about medical care and emergencies?
of Saint James of South Africa
Training aside, many people do get blisters and
other aches and pains - especially in the beginning.
Some get shin splints, tendonitis and muscle strains,
particularly if they do too much too soon.
Thankfully most refugios have a doctor or clinic
on call and treatment is free for most minor ailments.
Many also have volunteers offering therapeutic massage
treatments which are most welcome.
Many pilgrims have also found that helping others
along the way gave them a chance to share, provide
moral support and demonstrate solidarity.
First Aid kit: most essentials are readily available
from pharmacies (farmacias) Look for a sign with
a green cross.
So it is not necessary to weigh yourself down with
medicine for every eventuality.
Basics you might consider would be: a good sun protection
cream, Disprin (for headaches, sore muscles etc.),
Immodium (for diahorrea), Zambuk, Wonder Rub or
Arnica Oil (for foot massage, bruising and other
uses), thread, needle and mercurochrome (for the
Foot care: Keep nails trimmed short, and take along
clippers or scissors.
As blisters are likely to be your main concerns,
look out for Compeed products in Spain - excellent
plasters, guards and an anti blister stick which
you rub on before walking to prevent hot spots.
They cover, heal, soothe, take the pressure off
a blister and are water-proof. Instructions are
often not in English, so remember they have to be
soaked to remove them, otherwise you'll rip the
For blisters - thread a piece of cotton through
the blister, using a sterilised needle - it serves
to drain the fluid but leaves skin intact. The South
African version is available under the trade name
"Coloplast" and is imported from Denmark.
The product name is "Comfeel: Plus transparent
hydrocolloid dressing. It is distributed in SA by:
AstraZenica for MDI, 374 Anderson Street, Menlopark.
0081. Tel: 011 802 2943. It is also available through
pharmacies. Softigel toe guards from Green Cross
shops are also useful.
For muscle strain or tired feet try something like
Reparil gel or Deep Heat.
Many South Africans also chose good old Zambuk to
rub their feet and keep from forming blisters. A
regular massage with some sort of ointment is worth
Wonder Rub - a sportsmans rub which contains Arnica,
Hypericum, Rhustox, Terebinth, Calendule, Brycnia
& Euclyptus - and it is also good for aches
and pains. It is available in a 100 ml tube from
Renaissance, Herbs from Africa label, PO Box 77,
Groot Marico. It is only sold by distributors, Jackie
Sinek, 021 855 3500 is the Helderberg agent.
Prescription Medication: carry enough with you from
home, and make sure you have a signed copy of your
prescriptions to validate carrying large amounts
of scheduled drugs.
If you have specific medical conditions which need
to be known during an emergency, make up a card
containing all medical information in English and
Spanish including blood group, contact details of
your doctor, insurance details etc. and keep it
with your passport.
Finally take out good travel insurance before you
go to cover for major injuries or illness - just
to be safe!
Emergency Telephone numbers
Embassy Madrid 09 3491 436 3780
kind of medical services are available on the Camino?
should have some form of medical insurance in place
and you should determine how it will work for overseas
It is not unusual that out of pocket
payment with later reimbursement is required. Traveler's
insurance might be something to consider.
common that treatment for minor problems will be
afforded the peregrino gratis by the Spanish medical
For treatment of a minor, self-treatable
ailment, speak to a pharmacist. Towns of sufficient
size will have designated 24-hour pharmacies. See
For those who live within the European Union,
having your European Health Insurance Card is a
requirement to receive free emergency treatment.
I carry a first aid kit?
you should carry a small, personal kit, one heavy
on foot care materials. But Spain is a first world
country and most anything that you might need in
the way of self-medication or self-treatment will
be obtainable there.
minor aliments, many people go to their local pharmacy
(farmacia), these are easily recognizable by the
flashing green cross displayed outside or in the
In medium-sized and large cities farmacias
take turns providing out-of-hours service (at night
and on holidays) as the farmacia de guardia. You
will be able to find out which one is open by looking
in a local paper or in the window of any pharmacy
where they usually display a list.
Spain are more highly-trained than in some countries
or they are authorized to give out more advice and
will provide treatment guidance for many common
illnesses and ailments, but they are not a substitute
for going to a doctor if there is something really
Spain is a quite unrestrictive when it comes
to the distribution of medications that are strictly
prescription drugs in other countries (such as antibiotics),
so these are commonly available over-the-counter.
Medicines tend to cost significantly less than in
other countries due to state imposed price restrictions.
of St James : Frequently Asked Questions
Since 2006, there have been infections of bed bugs
along the Camino Francés. By the end of that season,
all refugios were aware of the problem, and many
had been fumigated, but the problem was still not
completely eliminated in 2008.
Don't be deterred from going on this account, but
be aware of the possibility that the infection will
recur. Here's what to look out for http://www.csj.org.uk/bedbugs.pdf
what to do if you should pick up a fellow-traveller
With reasonable precautions, namely shaking out
your sleeping bag outside at regular intervals you
should be able to prevent the worst problems. And
perhaps most important: check your sleeping bag,
clothes, and rucksack before leaving Spain, to avoid
bringing any bed bugs back with you.
If you are susceptible to bites it might be wise
to carry anti-histamine pills with you.
The Guardian had an article about dealing with bed
bugs in Febnruary 2009 :
W. Tripp, Jr. 2011
Blisters are a common problem, particularly during
the first weeks of the Camino. Blisters arise from
friction against skin, in this instance the sides
and bottoms of your feet. They can be avoided entirely
or minimized. Avoidance requires breaking in your
shoes gradually so that the skin has time to thicken
or callus in such areas. It also involves taking
care of your feet. A blister does not appear out
of nowhere without warning. One is proceeded by
a hot spot, a red area that develops because of
the friction at a spot on the foot. You will notice
an irritation or soreness. When this starts to happen,
STOP and take remedial action; it will not go away
Check out the problem. Make sure your socks are
not folded or creased and shake out your socks and
boots to remove any debris that might have gotten
inside. Also, use stuff from your first aid kit,
such as moleskin or Second Skin, to protect the
hot area. If the skin has broken, treat it like
Tendonitis is an inflammation or irritation of a
tendon, a thick cord that attaches bone to muscle.
It is most often caused by repetitive, minor impact
on the affected area or by a sudden more serious
injury. To prevent ankle tendonitis while hiking
conditioning beforehand boots with ankle support
help. Dehydration is also a factor in many hiking
injuries. When it is dehydrated, the body doesn't
function as well as it can. If you develop tendonitis,
R - Rest
I - Ice
C - Compression
E - Elevation
Chapping is when the skin roughens or cracks as
a result of exposure to cold or weather. The most
frequent part of the body that chaps is the lips.
Hands and feet are common cracking sites. But superficial
cracking can occur anywhere, especially the delicate
skin of shins, forearms and cheeks. If you look
up chapped lips, you will find they are likely to
develop if you live in a dry climate, spend a lot
of time in the outdoors in the sun or wind or allow
yourself to get dehydrated—much like the conditions
on the camino.
If you have simple chapped lips, frequent applications
of an oil-based lip cream or one containing petrolatum
or beeswax can help, MayoClinic.com states. Don't
use flavored lip balms, which may cause you to lick
your lips more often. For hands and other parts,
apply a skin moisturizer.
Chafing is caused by sweating and rubbing. Walking
isn't the only thing that can cause this problem.
Any activity that requires skin to repeatedly rub
against skin can lead to chafing. And moisture,
either from sweat or rain, makes the problem worse.
Some common chafing sites are the inner thighs and
under the arms or breasts. If you start experiencing
this problem, check out your clothing to address
the source of the problem. In areas of repeated
chafing such as the inner thighs or groin or under
the arms or breasts, you can cut down on friction
by dusting on some powder. Ointments such as Vaseline,
Noxzema, zinc oxide ointment and cortisone cream
can likewise help such areas of skin slip past each
other. Chafing that hangs on for more than two days
after the rubbing stops may have graduated into
a fungal infection.
a local Pharmacist or Health Clinic
You can always seek help for these and other common
problems experienced by pilgrims by going to a pharmacist
on one of the towns you pass through. In addition,
consider visiting a local heath center or even a
hospital. Because of the way the Spanish health
care system operates and how pilgrims are viewed,
you should have minimal costs and problems.
à Q.Pratique Route