It’s tough to know when to throw in the towel on a physical activity that may be tearing up the body. While tennis or running or dance comes with benefits that can’t be measured, the time spent on activities such as these could very well be deducting time from some undefined pursuit meant to take place down the road. Engaging in a physical passion becomes a balancing act between resting in the joy of exertion and assessing the damage.
Some six years ago, at the ripe old age of 45, I wondered if I would have to curtail my hiking. I was camping in the Anza Borrego Desert with some friends, and we tackled Whale Peak, which is a modest, squat sort of peak, albeit a hill that offers impressive views. By the time we made it back to camp, we had put in close to 9 miles.
The next morning I could barely walk. I was in shock, harboring thoughts like, Already? My feet hurt, I was less able to keep up, and I wondered if I was going to become one of those people who could do little more than putter around the house.
While I never went to a doctor for an official diagnosis, a friend and former nurse suggested I might be dealing with plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis, according to The Gale Encyclopedia of Fitness, “is a condition in which the plantar fascia–the arch tendon in the foot–becomes very painful, swollen, irritated, or inflamed when tiny tears occur on its surface.” It tends to develop in middle-aged people who have traditionally been very active. It can also be a problem for those who are overweight.
I started looking for solutions, and it wasn’t long before I encountered some useful advice, suggestions like: wear larger shoes, add inserts to cushion my feet, and stretch regularly (particularly the Achilles tendons, calf muscles, and hamstrings).
While all of this helped to some degree, I found myself scaling back. I let go of tennis, which was really bothering my feet, and I watched my hikes grow shorter. I began to exist inside a smaller box—I began to accept that fact. And I allowed myself to live with an out of shape feeling, which I hated.
Then last fall I tried to figure out – yet again – what I could do in order to stay fit. This time I tested the treadmill, with the hope that I could jog on it safely.
Things did not go smoothly. In the beginning I dealt with the expected getting-in-shape soreness. That I could accept. Yet my feet quickly became painful—I literally hobbled out of bed. And while the overall soreness went away after a couple of weeks, my feet kept screaming. Despair over the possibility that I was stuck with a sedentary lifestyle was sinking in fast.
Meanwhile, I’d been seeing a rolfer for several other trouble spots. I wasn’t expecting him to help me with my feet, but one day this dilemma came up in casual conversation. To my surprise, he immediately suggested he could work on it. He told me something else, too, something that really eased my mind. He said the pain was mainly due to lactic acid build up (the same phenomenon that causes overall soreness when a person returns to exercise after being inactive). This surprised me because my feet seemed so wobbly and sore—I thought I was dealing with a problem that was causing serious debilitation. I’d been backing off on everything, so that the pain would back off (so that I wouldn’t injure myself even further). But lactic acid? Well, I knew about that.
Rolfing, according to The Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, is “a holistic system of bodywork that uses deep manipulation of the body’s soft tissue to realign and balance the body’s myofascial structure. Rolfing improves posture, relieves chronic pain, and reduces stress.”
It is a bit of a commitment. Most practitioners ask their clients to schedule a series of ten sessions, as rolfers employ a methodical process that eventually covers the entire body. In other words, each session builds on what was done during previous sessions.
I actually went through this series over ten years ago, but I’ve continued to see my rolfer for tune-ups. He’s particularly worked wonders on my cranky lower back. Because of this, I was happy to let him take on my feet.
He explained why he thought it would help. He believes manipulating the fascia in the feet helps to stretch it out, as well as relieve lactic acid build up. This all sounded well and good, but I didn’t expect much. I’d been grappling with this soreness, with mixed results, for too long.
I am pleased to note his treatments on my feet have delivered some remarkable results. I can now work out and feel normal – almost pain free – the rest of the time. Even better, I’ve resumed the sort of workout I enjoy doing, putting in 3.5 miles on the treadmill four to five times a week. I’m in shape again and no longer worrying about living a sedentary life (for the moment, anyway).
Of course, I never had an official diagnosis from a doctor, so perhaps I got it wrong about the plantar fasciitis. All I know is, the moment my feet touch the floor in the morning, I don’t notice them.
Atkins, William A. “Plantar fasciitis.” The Gale Encyclopedia of Fitness, Ed. Jacqueline L. Longe. Detroit: Gale, 2012. Health and Wellness Resource Center. Web. 15 Jan. 2014.
Wells, Ken R. “Rolfing.” The Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. Ed. Laurie J. Fundukian. 3rd ed. Vol. 3. Detroit: Gale, 2009. 1940-1943. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 15 Jan. 2014.