A Journey To Recovery – Orthotics

Just over six years ago, I totaled a motorcycle. Most of the how and why details are unknown. Witnesses couldn’t see the entire thing go down and, despite wearing a helmet, the damage to my memory was severe enough to erase the entire event and a stall my ability to make new memories for several months afterward.

Yet despite not wearing any other gear (which, I highly recommend never doing even if you’re going for a quick ride like I was), I managed to overcome horrendous road rash and rocks being scrubbed from my left shoulder with only one forever-remaining scar – on my ankle.

In this mysterious event, I received a compression fracture to my tibia which resulted in several weeks of waiting painfully for a specialist and eventual surgery. The specialist artfully scraped enough bone from other places in my body and reconstructed enough of my punched-up bone structure so that I was able to walk, hike, surf, snowboard, and play to my heart’s content. In the end, I am left with a pretty gnarly scar (like the cool kids have), a metal plate, and a handful of screw that go entirely through the bone from one side of the ankle to the next.

I was healed after 3+ months off my feet, in a boot, a cast, and with both a walker and a wheelchair. Yet, in my mind there are few gifts as grand as truly understanding how precious these overlooked aspects of life really are.

As my dad always says, “Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.”

Touché life. Touché!

My Recovery–Kind Of

Ever since that accident, I have had an obsession with walking. Every day I walk. What started out as a walker-assisted journey across the apartment has led to an easy 10k per day, every day.

My obsession with appreciating my ability to plant my feet on the ground goes as far as to give up my beloved car. And if you know me, you know I love cars. That’s exactly why I was a chick with a bike! The world or racing fascinated me.

The lack of proper follow up with specialists (which ties into my overall lack of caring for myself, see: Manifest Destiny) has contributed to my body starting to crumble under a weight. I can’t blame it on just my health or my age.

Just over a year after the accident, my jaw all but fell apart – turning my most prized possession (my smile!) into a five-year-long journey back to normal. Now, pain in my hip, my foot, my knee, and my upper thigh all connects to my jaw pain via my shoulder. I feel as though I’m slowly falling over as one side of my body stays strong and the other gives in entirely.

I did all my post-op physical therapy and I did it well. But I never did any follow up once I “graduated” from recovering basic movement and range. To be honest, I didn’t know I was supposed to – partially from lack of information and mostly from the brain-healing I didn’t even know I was experiencing. For all I know, my physical therapists told me a thousand times, “I’ll see you in two weeks this time…” and I don’t remember.

Finally Visiting a Physio

Even after years of pain, it took me a long time to walk into a physio office here in Sydney. And even then, I saw a chiropractor and physio casually with no real mention of these long-term problems.

When I first found bounceREHAB, my visits were sparing. Rather than coming in to fend off the pain, I wouldn’t make an appointment until I had been nearly debilitated by it.

These poor habits of mine were seriously cramping my gratitude for walking (no pun intended). So, I asked Michael (one of the bounceREHAB physiology specialists) if he thought I could benefit from orthotics. After all, I saw in the front window that they had a podiatrist and an orthopedic surgeon on board – people that I knew should become my two favorite people!

With his expertise, Michael watched me do a poor-lady’s strut from one end of bounce to the other. It was quickly apparent even to me that my left side was rolling in significantly. You could almost see how the weakness in my ankle worked its way up my body like a pinball machine – ding, ding, ding: ankle, knee, hip, sciatic, shoulder, neck, and jaw. Each part fell together like a set of dominoes and suddenly, that T-shirt that says “Everything I need to know in life, I learned in Kindergarten” was repeating in my head the song: “Your ankle bone’s connected to your leg bone, your leg bone’s connected to your…”

*sigh*

Fitting for Orthotics

That’s when I booked in to meet Jeff. Jeff is bounceREHAB’s resident podiatrist and a super knowledgeable guy who hates Nike shoes (with good reason). We even had a bit of a falling out over the quality of Adidas for a few minutes before I took off my shoes, handed them over, and we gave them a go with lots of testing twists and turns. “These ones aren’t so bad…” seems to be the highest honour one could ever receive from a podiatrist.

Similar to Michael, Jeff watched me walk back and forth. He had me bend my feet around. And he had me do a few presses into his hands and on top of his knees. It was no surprise that my left side was WEAK SAUCE! It’s a wonder I have walked so much and so far over the years without even more problems.

In hindsight, I thought about the few special adventuring types in my life that had also received compression fractures to the tibia. These surfers and snowboarders all get to spend the rest of their days in special shoes. Think Forrest Gump. I don’t know why I had never before thought seriously about getting proper support from something as simple as an orthotic before I wind up causing myself serious, permanent damage.

The great part of this journey is how fast it was. Within 45 minutes, Jeff knew everything there was to know about me, had me all measured up for a custom-fitted pair of orthotics, and re-laced my shoes for a more supportive fit. I was promised orthotics within two weeks and I wound up receiving them in eight days!

Easing In

Jeff took the time to fit my most common pair of trainers to my orthotics precisely and explain to me all the do’s and don’ts of first time orthotic wear. Things like – don’t wear them full time at first, ease into them naturally, and get used to walking in them before you take them for a run or to a gym.

He explained that a lot of people feel like they’re now walking on the outsides of their feet and that the orthotics are pushing on their arches, when in fact it is just the feeling caused by the heel adjustment when, due to rolling into your step properly, you suddenly feel all the new feelings of walking correctly for the first time in a LONG time.

The feeling of orthotics certainly is different for everyone. My partner, for example, had been fit for a pair of orthotics years prior and they seemed to always be a big pain for him. Interestingly enough, they also seemed to be presented to him as a temporary care.

I asked Jeff about this and wondered if it was my case that was special. He simply said, “You know, I say this to all my patients, but orthotics only work when they’re working.” That is, when they’re being worn!

With all the right information, I left knowing I could naturally ease into wearing them and that it was up to me to decide if I would ever wear them all day, every day.

I had no trouble easing into them. I dedicate a certain pair of shoes to always having my orthotics. I wear this pair of shoes often and have even started to wear them on long walks or short runs.

For me personally, I wouldn’t say they are a pain. The feeling of orthotics was more like a good stretch through your plantar muscles. And that’s exactly why I didn’t want to wear them for too long at first and why I enjoy wearing them now.

Next stop: The Weight Loss Challenge, or an excuse for me to dedicate to strength training in time for a beach bod and a hiking trip to Iceland.