Friday, December 28, 2007

In Defense of Limping

I have a bum achilles tendon—achilles tendonosis and Haglund's heel deformity, according to my podiatrist. Achilles tendonosis differs from tendonitis in that it is a more permanent condition that can't just be cured with rest and so forth. It is a degeneration and thickening of the achilles tendon that results in the same kind pain and inflammation as tendonitis. Haglund's heel is a protrusion of the heel bone that tends to aggravate the achilles tendon as it stretches over the bone. That is my very non-scientific, uneducated description of these conditions.

What this results in is varying levels of pain and discomfort in my heel and ankle when I walk, and sometimes when I run. It's only risen to severe pain on a few occasions (which is when I ended up at the podiatrist). Mostly it is a low level of pain that often recedes once I warm up walking or running. I manage it by using orthotics in the heels of my running shoes (making my shoes the most expensive running shoes ever), Advil when needed, sometimes icing, and not running every single day (big sacrifice there!).

And sometimes I limp. I believe that limping is my body's way of accommodating the pain in my ankle when I walk. Walking with a normal gait would cause more stress and pain than allowing that little bit of a lurch. Luckily, if I walk for a few minutes the pain (and limp) usually goes away (and I never limp when I'm running). Of course, the limp is more noticeable in day to day activities, where I am just walking short distances at work and home without an opportunity to warm up, rather than on a longer, extended walk.

What completely amazes me is accusatory way people point out that I am limping! I mean, people who can probably barely walk a block without getting winded point out that I am limping, as if it is some kind of character flaw. (Okay, a more charitable person would think that perhaps they are just concerned about my well-being, but harrumph! that is not me.) So then I have to explain that yes, I may be limping a little, I have this achilles tendon problem that sometimes acts up and I can't help but limp. What I think they are implying is that if I didn't run so much, I would not be limping around in my off times.

Maybe so, but as I said, I don't limp when I run.

(Sometimes I also limp or walk stiffly because I am just sore from exercising a lot, or climbing hills, or using some muscles that are less accustomed to strenuous activity. Eventually that wears away too.)

I would love it if my achilles tendon were miraculously cured so that I can run and walk as much as I wanted without an ache or a pain. As it is, I try to be mindful and allow rest periods, as well as avoiding explosive activities that could put too much stress on the achilles tendon and really cause more injury. (I paid for the jumping jacks I did in a Thanksgiving Day workout. So jumping, and high impact aerobics, are really off the table for me.)

I'm not interested in surgery, unless it is really a last ditch option. And I'm not planning on stopping running anytime soon. So you'll see me in the next 5K (or 10K, or half marathon), and you may see me limping a little the next day. Pass the Advil!

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