Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Roadmap to Recovery

Four and a half months ago I messed up my foot during a half-marathon.  And I unknowingly continued to mess it up for quite some time thereafter.  I wish I could have known then what I know now.  Or better yet, I wish there had been a set of instructions that came with my foot injury.  Congratulations, Jen!  You have plantar fasciitis!  Here's what you're going to do next...

Seeing that that was impossible and wouldn't involve any growth on my part, I started with what seemed most logical.  I saw a podiatrist in the city several days after the run.  He took some x-rays, told me to pop some anti-inflammatory pills, sold me some Biofreeze, and told me to consider $500 orthotics.  I blocked out of my mind the idea of spending hundreds of dollars on shoe inserts. 

I followed his other recommendations and continued to run as usual.  Everything seemed fine with minor pain here and there.  But over the course of a year, I developed plantar fasciitis in my "good" foot.  My selfless good left foot.  It had, unbeknownst to me, been compensating for my injured foot.  Tendonitis in both legs soon followed.  The domino effect had started and I needed to nip it before it went further. 

My next stop on the free-my-feet-from-pain expressway was a podiatrist that specialized in running injuries.  His consultation included x-rays and strength and gait tests.  His approach was more thorough than that of the previous physician.  Believing that the answer also included arch support and knowing that the doctor recommended them, I broke the bank and ordered orthotics.  They turned out to be much pricier than the first place but I was confident this visit was the start to a good recovery.  And maybe it would have been, if I had kept up with stretching.  Or maybe I ran too much or not enough.  In any case, the orthotics were an improvement when I was running but my feet continued to ache when I was not running.  I couldn't be out of my running shoes or Danskos for more than 10 minutes unless I was in bed.  Sleeping. 

It took two years after my foot injury to get my lucky break.  I got a neck injury.  And that neck injury led me to the closest thing to a foot recovery I've had to date.  I had injured my neck moving furniture and was in so much pain.  My boss suggested I see his chiropractor.  I was scared.  My primary physician said she didn't recommend it.  I wasn't keen on having my neck cracked.  I was fearful of one wrong move paralyzing me.  But the pain got so bad at work that I lay down on the floor and texted my boss in the other room for the chiro's number.  At my first appointment, I was asked to fill out a pain chart.  Pain in neck.  Check.  When asked about any other trouble spots, I noted the plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendonitis.  I didn't know that I was on my way to hitting the jackpot of foot treatments.

My chiropractor was trained in Graston technique and told me it could help with my inflamed tissue.  It's a trademarked technique in which a practitioner uses a steel tool to find and resolve scar tissues that form in muscles and tendons as a result of injury.  After having gone through it, I'm convinced it's a method of torture to get people to tell their secrets.  It hurts a lot.  But it works.  Every time I finish a treatment, I feel like I have new feet.  It helped with the tendonitis too.  If I could have gotten a personalized list of instructions following my foot injury, "Get the Graston technique, ASAP" would have been at the top of that list. 

Do my feet still hurt?  Yes, from time to time.  Do they hurt as much as they did four years ago?  Heck, no!  But, like everything else, wellness requires maintenance.

I still wear orthotics and Danksos and have to stretch.  I can't wear sensible heels for long periods of time.  I have given away my beloved flats.  I still get the Graston treatments but I don't require as many visits now.  I'll never have the feet I had before the race.  And that's ok.  I used to think a recovery would automatically mean getting back to my old self.  But the journey led me to create a better and even stronger self.  I learned to appreciate health and movement.  I learned that when the body signals a need for rest, you listen and slow down.  I've learned how to deal with frustration when I feel pain, when I know I can't run the distances I used to and when I can't wear more fun and stylish shoes.  I understand the trade-off and respect limits.  Most importantly, I've come to value the body I inhabit, the wisdom it holds, and all the opportunities it affords me.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Best Foot Forward

It's been a long time since I've blogged.  I thought many times about writing but didn't want to address the changes that were happening.  I wasn't particularly interested in finding the silver linings in the process either.  I was disappointed and frustrated with the situation that unfolded after the half marathon in 2011, the subject of my last blog post, and how it worsened over time.  But now that I have more perspective and feel much better, I'm going to pick up right where I left off and talk about that race and what followed.

Back in 2011, I was loving running.  I ran to relieve stress.  I ran to stay fit.  I ran to clear my head.  I already had one half marathon under my belt and had set a personal best at the Broad Street Run in Philly.  I felt strong.  But running longer distances to train for the latest half marathon had become more challenging because of my changes in diet.  At that point in time, I was switching from a vegan diet to one that was non-dairy and no sugar.  This included a limit on most carbs and fruit.  My food plan mainly consisted of chicken, eggs, fish, brown rice and low-glycemic vegetables.  It was boring.  I hated fish.  I tried to make a mashed potato recipe using cauliflower.  Ew.  The only amusement I found on this plan was that it was prescribed to me by a vegan doctor at Thomas Jefferson.  I thought if anyone could convince me of ditching veganism it would be a vegan doctor.  Health before veganism?  I thought the two went together but I had the test results to prove otherwise in my case.   

Eating meat again took some getting used to but it was certainly easier than trying to run on a restricted diet.  I felt my muscles cramping during 6-8 mile runs.  Instead of looking for possibilities to improve performance, I assumed there were none and stopped running.  But race day rolled around and the runner in me still wanted to do it.  So I indulged in a big bowl of brown rice pasta the night before and laced up my running shoes.  I was a little nervous but figured I was young and still in good enough shape to pull it off.

Everything seemed to be going well until my foot cramped in the 10th mile.  Knowing the race was almost over, I ignored my foot pain and decided to finish.  I rationalized that the last stretch was on the other side of the river and there was no "cab-it-home" option.  And what would be the point of walking the rest of the way?  Run to get home quicker.  Get 'er done.  Finish what was started.

The pain came and went.  I walked a bit, then ran a bit.  The endorphins must have masked the damage I was causing.  It was only after the race that my foot felt like a cinder block.  I wobbled to brunch with friends and then wobbled home.  The next day, I had trouble getting out of bed...standing up...getting down the stairs...walking.   I remember saying, "Oh shit, what have I done?"  My body had a clear message for me.  I had gone too far.  I had taken it for granted.  I pushed my body beyond its limits and so much further than I could have known.  And now I had to make amends. 

It's taken me the length of time in absence from this blog (a really long time) to find solutions that have worked, to accept my body's "slow down" messages, to appreciate movement, and to revel in newfound strength and possibility.  The journey of experiencing optimum health doesn't have a clear-cut path.  And the journey is continuous without end.  It doesn't include a list of instructions (darn!).  At certain points it requires patience and persistence.  It relies on commitment.  It likes supporters and cheerleaders.  And it calls for trust that you'll eventually feel better...that you're doing the right things for your mind, body and spirit...that you are putting your best possible foot forward.