Monday, March 6, 2017

Fankle Recovery, Month Seven

(This is my seventh post in My Fankle Journey.)

Wow, I can't believe it's actually been seven full months since my posterior tibial tendon surgery (August 3rd, 2016)! When I began my Fankle journey, I honestly never thought my recovery would take this long! And yet here I am, still quite in the middle of my ankle-surgery recovery. So, I thought I'd give a little bit of an update as to where Fankle stands today! 😉

I still have stiffness and some degree of pain in my Fankle every morning when I wake up. It doesn't seem to matter what I've done the day before, I'm still always aware that Fankle exists. I can stretch and stretch my calf and ankle until I feel I'm going to scream from the tediousness of it all (#mytedioustendon! ha ha), and finally feel better for a little while, but it never lasts long. I'll excitedly think, "Hey! Maybe I am improving! Maybe I'll feel significantly better tomorrow!" But sadly, I wake up the very next morning with my familiar ankle stiffness/pain in tow. It's very disheartening and beyond frustrating.

I've had a few blessed days over the past seven months where I didn't have pain (just an awareness that Fankle exists), but they didn't last. 😢 I've tried to figure out any sort of pattern as to what I did differently that made my pain disappear during those minuscule days, but for the life of me, I can't see any regularity in my behavior that constitutes a pain-free, non-tight Fankle.

I wear supportive athletic shoes with good arch supports about 80% of the time; I've stretched Fankle until the cows come home; I've iced my way through untold on-demand TV episodes; I've worn high heels once in a while to give my tendon a break (Because I have high arches, high heels are truly such a nice break{!}, which I know sounds a little nutty, but it's true!); I've massaged my ankle for unbelievably lengthy periods of time; I've taken super hot showers; I've done and done and done! But after all of my work and experimenting, nothing makes sense as to what makes my Fankle totally pain-free for longer than one day at a time.

The one thing that does make sense is this: I will definitely not take any more pain pills during the rest of my recovery unless it's absolutely necessary. I've learned that it's much better to feel my ankle pain every day so I don't overdo it, than to blissfully not feel any pain at all and definitely overdo it. (I already explained in my post, "Fanklebaby" about the negative effects of NSAIDs on tendon healing, which is the main reason I don't take ibuprofen on a regular basis.)

Every time I've taken ibuprofen during the day (maybe four times in the past seven months?), I've totally regretted it the next day. My Fankle always seems to take at least three days to recover from my pain-free ibuprofen-induced frivolity 😉, and I'll not to do it anymore! In my defense, I took pain meds in the first place because I was enduring Shark Week, i.e., it was that not-so-lovely time of the month and I needed some real help to survive my day! Thus, after all of my efforts, I'm trying to convince myself that it's just a matter of time for my ankle pain to fully subside.

From all the research I've done (I've spent uncountable hours researching posterior tibial tendon repair surgeries!), I see over and over that until about nine–12 months, ankle surgery patients are still suffering and feeling some sort of pain on a daily basis. Yeah, that would have been great information for my podiatrist to give me before and after my surgery!

My only criticism of my podiatrist is that he definitely should have prepared me for a year-long recovery! Yet nothing in our appointments leading up to my surgery ever indicated such a lengthy, complicated, heart-wrenching recovery! But maybe it's just me who's struggling? #idon'tthinkso! 😒 I'm sincerely not trying to diss my podiatrist—I know he's one of the best podiatrists in my area—but I honestly wonder what he was thinking when he prepared me for surgery and left out the vitally important year-long-recovery bit?!?! #frustration!

*One of the reasons I continue sharing my experiences with posterior tibial tendon surgery recovery is to help others in the same boat know what to expect. I've been greatly helped by people online sharing their experiences with the same surgery I had, so I hope I can help someone else navigate this painful process in the future!

I promise, I don't mean to sound so gloomy! I'm just being realistic. Recovering from major ankle surgery is a major deal, plain and simple!

The good news is, I am getting stronger! Yay! When I first began my new at-home physical therapy regimen (after I finished my in-office physical therapy—December 27th, 2016), I was ridiculously sore every single day. I almost couldn't even stand to walk around my house! No pun intended! It took everything inside of me to keep doing my physical therapy routine on a daily basis. After I completed my first week of at-home physical therapy, I finally began to feel a little less sore. At week two, I thought, "I'm going to survive!" 😊

As I've said before, obedience takes strength! And it took a lot of physical, emotional, and spiritual strength for me to stick with my entire physical therapy program (in-office and at-home) for 17 full weeks!


Thus, there really aren't enough positive words/sayings/descriptions to express how thrilled I was when I completed my entire physical therapy program on February 8th, 2017! Aahh! 😁 I was beyond excited and happy to finally be rid of my daily physical therapy routines! I don't know if I've ever been so tired and filled with pain for such a long period of time. So yeah, it feels unbelievably great knowing I've done my very best! 

As I've continued recovering, I've been exercising to my PiYo videos occasionally over the past several weeks. PiYo has been really fun(!), but I could tell after completing several videos that Fankle wasn't doing very well with it—even though it's pretty much all non-impact. Near the beginning of doing PiYo, my ankle began swelling again and I took it as a sign that I needed to back off the serious exercising for a few more weeks. Lately, Fankle has been much less swollen, and I'm really excited about that improvement! 😀

*Side note: One of my physical therapists said it would take about six months for the swelling in my ankle to go completely away, and she was right. It was probably around six-and-a-half months when Fankle finally stopped being swollen consistently every day. As I've begun month seven of my recovery, the swelling is pretty much gone! Hip hip hooray! Occasionally I'll have some swelling right around my surgical site if I've been on my feet for many hours without taking a break. But I think it's safe to say that the extreme swelling I endured for so many months on end is (hopefully) a thing of the past!

My great news happened on February 4th when I s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d my ankle while reading a book in bed. (That sounds lazy, but I literally had no more get up and go juice left inside of me! I was beyond exhausted and simply had to take a break. If I hadn't fully rested that day, I honestly think I could have fallen asleep in the middle of my day!) Let me explain...


One of the things I did while recovering from my longboarding accident—before my surgery—was stretching my ankle by pulling my toes upward. Whenever I did that motion (usually in bed while I was barely waking up) I felt a sickening, prickly, stinging sensation in my posterior tibial tendon. Yes, it was very painful, but it was also the strangest feeling i'd ever experienced. At the time, I couldn't pinpoint what that pain was; what was causing it; what it meant; or how describe it to anyone, but now I know better!

It sounds horrible, but I know now that every time I stretched my toes and pulled my foot upward (before my surgery), I was pulling apart any healing that my posterior tibial tendon had accomplished. 😓 I'm guessing I probably made my torn tendon worse with every foot flex! I shudder to think about those icky moments!

So, four Saturdays ago, when I was stretching my foot like I had many times in the past, I felt something very different. I suddenly felt strength in my posterior tibial tendon! Yes, I still have ankle pain (probably from scar tissue), but I no longer feel the same weakness, or experience that intense fear/worry that I've endured for so many months. (It's been nine months {tomorrow} since my accident!) I nearly cried tears of joy for feeling that new strong sensation! I only hope that lovely feeling continues!

I'm sure some of you will laugh at me for sharing this, but one of the things that's been sooo hard for me is not being able to wear every pair of my favorite high heels like I want. Yes, I'm able to wear wedges and many versions of high heels, but I haven't been able to wear all of my awesome platform high heels just yet—Fankle is simply not ready for them. Even though I have so many cute pairs of high heels that I really want to wear to church again (and my church wardrobe is subsequently smaller because some of my dresses are too long for non-platform shoes), I'll have to continue being patient. #thestoryofmylife! 😂

I repeatedly tell myself, "Wait until ____ months, then reevaluate where you are. Maybe after ____ months you can wear those platform high heels again!" It's become quite comical (and frustrating) that I'm still telling myself that same bit of advice no matter how many months pass! The good news is, I can see real progress in my high-heal-wearing abilities! 👠 I'm getting better and better at wearing them with each passing Sunday! #yayme! I don't want to get overly excited, but I think I might be able to wear all of my shoes (for limited periods of time) within another month or two! #freakin'hallelujah! I'll just have to patiently wait and see...

One area of my recovery that continues to puzzle me is that my posterior tibial muscle itself continues to be so darn tight and achy all along/behind my tibia. I keep thinking it will loosen up one of these days, but it's not happening. Yes, I expected my tendon to be tight because it had surgery and the scar tissue has built up—but not my entire muscle!

There are days when I just want to take a big soup spoon and push/dig/scrape my posterior tibial muscle until it finally relaxes! That sounds insane, but I can't describe it any other way. Plus, the posterior tibial muscle is just super hard to get at. I've watched massage videos to see how they access it, but I've not been very successful at it myself. The good news is, my muscle tightness has improved/relaxed a teeny bit over the past month! It's by no means perfect yet, but I'm finally catching this little glimmer of hope that one day I won't want to dig my calf muscle with a soup spoon! Ha ha. 😄

I'm also beyond ready to be able to run up and down my stairs again! It's crazy to think how much the little things bother us when we aren't able to do them anymore. I had years when I was exhausted every day because of my hypothyroidism, and running up/down the stairs was the last thing I wanted to do! Yet, oh my, what I wouldn't give to be able to fully bound up and down the stairs any time I want! That said, I've felt a smidgen of improvement on my stairs the past couple of weeks! I tried bounding just a little bit, and it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be! Yay! Thus, I'm going to keep trying a little more every day! Within reason, of course...

One thing that has helped me tremendously over the past several weeks was something President Russell M. Nelson said in his most recent Worldwide Devotional. He said (these are separate paragraphs throughout his talk—emphasis added),
"When I was a young medical student, my rigorous study of the human body convinced me that God lived. And as I came to know that the body was God’s creation, I became increasingly intrigued with the [divine laws] of God that govern the function of the body." 
"Divine law is incontrovertible and irrefutable. Divine law cannot be denied or disputed." 
"...Not even for God’s prophet could the [divine] law relating to the transmission of electricity be ignored." 
"In a coming day, you will present yourself before the Savior. You will be overwhelmed to the point of tears to be in His holy presence. You will struggle to find words to thank Him for paying for your sins, for forgiving you of any unkindness toward others, for healing you from the injuries and injustices of this life."
While President Nelson was mainly referring to heart surgery in this example of divine law, the Holy Ghost helped me take his words in a completely different direction because I needed that spiritual uplift. 😇

As I thought about my human body in relation to what President Nelson taught, I internalized that our Heavenly Father's divine laws also apply to me.

I thought about the fact that tendons are one of the s.l.o.w.e.s.t. healing tissues in the human body.

I thought about the fact that my ankle's blood supply isn't the greatest right where the posterior tibial tendon is. Yet I know that's exactly how the human body had to be formed—because what if our ankles had a gushing blood supply like we do in our heads? Can you imagine the amount of blood that would pool/escape if/when we accidentally cut our feet? If we had the same amounts of blood in our feet as we do in our heads, we could bleed out so very quickly because of gravity pulling the blood away from our hearts.

I also thought about the fact that the posterior tibial tendons are two of the most important tendons in the human body! Because of their great importance in holding up the arches of our feet, of course the posterior tibial tendons take even longer to heal than most other tendons—more of our mobility is at risk, so they must be darn well strong enough to support our bodies' "suspension bridges"!

I thought about how any tissue in the human body won't grow to its full potential unless and until it is worked and moderately stressed. Without resistance, human tissues atrophy—which is exactly what happened when I was fully protected by my boot/cast and crutches! My calf muscle shrank an enormous amount. And my thigh and buttock muscles shrank a pretty significantly, too. Yes, I had to let my ankle tissues (posterior tibial tendon, tendon sheath, flexor retinaculum, skin) heal from the surgery, but they were nowhere near completely healed until the pressure, weight, and stretching happened from putting my full body weight on my foot. Basically (and obviously!), I had to work to regain my ankle motion and muscle strength!

In further pondering my ankle's recovery and divine law, I find it fascinating that we are commanded to work. Our Heavenly Father's divine law dictates that our growth and healing—whether it be physical or spiritual—won't ever be complete unless we work. Jesus Christ's work is what created our beautiful Earth, and His work is precisely what will bring us back to our Heavenly Father. He said, "For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." (Moses 1:39.)

Jesus Christ is the perfect example of our Heavenly Father's divine law in action! Because of His example, I know that the same divine law that required our Savior to atone for our sins (and die for each one of us) applies to me and my Fankle recovery.

*Before anyone thinks I'm being sacrilegious, please know that I fully understand that my ankle surgery and recovery are nowhere near the Atonement, Crucifixion, and Resurrection. I'm simply stating the fact that divine law applied to Jesus Christ, and divine law applies to me, too.

When I remember to think of my recovery in terms of divine law, I have greater patience in my daily ankle pain and the exhaustion of my recovery. Best of all, I have true hope for a full recovery one day! #prettyplease?! Thus, I'm working at keeping the perspective of divine law in my mind at all times. Of course, some days are easier than others, but I keep trying! 👍 😎

Finally, while I've spent an extensive amount of time complaining in this post about my situation, fatigue, and pain, I want it to be known that the positive difference between Fankle at six months and seven months (first week of February, 2017–first week of March, 2017) is significant. 😀 I most definitely see progress since I finished my at-home physical therapy! And that is a positive I'm trying to remember every day! #somedaysarebetterthanothers I simply wish that my ankle recovery was progressing faster than it is!

Thus, we see that as much as I've felt successful at gaining patience over my lifetime (I've improved a lot, I promise!), I obviously have more work to do! #don'tweall?! I absolutely know that our Heavenly Father sees my progress (And my blessed angels are taking notes! 😇 Ha ha.), but He clearly wants more for my soul, thus, here I still find myself, standing in this extended Fankle-recovery position.

I will absolutely keep going no matter what! I won't ever give up! I will continue working diligently to regain my ankle function, and I'll get myself back in shape to the very best of my ability! But I know both of those goals will take time, and I'm in it for the long haul. As much as I can't wait for all of those positive things to happen (I'm so excited to be fully healed and physically fit again!), I will wait because I have no other option! 😉

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