I injured my foot lately, and am almost at the end of its healing time. I’ve had to explain it over and over again, and watch my friends’ eyes glaze over, so I thought I’d save us all some pain and just put it here so I could tell you all to come skim it at your leisure. 😉
On Monday, the 28th of July 2014, I was walking – just walking normally, on a sidewalk near high street – and I felt something go wrong in my foot. I didn’t put my foot down wrong; I didn’t twist it; I just took a step, something I’m quite well-versed in at this stage. It felt like I’d pulled a muscle in my foot. It wasn’t agonizing; it just hurt. (I’ve noticed that I have a high pain tolerance in those bits of me where I have pain often, and a low pain tolerance in those bits of me where I have pain infrequently.) So I limped on to where I was headed – about a mile away still – where I sat for about half an hour til it was time to go on – another mile to walk home.
Then I sat for about an hour, and when I got up again I could barely walk. I frequently have foot problems, so this was a bit odd in severity given the walking that’d happened (only about four miles in all), but not too outrageous, so I had a hot bath that night to ease my aching muscles, and then looked up pulled muscles online.
Turns out, you’re supposed to treat pulled muscles with cold, not heat. Oops. Oh, well, what’s done is done, and I still reckon it did help all the rest of my muscles. My feet have been messed up for years, and once you have foot problems, it causes leg and back problems, so all those muscles hurt, too. Hey ho. I mostly stayed off the foot for a few days, then it felt fine, so I went back to my usual routine and thought nothing of it.
I walk for transportation, so my usual routine includes around 10 miles a week of walking, give or take. We set off for Germany on Friday 15 August. The first part of the vacation (through the 19th) didn’t need to involve too much walking because we’d rented a car and were in the countryside. For the second part, though, we made our way through Munich on public transport, which always involves a great deal of walking. For 6 days, my feet hurt exceptionally, which severely curtailed what we could do. That was a bit frustrating.
I got back home, rested a bit, but was still in agony. Finally I got some friends to point me to which type of person I should see – there are podiatrists, chiropodists, and physiotherapists, and I was pretty clueless about what each did. They highly recommended a particular chiropodist, but he was headed off on vacation when I rang him up, and didn’t think he could help anyway, so he pointed me to a particular physiotherapist. He gave me some exercises to do, told me the importance of treating this with cold rather than heat when it gets aggravated, and explained what I’d done.
From Gray’s Anatomy, via Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.
If you were to peel back the skin on the bottom of your foot (don’t try this at home), you’d see a whole bunch of muscle fibers covering everything else – these form the plantar fascia. That day in July, I’d torn several of the fibers of it, and they needed to knit themselves back together again. It just takes time of not using the foot to do it. Every time I stood, and every time I walked, I tore them again. Aha; no wonder it hurt.
So the only thing that would heal it is staying off it long enough for those fibers to knit back together again – 8 weeks. Le sigh. He also referred me to a podiatrist to deal with my underlying foot pain issues, so I went there the next day, 9 Sept.
The podiatrist is an affable chap, and asked intelligent questions relevant to this bit of my health history, and listened. This was my first experience just going private so far in the UK, and it was a dream – I was treated properly, listened to, not rushed about, the building was clean. To be fair, I had this experience at one NHS place, too – Salford Royal Hospital – but that was very much the exception.
Anyway, so he diagnosed plantar fasciitis. What’s that fancy phrase mean? That thing I said about my injury, where I keep tearing the fibers every time I stand or walk? Turns out that my underlying problem – why my feet have hurt for the past decade – is that that’s been happening for ten years. Obviously to a lesser degree, since I’ve still managed to clock up ten miles a week normally. I’ve clearly broken more fibers just recently, concentrated in one particular area; this underlying issue is about muscle fibers all over the foot breaking. He confirmed everything the physiotherapist had said, including the 8 weeks of recovery with No Unnecessary Walking. Blegh. I’d learned that they were right on this the hard way by this point – the three miles I’d managed the weekend between my two visits to the physiotherapist had crippled me for days afterwards.
So, he took a mold of my feet to make some orthotics for me – custom ones for my feet, rather than the drugstore ones I’ve struggled on with all these years. The mold process was swish: he put plastic bags on my feet, and then these things that were like socks (ankle-high). About two minutes later, off came the socks, now hardened into casts. Huh! Here was me, expecting plaster of paris, but nope.
He sent those off to a lab, and two weeks later I went back to pick up my new orthotics. I made another agonizing trip to see him (by public transport again, and even though I did minimize the walking as much as possible, I was still very much injured) to pick them up on 23 Sept, and we got the fit adjusted, and he answered the questions I’d thought of in the meantime. I need to see him again for another followup next month, and then I think it should be all fine.
So, home again to sit on my derriere for 6 more long weeks. The idea is that the orthotics will:
- give me the support needed to speed the healing of this injury,
- keep me from having the foot pain that has been a fact of life for a third of my tenure on earth so far, and
- help prevent further injuries by having my feet supported properly.
Turns out, this and the injury I had two years ago – when I partially tore my achilles tendon (which is actually the same thing as your plantar fascia, just running up your calf instead of along the bottom of your foot) – would have been caused by this same plantar fasciitis. That was another one where I didn’t step wrong or anything, either. I’m now miffed that the doctor I saw didn’t think to have a podiatrist look at me to see why such a simple action had caused such a severe reaction (I couldn’t actually put any weight at all on that leg for weeks for the searing agony). Turns out, we all have to research and advocate for ourselves.
I’ve been very blessed to escape immobilizing devices (casts, boots, etc) for both injuries – those always look so very troublesome. I have, however, noticed that when you don’t have a visible thing like that, many people seem to not believe you that you have an injury. A boot or cast wouldn’t have done any good – I needed to not put weight on the foot, rather than keep it in a certain position, which is what boots and casts do – and the foot pain wasn’t bad enough (provided I stayed off my feet like they told me to) this time to put up with a walker or crutches, which make your hands and/or underarms ache like mad. I used a walker (zimmer frame) for my achilles tendon injury, and I ended up wrapping the handles in towels to try to deal with the pain. Haven’t they designed walkers and crutches with handles that don’t hurt yet?
It’s a bit more insight into how invisible disabilities are disbelieved. I’ve had ten years of disbelief that there’s anything wrong with my feet when I can’t carry on walking as far or fast as others – after all, I’m only twentysomething or thirtysomething: I’m clearly lying about whatever my problem is. I’ve had it rephrased as “when you get tired” – no, honey, stabbing foot pain is not the same as getting tired. Why does anyone think that anyone might ever lie about what ails them? We’d all love to be spry and be able to do as much as possible, and not feel like we’re disappointing others because our bodies are giving out. Disbelief of invisible (and visible) disabilities continues to mystify me.
What’s been most difficult with this injury by far, however, has been missing seeing the season change. Fall is my favorite season. We have some trees we can see through the windows, and I have watched them change, but that’s it. Any places I’ve been, I’ve been whisked to in a car, windows rolled up (sensible because of the cold); a very sterile situation. Not seeing and experiencing things properly has been driving me slowly mad(der). Finally, last weekend, I couldn’t take it anymore, and Friday we walked down to the high street and did some shopping. I managed two miles (plus all the standing inherent in shopping) before my feet gave out, and was well pleased at that. The riot of sensation was pure bliss: smells, sounds, sights – it was sheer joy. The smells of autumn, especially, don’t permeate so much into my home: fires going, leaves decaying, crisp air.
Thankfully, I am healing – Friday didn’t do me in nearly as much as seeing the podiatrist last month did. Two and a half weeks left now on that 8 week prescription, so life is getting back to normal – though now I’ve caught a headcold! Hey ho, today was better than yesterday, so it’ll be gone soon enough. This, too, shall pass.