red meat), trans fats, gluten, dairy, and alcohol, among others.
The Foundation also suggests adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet.
9. Talk to your doctor.
Ultimately, everyone’s health is unique. It is always recommended that you speak to your doctor before doing something that might affect your health. Let your doctor know how many miles you plan to walk and for how many days. Your doctor will be able to advise you on whether it is okay for you to walk with your arthritis, and will be able to provide information on medication.
Your own doctor will have important information about your personal health, and is therefore a key resource. But, pilgrims have also recommended seeing physical therapists, especially those with knowledge of sports medicine.
10. Consider massages or acupuncture.
Pilgrims have recommended massages and acupuncture. These can be done prior to the Camino, or during the Camino. You will find signs in some of the towns offering massages for pilgrims.
11. Use ice packs to reduce the inflammation.
Pilgrims have recommended using ice packs to reduce the inflammation and ease the pain. This might be hard to do, since you won’t have anywhere to freeze your ice pack while you walk. One option would be to bring empty ziplock bags, then order a glass of ice at your next stop, fill the empty bag with the ice, and then apply the bag with the ice where needed.
12. Walk with a group.
An additional recommendation for pilgrims with arthritis has been to schedule your Camino as part of a group, such as an organized group tour. In this way, you will have support from the group when needed. Some tours even take care of transporting your bags for you, so that’s an additional concern you would not have to worry about.
There are even arthritis-focused groups, such as Arthritis Ireland, who have planned Camino walking trips.
13. Consider biking the Camino.
Some individuals with arthritis who feel pain when walking might not feel pain when cycling. So, cycling the Camino is an option. However, cycling the Camino does have its own challenges (as we describe in this post), and does require a certain level of physical fitness.
14. Let go of the fear.
Many pilgrims who have walked the Camino de Santiago with arthritis have mentioned that the walk actually helps ease their arthritis. So, let go of your fears and give it a shot!
If you follow the above tips, as recommended by fellow pilgrims, follow the advice of your doctor, and listen to your body to take the necessary breaks, you might find, like other peregrinos, that walking to St. James is not only possible, but results in improved health.
In addition to the above tips, depending on where you have arthritis, aids like knee supports or inserts might be helpful. Your doctor or physical therapist will be able to help you with this.
Also, keep in mind that the Camino takes you through different kinds of roads: dirt roads, rocky roads, and paved roads. If you know that your arthritis pain is worse when walking in a specific kind of road, be sure to prepare accordingly, and don’t be afraid to use a cab to skip those parts, if necessary.
Everyone’s body is different. In addition, arthritis manifests itself in different parts of the body for different people. So, it is important to know your body, know your particular condition, and know that not all tips will affect everyone the same way.
But, know also that walking the Camino with arthritis is possible and many others have already done it before you.
***NOTE: We are not physicians. If you are experiencing arthritis or other health issues, please consult your doctor.