It was a dark and stormy night. I was laying around watching the lighting and counting the seconds from the time I heard the thunder; one, two, three, four, loud boom. That meant the lightening was only four miles away. Why is this exciting? I have no clue but we’ve all done it.
I did that evening have some anxiety because the next day I was going under the knife to have some bone spurs removed from my left ankle. I came to find out though, to the stroking of my ego testosterone self, the doctor had to actually use a chisel and hammer to chop them off. I didn’t just have spurs; I had some tough ass whooping spurs! I only wish now the doctor had put them in a jar so I could set them next to my tonsils on the window sill!
These were no ordinary bone spurs. They were like close family to me because they were created spraining my ankle during my youth basketball days. You see I’m no ordinary graceful and powerful athlete. I was rather clumsy and I sprained or turned that ankle at least a thousand times from the time I started playing hoops as a tall lanky sixth grader with no skills except I was the tallest kid in elementary school, until I final retired in my mid thirties. Ex-jocks use the term retire because it makes us feel like all the time we spent in the gym didn’t go to waste. You’ve heard the saying, “The older I get the better I was?”, applied to me as well! I actually just quit playing because it was no fun being in pain for five days after I played and I got tired of chasing the youngsters up and down the court.
When I would sprain my ankle it would look pregnant from all the swelling and get this creamy black, blue and red color. However my coaches were not benevolent obstetricians, but more like prison guards barking out, “You wimp, just tape it up, quit whining and get back in the game!” So that’s what I did. Little did I know then being “manly” only invited Mr. Morton to show up on my right foot later in my life. Had I known that then (famous last words) I might have done things a little differently.
Do you see the mystery novel unfolding? How do all the injuries to my LEFT ankle affect my RIGHT foot? I hope the suspense is killing you. Remember it’s a dark and stormy night!
During all the times I sprained that ankle I only had one physical therapy session on it. That was in high school. I thought I had died and went to the “You’re a special athlete heaven” because I finally had a professional work to take all the pain and swelling out of my ankle and tape it up properly. I never wanted to take that tape off. I think I kept that tape job on for three months! The only reason I finally took the tape off was because it was beginning to smell worse than my jock strap!
Once my mom was concerned enough with the swelling and the pretty black and blue colors that she took me to see an orthopedic doctor. “Wow” I thought to myself as a 15 year old boy. I’m going to see one of those doctors you read about in Sports Illustrated when an NBA player is hurt and is cared for. Surely a boy like me should be so lucky.
In the end, all the orthopedic doctor did was to drain the swelling out of the ankle and tell me, “You’ll probably have major issues with your ankle in the future so I recommend you quit playing sports.” So I finally now understood what disappointment felt like. I mean I had lost games before and never felt that bad. Was he for real? Quit playing? You had to drag me out of the gym to get me to leave. I was not going to quit and I let my mom know that on the way home.
Well fast forward to about the time I was in my late thirties. I was beginning to have some pain in my feet so I went to see a podiatrist, a foot doctor. Surely a respected doctor could help me. He did, in a way. He did not take any x-rays but recommend I wear a special hard plastic “orthotic” in my shoes. So that’s what I did for about 10 years. It did help, after about three months of hell, the pain finally went away.
Oh but now the story gets better.
I had finally busted through the couch potato phase of my life and one day decided that I wanted to participate in an Ironman Triathlon. Does that sound nuts to you? I could have started with a mini-triathlon first and worked my way up to the hardest endurance event in the world. Well, I never did anything easy in my life, why start now? So I skipped the “I’ll work up to it phase” and just went for the big Kahoka.
Well as it turned out, I trained and trained and trained for 14 months and in April 2007 I crossed the finish line of the coveted Ironman Triathlon, 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking and running 26.2 miles; a total of 140.6 miles. Just me and my hard plastic orthotics were now an Ironman! You didn’t think I was going to leave them at home did you?
After the Ironman I was hooked on endurance sports. Not just the kind of hook you go fishing with either. It was a big hook. Worse than being a heroin addict!
Do I need to explain overuse injuries? Those are the kind that takes months to manifest when you do a repetitive action like swimming, biking or running over and over and over again. When something is “off” a little in your body and you work it enough times, the “little” part turns into a “big” part and you’re in so much pain you can’t do anything.
For me it was finally when Mr. Morton showed up in my right foot. Crud, I didn’t even invite him either. I hate guests that just show up unannounced. At first I didn’t even know his name. So I went to see a different podiatrist, a foot doctor trained to find out how to fix foot pain. When I first saw him he did his poking around and never really asked me any foot health history questions. He said, “Yes I see this all the time.”
“So doc, what is it?” I asked
“Oh nothing really.” he said. “But do these exercises and if it still hurts, come back and see me.” I thought how on earth is just stretching my toes going to make the pain go away when I was pounding on the foot by running and biking? I knew something was not quite right.
I think he really didn’t know Mr. Morton had showed up.
I did “those exercises” as I was training to run the Chicago Marathon. The pain never went away. Crud, I did my part so why did my foot still hurt? Uh, maybe the doctor didn’t know what the crap he was talking about?
I went back to see the doctor and he shot me up with a steroid. Man, I grew extra hair on my chest and my pain went away. I could run as fast as a Kenyon too. My wife loved my deeper voice but I didn’t care much for the pimples I got and the fact my neck swelled to the size of an NFL linebacker.
I ran the Chicago Marathon without foot pain and was really pretty happy.
I then visited my new triathlon coach in Florida. She gave me some cool run drills to do. I liked them because it made me feel like a 15 year old athlete again. For a 50 year old, feeling 15 again is really special. I was excited to go home and start my new running drills.
I went home and told my wife all the stuff I had learned and how excited I was to start my new triathlon training. She, as always, listened with her accepting eyes but her ears were closed. I must admit, living with an Ironman Triathlete is rather boring. I love my wife for putting up with all my aches, pains and whines.
The next day I went to the park to run and do my run drills. But no sooner than I got warmed up, BAM, Mr. Morton came back. Now I would have been happy if it took a few training sessions to come back but oh, no, not Mr. Morton. He came back worse than before. D*mn it! This was sucking eggs!
So like a good athlete I just took some time off. I explained the problem to my chiropractor and she agreed rest might solve the problem. Like a good patient, I rested and iced it for 12 weeks. The pain was gone and I decided to do a short and easy run after those 12 weeks. Mr. Morton woke up from his 12 week nap and was not happy.
So I decided to take matters in my own hands. The doctors were only treating the symptom and not the problem. I had a doctor friend of my mine write a prescription for an MRI. That would show me what the real problem was.
Yes, the MRI worked well. I finally had the last name of Mr. Morton. I had Morton’s Neuroma. Finally I knew what my problem was. All the research I did on-line suggested I needed a podiatrist to treat me and if Mr. Morton didn’t go away, they would get to cut it out. Still, nothing on-line suggested why I had developed the problem. I knew from experience (they say that experience is the best teacher) that those little exercises would not work and I didn’t want another steroid injection.
My trusted chiropractor did not have an answer so she sent me to a sport injury and rehabilitation chiropractor. Now I was getting somewhere.
Dr. B, the new guy on my team, greeted me and said, “Let me see the MRI results.” After just a few seconds, he said, “Morton’s neuroma, no problem. I’ll have you running pain free and without your orthotics in about six weeks!” Wow, not pain and I can chuck my orthotics.
I was jazzed! Six weeks and no steroids? Now that is something I liked.
I’ll bet your dying to know how my left ankle caused my right foot to have Mr. Morton. Drum roll please!
Dr. B said that Morton’s neuroma is caused by my right foot overpronating. That’s when my foot lands on the ground the ankle rolls too much to the outside. This is caused by a tight hamstring. So Dr. B, like a good scientist asked the question, “Why is your right hamstring tight?” He said hamstrings get tight when they are being over recruited due to some imbalance. He said almost all imbalances are caused by one side of the body being strong and the other weak. So he tested some more.
At last, he found the first right answer. My left glut (that’s my butt cheek) was weak. Wow, my left weak butt cheek was causing my right foot to cater to Mr. Morton. Um?
Now Dr. B asked another question, “Why is your left glut weak?” You would have asked the same question, right? Then as he was testing my left leg for my right foot problem he discovered the real problem.
Let’s stop there for a moment. Did you get a big “A ha?” All the other “doctors trained to treat symptoms and never the cause” completely overlooked the obvious. Seems to me that they wanted to move onto the next patient, kinda like “wham bam”, see my billing clerk on the way out.
As Dr. B probed for answers he asked if I had ever played hoops as a youth. He was about my age and played hoops himself. When I told him I lived in a gym for about 15 years of my life he asked if I had ever sprained my left ankle and didn’t have physical therapy. Dah! I told him, “About 1,000 times!”
He wanted me to get an x-ray on my left ankle. How strange is that? I went in to see him about my right foot pain and I leave with a prescription to have my left ankle x-rayed! That makes perfect sense, right?
I got the x-ray and it confirmed the bone spurs.
Now we knew.
So he said, “Let’s strengthen the glut and hamstring and see how the right foot does. It took about 8 weeks of training using Pilates, among other routines, and Mr. Morton was permanently retired. Dr. B also recommended eating large quantities of pineapple and some other supplements. Now that’s novel. Strengthen what is weak and eat right. Now we’re talking!
I was pain free and participated in two more Ironman triathlons. Dr. B and I agreed that the only way for me to run faster, I had to get the full use out of my left ankle and the only way to do that was to have the bone spurs removed.
That was about a year ago. During the year as my left leg became stronger and more flexible, I pulled its calf muscle twice and my hamstring once because it was finally being asked to participate in my running and biking. Then I had two weeks of lower back issues on my left side. Da*m Mr. Morton! Now he’s screwing up my left leg. Oh well, it’s part of the journey.
Finally now I’m back to having both of my legs working about the same. I still have a ways to go but now I’m on the path to 100% functional health. Now, I finally feel like that 15 year old boy inside of me.
I do have something to say to all the doctors that only treated the symptom, BITE ME!
What did I learn? Well a couple of things that I hope you can learn from as well.
1) If you get an injury anywhere, seek good physical therapy to rehabilitate it FAST. It will help to insure something else doesn’t get hurt as a result.
2) Seek doctors, like chiropractors, that heal naturally. Hopefully select one that participates in your sport.
3) If you do see an MD, realize they are trained to treat symptoms and not the cause. But if it is a must, make sure they participate in your sport. If you develop an injury and you’re a runner and see a doctor that just plays golf, he or she will not have the skill to understand the dynamics of your specialty. Just because they have MD behind their name doesn’t mean they’ll understand how to help you.
4) Initially use ice to curb the pain and don’t use anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin.
5) You’re going to have to do some work after the injury to fix the problem. It won’t be easy but it will be worth it.
6) You’ll have to introduce a “regular” strength and flexibility program in your life or training. You can’t cheat your body.
7) To obtain excellent health and fitness, only 10% is related to exercise and the other 90% is related to nutrition.
While it was sad to bury Mr. Morton, it was a funeral that I rejoiced in. I owe Mr. Morton a lot. He taught me some great life experiences. RIP, Mr. Morton. By the way, I don’t have a picture of him on my wall!