My Journey with Chronic Foot Pain

footprints

My chronic foot pain has gotten the better of me lately. It’s a world I never expected to enter (at least not in my 30s!) and is often times lonely. With each doctor and medical professional who tells me they don’t have a viable solution to offer, I lose more and more hope. There are days when I find myself falling in and out of depression. As there are no chronic pain support groups in my area, I started searching the online world and found surprisingly few personal stories about chronic foot pain – specifically for those under 40. Was I a rare case, or are there others out there who simply suffer in silence?

The latter proved to be true. I realized two things that seemingly contradict each other–that chronic pain sufferers assume no one wants to hear about their pain (so they don’t talk about it), and that they also don’t want to focus on their pain all the time (so they don’t talk about it). Especially when there’s no happy ending, or the ending is yet inconclusive, sharing about our struggles can make the listener feel helpless and dejected. We’d rather look at pretty pictures on Instagram.

But when I finally found some stories I could relate to (especially this story and this one), I did feel encouraged. At the least, less alone. So if there is anyone else out there who is in a similar position, I thought I’d finally share the full story of my journey in the last year. If you suffer from chronic foot issues (whether it’s a neuroma, a stress fracture, plantar fasciitis, or a nerve impingement, as I have all four!), I’d love to hear about it and support you.

It started last June. I had worn a pair of new flats to run errands, and my foot didn’t feel quite right after an hour. I took them off and figured the shoes needed to be broken into and I’d rest for the remainder of the day. The next morning I got out of bed and an excruciating pain shot up my left foot. I couldn’t stand. I couldn’t walk to the bathroom. So I crawled.

A friend came to visit later in the day, and not wanting to let her down, we went out for lunch and I pushed through the pain. The pain came and went, and this continued for about a month before I was able to see my podiatrist. After an X-ray and MRI, he told me I had a neuroma but it would get better. He told me to ice and rest, which is nearly impossible as a new mom with a four month old, but I followed the orders the best I could. I resorted to wearing chunky, supportive sneakers and have not worn regular shoes since.

Two months passed, and there was no improvement. I limped everywhere, as crutches overused my other foot (which already suffered from another problem). I saw a second podiatrist who made a pair of custom orthotics and gave me a cortisone shot. Both made little difference. She told me to wear an ankle brace, which didn’t help either. Finally, she suggested physical therapy. I went for two weeks before the therapist told me, “You’re fine,” when clearly I wasn’t.

Four more doctors, another cortisone shot, several different prescriptions of pain medication and then another physical therapist. This PT told me it would be months before I would get back on track, and after three months I finally noticed some signs of improvement. My hope renewed. Unfortunately, I also developed plantar fasciitis along the way.

This past April, I was waiting in line at the DMV when I noticed my left ankle started to hurt. The pain worsened by the minute, so I eventually just plopped myself on the ground, scooting my butt as the line moved. I was ever aware how ridiculous I must have looked when everyone else from 7 to 70 years old was properly standing, but I knew something was wrong.

The next week I saw a podiatrist who informed me that I now also had a nerve impingement, but he was sure it would go away after a while. How long “a while” was, he couldn’t say. He offered to prescribe some steroids, which I ended up refusing after reading the side effects.

Two months later, and I’m not doing much better. I can currently walk about 5-10 minutes an hour before my left foot/heel/ankle/achilles/calf gets fatigued. If I push past this point, a dull pain starts to creep in within minutes, followed by a sharp pain and tingling if I don’t sit down right away. The spoon theory is a genius way of explaining what chronic pain sufferers go through on a daily basis – once an hour I get a “spoon” on which I can use to either make myself a quick breakfast OR take a shower. If I’m having a good day, I can visit the grocery store OR meet a friend for lunch. I spend my day tracking steps, because if I go over a certain number I wake up the next morning in pain, and spend days recovering after that.

I’ve also seen a chiropractor, an acupuncturist, massage therapists that specialize in foot and bodywork, as well as trying an elimination and paleo diet. I’ve started taking daily supplements, calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B complex, in addition to different Chinese medicinal herbs. Our apartment is filled with all sorts of physical therapy gadgets, from a foam roller to an acupressure massager to a TENS machine. Acupuncture and massage seem to temporarily relieve pain for a day or two, but nothing seems to stick.

I do restoration yoga and swimming twice a week and work with a specialized trainer once a week. These are things I’m thankful for, as it keeps my body moving with minimal amount of pain. My instructors are also the people who have shown unwavering compassion and encourage me to not lose hope.

If you also suffer through chronic pain, I’d love to hear about your experiences. You can leave a comment here or email me. I do believe it is only through the support of a community that we can thrive and be our healthiest, happiest selves.

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Comments

  1. says

    There may not be a lot of people out there talking about chronic foot pain, but you are starting the conversation yourself! Have you considered joining the chronic illness bloggers network? We would love to have you and there is a lot of support to be found there. I’m so sad to hear you haven’t found more relief. You are so strong for continuing to try new things and tackle this pain every day!

    • lifeunrefined says

      I’m so honored you came and read this post! Yours has been so encouraging to me. I will have to check out the network. :) Thank you!

  2. Christine says

    Thank you for sharing Jen. It is so hard to have such a chronic condition and it really limits your ability to function in the world. I am thankful for the docs n other support you have but it still can’t be easy. The only way I relate is that I have chronic digestive issues. If I eat the wrong thing, it really sets me back. So I gotta make sure to make all my own food and it’s hard to be balanced and feel like I have enough to eat. But I don’t deal with chronic pain like you do. I am limited in my treatment options at the time because I’m breastfeeding. Plus even the doctors have a hard time knowing how to treat me. And my whole family has some food/digestion issues so it can be hard to take care of them and help them improve as well. 😛 I have definitely accepted it more than at first and I find that my food or preferences have changed for the better. But that took a few years. And of course it’s still frustrating at times. It’d be nice to have a break from cooking and add more variety to my diet. And it’d be nice to be able to go out n be social without planning so much in advance what we will eat. Anyways, I admire your courage for sharing and I think the constant pain and limited movement is probably harder than what I deal with. Not that we need to compare I guess. It’s hard to imagine having such a hard time moving. I like your spoons analogy. It makes sense. Helps me understand. Ok. Sorry for rambling. And I hope these issues can keep improving. I know there aren’t easy answers.

    • lifeunrefined says

      I asked the husband if he’d rather have my chronic foot issues or chronic food/digestion issues and being a food lover he said he’d rather have the former. I so admire you for all the years you’ve been trying to figure out what you can/cannot eat, especially for the sake of your babies. There aren’t easy answers for any of our challenges, but hopefully we can survive through the people around us who care, and our faith.

  3. Virginia says

    Yes, thanks for sharing what you’ve been going through I didn’t realize the severity. Around 7 years ago, I developed eczema in my hands. The drying/cracking in the winter and then itchiness in the summer reminds me of my chronic skin condition. Hang in there. I’m also extra amazed at you lasting so long at the LI holiday party back in December.

    • lifeunrefined says

      My sister has eczema and I see her struggling through the different seasons with it. I can’t imagine what you guys have to go through, with the itchiness and pain. I hope there will eventually be a way to provide lasting relief that isn’t through steroids. Hugs!

  4. kay says

    Hi, I have chronic foot and chronic muscle problems too (chronic too many to list).

    After trying many types of orthotics, I have found that the one made with plaster of paris mold when i was lying on my tummy so the foot curves are pronounced.. helped a lot. Using that cast, my orthotics were custom molded using some kind of rubber looking material. It looks ugly but seems to do a much better job than other foam moulded /stiff orthotics or digitally done with flat orthotics .. I’ve worn the rubber looking orthotics for 6 years now and it’s helped a lot with foot pain. It just looks like rubber but not rubber and is not flexible like rubber.

    • lifeunrefined says

      Fascinating! Thank you, Kay, for sharing this! Do you think this is something I can just ask any podiatrist to do, or is it a special technique?

  5. says

    Gosh, I am a wimp and squirm at anything that causes pain. I do hope you continue to post your stories on pain and what helps! It seems like all of us will eventually get some sort of chronic disease or annoying body discomfort at some point in our lives… I recently went to a lecture about stem cell therapy for pain…and am curious if that would be something we can look forward to if it works! I am always praying for scientists and health providers to find new effective treatments!

    • lifeunrefined says

      I’ve read a bit about stem cell therapy too, and it sounds so promising. I hope this is something we don’t have to wait too long in the future for. Thanks for encouraging me to keep writing, it means a lot!

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