I saw a podiatrist yesterday about my aching heel, and it was quite an adventure. I was unsure about seeing a podiatrist just based on the fact that I’m a barefoot/minimalist runner, and we are not exactly accepted (on the whole) by the medical community. Still I knew that I needed a professional opinion so I made the appointment and went with an open mind in hopes that it would be an easy fix. Turns out it is a lot more of an issue than I had ever imagined.
Back in June I felt a sharp pain at the end of a 100 meter sprint during a workout with a client. Doing sprints is nothing out of the ordinary for me. Maybe doing as many as we did at the speed we did them was different from the norm but not much. Still at the end of the tenth sprint I felt the pain as I was slowing down. My initial thought was that I had just come down too hard on my heel and that I needed to remember to pay better attention to my form next time. That was the end of our workout so I figured I would just go rest it and maybe throw some ice on it to give it a little extra help in the recovery process.
I woke the next day to it hurting more than the previous day. This concerned me as the pain grew for the next few days but leveled out by the end of the week. I knew that I had hurt something, but my heel was swollen, and the whole thing hurt so I had no way to telling what exactly was wrong. At the time I did not have the funds to see a doc so I had a doctor at the clinic I work at take some x-rays for me. The x-rays showed no structural damage so I figured I strained something, and it would get better.
Fast forward to today, and I have a hard knot on the bottom of my heel. It hurts to walk and stand on that heel without a padded shoe under it. I have a closet full of minimal shoes collecting dust because it’s too painful to wear them. Thankfully I have been able to find some good alternatives to conventional shoes that also give me enough cushion to keep the pain away. Still, as great as it is to have these options, my heart belongs to the minimal world. I love the feeling of being barefoot, and it’s a feeling I honestly long for since the pain first began.
I got to the doctor’s office today and signed in with high hopes. I had researched treatment options for heel spurs (which is what I had diagnosed as my problem), and some of them I felt I might have a chance at affording since I am not a person blessed with medical insurance. I was called back, and the first stop was for x-rays, then to my exam room. The doc came in and went through the typical questions about pain and issues I’m having. He then checked my ankle’s range of motion and strength levels before he started poking and prodding all around my ankle. I wondered, “Why is he asking me if it hurts when he presses on my ankle? My pain is in my heel.” He then asked exactly where my pain is, and I pointed straight to the bottom of my heel so he had me stand, walk, and hop on it, all of which hurt on the hard floor with my bare feet.
He sat me back down, and we went over my x-rays, where he pointed to a large dark area on my calcaneus (the big bone in your foot) that did not look like the rest of bones. There were no lines like the rest of the bone, and it looked like I had a big blob or a hole in the bone. The blob is actually a cyst. I was told it looks to be benign, but as always there’s no way of really knowing that until someone goes in there and finds out. I was also told that it could be the cause of my pain, which was something that really bothered me as this was not something I had contemplated. I was not happy at all to hear that something could come out of the blue and change my game plan. He said the next step is to get an MRI and use that to start ruling things out. My heart sank.
MRI’s are expensive and well out of my financial ability right now so I knew that I was about to hit a dead end in my quest to get rid of this pain and get back to enjoying my minimal footwear life. I asked him about the protrusion on my heel, and he said it could be a chunk of torn tissue that rolled back or that it could also be part of this cyst that had grown down to the bottom of my heel. My heart sank even further as I realized I was now faced with no options other than to learn how to live with the pain. I met with his office manager, who got the financials on the MRI cost, and I felt sick to my stomach as I told her I would be in touch.
I walked out of the office angry, and I tried to project it on the doc as I felt he just brushed me aside and never really poked around my heel like I wanted him to, but that was just an angry mind at work. I spent the rest of the day in a major funk that has not completely cleared as I write this post. The truth is I now have a really unpleasant road ahead of me. I cannot come close to affording all that is required now to properly diagnose and eliminate this issue so I have to face a hard truth that this pain in my foot is now part of everyday life for possibly the rest of my days. I spent a good eight years living with intense knee pain that just became part of how I normally felt, and I had hoped those kinds of days were behind me, but it turns out I was just taking a break.
The plan now is to change the mindset about the pain. It is not temporary, and there is no light at the end of the tunnel, which is actually somewhat helpful. I have an uncanny ability to adapt to pain, and knowing that the pain is “permanent” is a strong weapon in my arsenal to developing a comfort level with it. It seems my minimal shoes will continue to collect dust except for when I run. I love running bare and minimal so I will get back to doing that but in moderation, and I will mix in some time in racing flats to give the heel a break. As for day to day life the minimal shoes will have to bow out of use, and I will stick to using my racing flats and what has become my heel’s savior, the Altra Instinct.
It’s not ideal, and I’m not happy, but when given few choices I’ll choose to do what I have to in order to do what I love. I can live with pain, but I cannot live with allowing an injury to take running away from me again. I did that for eight years, and I was incomplete. I got running back, and I’m not willing to let it go without a fight.