The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak

I was told by a podiatrist that I had plantar fasciitis nearly three years ago. I brought it on myself by trying to take up running and using shoes without enough cushioning. To treat it, I was advised to wear these big, bulky splints on my feet at night. I tried to comply, but they kept me from getting a decent night’s sleep, so I abandoned them within a matter of weeks.

While the right foot is better except for some mild stiffness first thing in the morning or after a lot of walking, the left foot has developed a sore spot that has a constant dull, ache. I’ve felt that my left ankle is weaker and the connective tissue that runs up the sides of my ankle (are those muscles or tendons?) feels sore after a lot of exertion, too.

When I was riding last week in a particularly tricky maneuver to better develop my balance — going over the trot poles while in a posting trot — my left ankle rolled in the stirrup. Not enough to hurt, but enough to worry me. (Yeah, I need to write another post about horses and riding soon.)

So I took the plunge and made an appointment with a different doctor. This one’s speciality is sports medicine. I felt that may be a better fit because I want to get better so I can more comfortably do activities like hiking, walking, and riding.

First the doc looked at some x-rays taken when I arrived at her office. Sure enough, I have a bone spur that has formed due to all the stiff tissues on the bottom of that foot. (That’s the sore spot.) Then the doc examined my foot. “Oh dear,” she said, “How are you walking on this?” Well, the thing is I’m *not* walking as much as I’d like, although I am able to manage normal daily activity. I also did a pretty strenuous hike earlier this month on a mini-vacation with my friend Rachael to San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay. (Yeah, I should write about that, too.) By the end of this hike up and down Bishop’s Peak, my left foot was throbbing. When we got back to our accommodations, I rolled a cold can of soda water under it for a bit to ease some of the inflammation. And then I pretty much limited the rest of my walking for the day.

I started physical therapy yesterday, and I’m determined to have this foot and ankle much better by October when I leave for a trip to Scotland. That trip will involve a lot of walking, hiking, and riding, so I need the foot in much better shape.

In the meantime, I have stretches and strengthening exercises to do a few times a day on my own. The exercises are painful, but they are supposed to strengthen the weak ankle and calf muscles on my left leg. The physical therapist told me that my left ankle joint had less mobility than my right, although my left hip was stronger than my right hip, possibly as compensation. This must be why my riding instructors have noticed that I “slump” to one side in the saddle at times, and perhaps my why balance is often so difficult for me to find while riding.

There aren’t any activity restrictions for me at this time, but riding today was pretty tough. My left ankle was sore from the therapy yesterday and the exercises I performed this morning.

Oh, well. We can bitch about life all we want, but look at the alternative! So, here I sit rolling a bottle of frozen water under my foot and dreaming about a day when I can walk a few miles through the heather and canter along the green hills of Scotland.


4 thoughts on “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak

  1. Ouch!!! Brings back such fun memories.

    The physical therapy made a LOT of difference for me. Also, some people feel that staying off your feet as much as possible for several weeks (or even — gulp! — two or three months) is the key to persuading the tendons to heal.

    What kind of boot do you wear while riding? Do your boots have enough room to fit an orthotic? You may find something that pads the sole and helps support the arch may ease the discomfort enough to improve the riding issues.

    Or can you switch to Western style? In a Western saddle you don’t have to post in the same way you do in English style. You do still need to use your legs and feet to hang on and keep your balance, though…

    Also, do you have a lot of hard floors in you home? If so, try wearing a pair of comfortable shoes with good soles while you’re in the house. Hard floors can cause a PF flare or aggravate a flare-up…extremely annoying! In the most recent episode, which just ended recently, I discovered that Teva sandals — the models that strap on rather than the flip-flop varieties — have a thick, soothing sole that goes a long way toward making the PF feel better. They’re not what we call high-style (:roll:), but there’s nothing to stop you from wearing them around the house and maybe even to the grocery store.

    Oh, and the other thing the Wonder-Orthopedist advised: DON’T wear shoes or sandals with negative heels — that is, heels that are lower than the rest of the sole, like in Birkenstocks, Mephistos, or Earth Shoes. Doing the daily power-walk in a pair of Earth Shoes sneakers caused the worst PF flare-up I ever experienced — it was enhanced by the Achilles tendonitis the darn things caused.

    Hm. Interestingly, that’s exactly the position your heel is in when you’re in the stirrups, isn’t it…lower than your toes. Don’t suppose you can ride bareback, given the stuff you’re doing?

    Hope you get over the thing soon!

    Ugh. I hate WordPress’s comments thing. This is Funny about Money! 😀


    • All good suggestions! For riding, I’m wearing a paddock boot with awesome arch support. The issue I’ve had with riding is that my left ankle has become so weak that it is a liability. In her initial assessment, the physical therapist found that the range of motion and strength of my left ankle was much less than in the right ankle. However, my left hip as stronger than my right hip, perhaps in compensation. This unevenness is a challenge I’m trying to overcome in finding my balance while I ride.

      While I do get (quite painful) massage of the foot to break up the stiffened tissue on the bottom, much of my PT and home exercises are to strengthen the left ankle and calf muscles. Riding with heels down is oddly very much like one of the calf and ankle strengthening exercises I do in PT! Even when riding without stirrups, the instructors emphasize “heels down!” because it forces you to shift your body’s alignment and helps you find your balance. I’m not sure that it would be any different in a Western saddle since the body alignment is pretty similar; it’s only the posting trot that is different.

      I wear supportive slippers inside the house and shoes with lots of cushioning in the soles outside the house. I actually had custom orthotics before the PF, but they are hard and hurt my feet now so I don’t wear them. The doc said lots of cushioning was good and was OK with me not wearing orthotics. I bought a pair of cushioned Dr. Scholl insoles with arch supports at CVS over the weekend. I’m going to try them inside some of my shoes that don’t have as much cushioning to see it they work better for me than the custom orthotics or the Superfeet inserts I tried a few months ago that were also too hard. (At $25 for the pair, I hope these Dr. Scholl things work!)

      Unfortunately, I’ve already curtailed my walking as much as possible. I’m going to the office perhaps once or twice a week, which does involve about a mile of walking at a minimum (to and from the train, around the office, etc.). I love to walk and want to get back to doing much more of it.


  2. Cringe! Makes me think OUCH just to read about all these…uhm…character-building experiences.

    Is there room in your boot to accommodate a wrap with an elastic athletic bandage? Even one layer might help create a little extra support for the weakened ankle, given the boot’s own support (I tend to wrap mine over and over but maybe that’s unnecessary).

    In a Western saddle you have to keep your heels below your toes for safety’s sake — the foot has to be able to slide out of the stirrup in a fraction of an instant. The post in the Western saddle has never seemed like as much WORK to me, but that may be subjective.

    I got to be pretty good at riding bareback, which trains you exquisitely in balance, and would jump over, say, a narrow gully. But don’t think I’d ask a horse to jump a rail bareback. I’ve done some stupid things on horses, but that prob’ly would take the cake.

    Ice/heat/ice or just ice/heat is probably the nicest thing you can do for your foot while staying off of it. Laying on the sofa with the sore foot perched on the back of the sofa, elevated, is good. I’ve found bourbon helps a great deal, too. 😉

    Oh wait. I forgot this: have you tried friction massage? This requires some strength in your hands, or at least a friend with strong hands. Ice the accursed foot for 10 or 20 minutes. Then cross the pained leg over the other knee so you can get ahold of the heel and sole of the agonized foot. Then rub it hard and very fast with your thumbs so as to create friction (i.e., your fingers or thumbs are moving over the surface pressing down gently but trying to create heat from the rubbing). Do this all over the heel especially and also up the tendon along the arch and anyplace else that hurts and KEEP ON DOING IT for about 10 minutes. This is hard, but if you can pull it off, it actually does help when you do it directly after icing the hurt foot.


  3. Pingback: Shaping up | a windycitygal's Weblog

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