FAQ : Medical care


                                            What about medical care and emergencies?

                                            Confraternity 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 blisters).

- 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 new skin.

- 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 the effort.

- 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

National police 091

Local police 092

Medical (insalud) 061

Emergencies 112

S.A. Embassy Madrid 09 3491 436 3780


                                                  American Pilgrims FAQs       




  What kind of medical services are available on the Camino?

- You should have some form of medical insurance in place and you should determine how it will work for overseas treatment.

- It is not unusual that out of pocket payment with later reimbursement is required. Traveler's insurance might be something to consider.

- It is common that treatment for minor problems will be afforded the peregrino gratis by the Spanish medical system.

- For treatment of a minor, self-treatable ailment, speak to a pharmacist. Towns of sufficient size will have designated 24-hour pharmacies. See below.

- For those who live within the European Union, having your European Health Insurance Card is a requirement to receive free emergency treatment.


  Should I carry a first aid kit?

- Yes, 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.


- For minor aliments, many people go to their local pharmacy (farmacia), these are easily recognizable by the flashing green cross displayed outside or in the window.

- 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.

- Pharmacists in 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 wrong.

- 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.


                        Confraternity of St James : Frequently Asked Questions  




  Bed bugs

- 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

and what to do if you should pick up a fellow-traveller or two.

- 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 :



                                                          Health Problems

                                                 Richard 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 by itself.

- 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 a blister.



- 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, remember RICE.

* 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.


  Use 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.



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