Monthly Archives: March 2013

27 Mar

Ankle Outcomes Part II: Getting Physical

Posted by on March 27, 2013 at 10:05 pm

When I went to see my surgeon in November to discuss my most recent ankle drama, he gave me a prescription for physical therapy. I opted to wait until after Christmas to start those early morning sessions with my physical therapist because I knew my treatment would not be over quickly. Although it took three months of intensive work before I graduated to just doing exercises on my own at home, all the aches and early risings were worth it. My physical therapist brought my foot back from the brink of uselessness. Here are all the details of my rehabilitation that will keenly interest my ankle buddies but completely bore everyone else.

One of the first things my physical therapist told me on my initial visit was that both of my ankles are very strong. The balance on my left ankle, my bad ankle, was surprisingly better than my right, according to preliminary tests, but the mobility on my left was impaired. (Subsequent tests showed that leftie was inferior to righty in balance as well so I’m not sure how it fooled the system at first.) My PT worked me good that morning and made me a bit sore but a couple of days later I was back for more.

Over my next couple visits, my therapist started making things harder for me. Apparently, with tendinosis you have to drive the tendon a little crazy to get it to heal. Tendinitis requires delicacy but tendinosis needs toughness. In tendinosis, the tendon is in bad condition and the tissue isn’t regular. Usually, a lot of scar tissue is present. Scar tissue contains significant quantities of type III collagen instead of type I, which is what a healthy tendon is primarily comprised of. A tendon in this deteriorated state has to be encouraged to rebuild itself in a better, more normal, way. That encouragement, unfortunately, must come in the form of aggressive insults. Tendinitis is much easier to deal with than tendinosis but you know me, I don’t like taking the easy road.

What determines if a tendon injury will result in tendinosis or tendinitis? Here’s what my PT said: The condition of the tissue before the injury is important. My ankle already had scarring prior to this latest incident so please put a check in the tendinosis box for me. The severity of the injury is also a factor, the more severe the damage the more likely tendinosis will occur. My sprain was bad news so, once again, it looks like I was destined for tendinosis. And lastly, how much the foot is allowed to rest and mend after it’s wounded also plays a part in how the tendon reacts. If you try to do too much too quickly then you are asking for tendinosis. Before you start pointing an accusatory finger at me on this account, you should know that, despite my usual tendencies, I was pretty good about letting my ankle heal this time. I say “pretty good” because I may not have given it quite as much pampering as most would have but I gave it significantly less grief than most Rachels would have. My previous experiences with this particular foot convinced me that it was probably unwise to hike to the top of a towering peak the day after I rolled it. (And yes, that is exactly what I did the first time I tore my tendon but didn’t realize it.)

I bought a BOSU ball so it would be easier for me to do my therapy exercises at home.

I bought a BOSU ball so it would be easier for me to do my therapy exercises at home.

At this point, I could tell that physical therapy was pushing my foot to aggravation. Doing my “homework” caused stiffness and pain and so did my visits to the PT. But apparently, since pushing is the purpose of this therapy, everything was going according to plan. In fact, my physical therapist gently told me to get used to the agony because he was just going to keep making things tougher on my ankle with each visit. Fantastic.

Before my next PT appointment, I went snowboarding for the first time since my sprain. Snowboarding hurt but it hurt in a way that I wasn’t expecting. The pain was in a different place than it used to be before surgery. The discomfort was more in front of my ankle bone than below and it was so severe that I almost called it quits early on the mountain, which is not normal for me in any way. When I explained where the painful spot was to my PT, he was certain right away that it was my sinus tarsi. The sinus tarsi is a small cavity that contains ligaments and joint capsules. It’s a crowded area where a lot of things intersect. My issues in that region, he believed, were a result of a buildup of scar tissue, AKA fibrosis. Scar tissue creates stickiness and impedes the motion of connective tissues. In the sinus tarsi, which is packed tightly anyway, a little fibrosis can create quite a bit of friction. This, for obvious reasons, doesn’t feel good but it’s common after a serious ankle sprain like mine.

My next few trips to the PT passed with nothing new to report: more exercises and more discomfort were the name of the game. Finally, after a number of meetings, I felt the time had come to ask my PT a question I was almost afraid to have answered: Is my foot in good enough shape to participate in a half marathon at the end of April? His response? Probably. He gave me permission to begin training for this event but he cautioned me to only increase my running distance by 10% each week. He also warned that if my ankle starts swelling or becomes persistently painful for more than a couple of days after running then I’m overdoing it and I need to back off. Let pain be my guide, he suggested…maybe not the best advice for someone as stubbornly and irrationally prone to ignore aches as me.

On my next visit I progressed to the hardest exercise stage, known unfancifully as level 3. Those advanced exercises didn’t go over so well with my foot, especially the side-to-side jumps. My ankle would hurt for hours afterward and swell in an odd fashion. It would bulge at the sinus tarsi, which is where I expected problems, but also up closer to my toes in a strange little bubble and in an area beneath the backside of my ankle bone. My PT said that all of this puffiness was probably due to just my sinus tarsi swelling. Apparently, with inflamed tissues, bits of fluid break off and get lodged in random places like that. Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle. My PT wasn’t pleased with how my ankle was handling my advancement to level 3. Evidentially, therapy exercises shouldn’t cause pain for more than a couple of hours; even therapists have their sadistic limits. I was put back on a routine in between level 2 and 3. My PT also recommended that I give my sinus tarsi a mean rub every day to help break up the scar tissue that was causing me so much grief. And I do mean mean!

As my number of PT visits was getting into the double digits, my therapist informed me that I needed to do my home exercises for six more weeks but I was almost done coming to his office. After another three or four weeks he said I should try doing the advanced exercises again, the ones that my ankle had previously rejected, every other day to see if it would handle them okay. He also said that it’s entirely possible that my ankle will never be able to do those types of activities without hurting but, since they are specialized movements, I probably won’t notice any issues while performing my day to day activities. Despite his reassurances that, either way, I won’t have many restrictions on what I can do, I wasn’t happy with the idea of permanent limitations. “You may never be able to do that.” is a phrase that just doesn’t coincide with Rachel ideology.

In my last full hour appointment with my PT, he told me that my ankle should keep improving in stability and mobility over the next two or three months and then it will be about as good as it’s going to get. He tested my foot on his fancy machine and, at that point, my medial/lateral stability (side-to-side) on my left ankle (AKA baddie) was within the normal range but it wasn’t as good as my right, which had better than normal stability. My front-to-back stability was about the same on both my ankles.

During our final chats that morning, my PT said that as long as I’m not snowboarding every other day then it’s okay if I hurt on the slopes. This was not a callous comment but a professional observation. His meaning was that just because I’m in pain doesn’t mean that I’m damaging myself. I guess it’s comforting to know that I won’t be hurting my ankle even if it’s hurting me. With my therapist’s approval to go ahead and suffer, my sneaky ankle must have realized the futility of grumbling about my favorite winter pastime. When I went boarding in mid-February it behaved much better than it had a month earlier at Powder Mountain. It didn’t throb much while I was on the slopes. However, upon doing my therapy exercises the next day, it became very shaky and remained achy for over 24 hours. What the what ankle? Why must you mar my victories with your drama queen tendencies!

On my follow-up visit three weeks later, my PT tested my ankle’s stability once again. Drum roll please! It had improved drastically in those three weeks. Yes, I had been doing my homework; I am a teacher’s pet after all. The medial/lateral stability on my left ankle was still not as good as my right but that gap had been narrowed substantially. Both my ankles have better stability than normal now. No, you wouldn’t want to go head to head with these feet because they are mean, not green, stable machines.

At that meeting, I spoke with my PT about how my half marathon training was going…or resisting going. My ankle had started giving me grief as soon as I increased the length of my runs past what it was used to. My therapist said that this was to be expected given the degree of scarring in my foot. He recommended that I ice my foot after each run. He also suggested that I not do my home exercises on running days.

Somewhere in this discussion, the subject of my odd gait came up. My PT found it professionally quite interesting that I run/walk on the outside of my feet. This strange habit was partly blamed for my first tendon fiasco and, according to my PT, is quite uncommon. Walking on the inside of the foot is the normal way most people step incorrectly. I guess I’m weird. No, don’t bother telling me that you already knew that.

And that concludes the intriguing tell of my ankle’s diagnosis and recovery. I am still in the process of training for my halfy, in fact my foot is on post-run ice at this very moment. So far that training has been going as well as I’d hoped, which is to say not spectacular but not awful. I’m still moving onward and upward though with my most troublesome of appendages. I’ll be sure to keep everyone updated on the exciting life of lefty in future yawner posts.

By the way, if anyone that lives in these parts needs a physical therapist, I’d highly recommend mine. He is very competent and made the miserableness as pleasant as possible. Just holler and I’ll be happy to pass his name along.

20 Mar

Ankle Outcomes Part I: Surgical Advice

Posted by on March 20, 2013 at 10:34 pm

As many of you are aware, at my birthday party last June I rolled my ankle severely. Then, when my foot wasn’t healing as quickly as it should, the similarities between my current predicament and my previous tendon tear experience prompted me to drop in on my sports doctor. Multiple visits to my physician and an MRI later, the verdict was that I had developed advanced tendinosis in my peroneus brevis tendon from this latest injury and an associated tear. Another tear? !*&*#$+?!!! This was the same spot that I had had exploratory repair surgery on about four years ago so I was quite grumpy about the prospect of another miserable slicing event. Could an operation be avoided? I had to wait months to find out and now the wait is over for you too.

At the end of November, I was finally able to see my orthopedic foot surgeon to learn if surgery would be necessary to fix my newest tendon rip. After viewing my MRI, he had a slightly different take on my problem than my sports doctor. It was his opinion that I had hurt more than just my tendon with that roll. He believed that I had suffered what is called a grade III ankle sprain. In a grade III, the ligaments that run on the outside of the ankle are completely torn. He thought that my ankle joint had most likely been damaged by my misstep as well.

Not all of his news was bad though. He told my thankful ears that ligaments heal quicker and better than tendons. Tendons don’t get good blood flow so they recover slowly and often not completely but such is not the case with ligaments. In short, my ligaments should mend on their own. What about my temperamental tendon? He said that at this point another tendon surgery was not necessary or advisable for several reasons. He had me at “not necessary” but, for the curious, here’s his explanation why:

For starters, tendon repair surgery is most beneficial the first time around. Subsequent surgeries typically don’t see as good of results. More scar tissue and less blood circulation with each operation mean that you’ve got a onetime shot of fixing a tendon before things get a lot more complicated, as in artificial sheaths, grafts, and other complex unpleasantness.

Also, after tendon repair surgery the tendon usually thickens. While this dense material isn’t normal tissue, that thickening does help prevent the tendon from tearing again. Therefore, according to my surgeon, most people don’t come in repeatedly for this type of operation unless they are obese. He estimated that the minor split in my tendon should remain minor as long as I stay petite and as long as my MRI was accurate, which they are in about 80% of cases. If I don’t gain weight, I will most likely never have to have my tendon fixed again, which is why my doc forbade me from following my tendon’s thickening example. What a bummer, I was planning on gaining 100 pounds this summer but I guess I’ll have to delay my plumping project indefinitely.

Remember this? This misshapen glob is my ankle a couple of hours after I rolled it.

Remember this? This misshapen glob is my ankle a couple of hours after I rolled it.

Although surgery wasn’t needed, my surgeon didn’t expect my ankle to come bouncing back anytime soon. Due to the history of my foot, which apparently is quite sordid, he thought it could take up to a year for it to heal. My doctor distinctly remembered my peroneal tendons as some of the worst he’s ever operated on. Great. Glad to know that my ankle is famous for being screwed up. However, even with my foot’s baggage, he thought it should continue to slowly mend from last summer’s insult and, as long as it keeps improving, that lengthy recovery is no cause for concern.

He had some advice on how to encourage my ankle back to its version of normality: 1. Wear my brace on any uneven surfaces for the next six months at least and longer if my foot is still not feeling very strong. 2. Participate in physical therapy to improve my balance and decrease pain.

He told me a couple of comforting tidbits in closing: 1. Although my injured ankle feels weak to me, it’s actually very strong. I guess I am tougher than I realize even at my flimsy points. 2. This awful sprain was a fluke of bad luck. Despite my ankle’s problems, this type of injury shouldn’t happen to it again…unless I get really unlucky again.

With the threat of another foot operation removed, it was time to relax and concentrate on the discomfort of rehab. Next week, on Ankle Outcomes, I will be discussing my many exhilarating visits to the physical therapist. This installment will be full of unbridled anguish, unstable characters, and profuse scarring. You won’t want to miss it. Until then, although the suspense is gripping, I’d recommend not holding your breath or falling off the edge of your seat.

13 Mar

From Roxy to Woody

Posted by on March 13, 2013 at 6:05 pm

It’s hard to say goodbye to an old friend, especially when that friend has carried you through many highs and lows, from dipping arid wastelands to lofty peaks. When that buddy has been a part of the happiest adventures of your life, separating from them is painful.

Jason and I purchased my trusty Mazda Protégé, Roxy, used shortly after we got married. Before we bought her we were sharing a car, which was highly inconvenient since my workday started at 5:00 AM and his began a few hours later in the opposite direction. We had to come up with an elaborate drop off scheme to get to our jobs. Needless to say, we were extremely grateful for a second car. We purchased Roxy for very little but, to a couple of poor newlyweds, she was the height of sophistication. With power windows, electric door locks, cruise control, and comfy seats she felt like a Rolls-Royce to us. Over the years Roxy proved herself far more valuable than her cheap price tag would suggest. Besides a couple of small AC and CV joint repairs, she never really asked us for anything so I was in no hurry to swap her. Although most of our friends kept changing vehicles and nagging us about trading up, I was prepared to hold onto that car until her bumper fell off but I guess all good things must eventually end.

It's hard to believe that these dings represent $1600.

It’s hard to believe that these dings represent $1600.

Roxy was aging very well but Jason and I decided a couple of years ago that we should start saving for a new vehicle since there was no telling when she’d begin to break down. We intended on replacing her roughly sometime this winter. This plan sounded reasonable in theory but Jason may not have ever been able to convince me to go through with it if it hadn’t been for an especially snowy winter day. That particular December morning I-15 hadn’t been plowed even though about 4 inches of snow had accumulated on it. Jason was driving Roxy to work and, like most of the other commuters, he was moving at only 15 MPH due to the slick conditions but, leisurely pace notwithstanding, about halfway through his travels he suddenly started sliding into an adjacent lane. Despite his best efforts, there was just no going back. He ended up hitting a large truck that was inconveniently in the exact spot Roxy was destined to occupy. Roxy only had cosmetic damage from this incident but it was enough dints and dings to total her. Rather than paying to fix her up, we decided we’d keep her until she hit 200,000 miles, a target she was quickly approaching, and then sell her to Jason’s brother. That meant it was time to shop.

We reached 200,000 miles on Roxy with barely any repair bumps along the way.

We reached 200,000 miles on Roxy with barely any repair bumps along the way.

Jason and I are not the type of people that purchase cars on a whim. We look up as much information as possible on the vehicle class we are considering and then we test drive like crazy, examine additional figures, and ponder some more. This style of shopping is time-consuming but it has served us well. Since we’ve been extremely happy with the cars we’ve purchased using this method, we weren’t about to alter our system. Hence, it took us months to decide what we wanted to buy this time.

Our new vehicle needed to be a small or crossover SUV with 4WD or AWD. We were done skating on freeways and we wanted something hardier for our biking/snowboarding adventures. We were also looking for a car with good gas mileage that was little enough to fit easily into our cramped garage. Room to load up our bikes and boards was also a requirement. We are usually used car people, new cars really are a waste of money, but in this particular case, with our specialized needs, we found that the contenders in the used arena were pretty limited and not much cheaper. We realized that in order to get what we wanted we’d have to buy new.

As we began searching lots of spanking new vehicles, we discovered that it’s harder to shop for a new car than a used one. With new cars the selection is plentiful and the options are many: makes, models, colors, innards…we were a bit overloaded. After weeks of researching and test driving, we finally focused our attention on the Subaru Outback and Forester. We debated back and forth between these two for days but in the end I just couldn’t say no to the Forester’s large windows and spacious interior. (And Jason just can’t say no to me.) So the 2014 2.5i Limited Forester it was. The 2014 model, which has improved gas mileage, better torque, a streamlined exterior, and a swankier interior compared to the 2013, had only been shipped in restricted quantities to dealers two days earlier. Ours wasn’t even technically on the dealer’s lot when we bought it. We had the distinction of owning the only 2014 Forester on the road in Utah when we drove that baby home, a distinction I’m sure we’ve already long lost at this point. It’s barely 2013 so it doesn’t make sense that the 2014 is available at all; just try not to think about it too much. I’ve named our Forester Woodford, or Woody for short. (It’s a Forester and its name is Woody. Get it?) I love how open this SUV feels with its giant windows and huge sunroof. Woody already has quite the fan in me.

Woody is a cute and friendly car. He's just what I was looking for.

Woody is a cute and friendly car. He’s just what I was looking for.

But alas, with Woody purchased it was time to part ways with Roxy. Jason’s little brother was very excited about having a car of his own; however, I wasn’t very excited about letting her go. I’m only a little ashamed to say that before we dropped Roxy off at his house I cried. I know, with my many layers of sarcasm and constant teasing, I don’t seem like the sentimental type but deep in this complicated heart is plenty of emotional turbulence that usually emerges at embarrassing times.

Roxy has not only been a very reliable car but she’s been part of a lot of wonderful memories. My whole married life, which has been extraordinarily happy, has passed in the presence of that vehicle. Her aging is a reminder of just how much time has elapsed for me as well. Where have the years gone? It was hard to say goodbye. I’m sure Matt will take good care of her and she’ll be as dependable a friend to him as she was to me but I’ll miss her still. Here’s to Roxy! My classy girl that has far outlasted many “superior” vehicles!

Roxy is my kind of girl: steady, comfy, small but gutsy.

Roxy is my kind of girl: steady, comfy, small but gutsy.

A post script: I miss the straightforwardness of older vehicles. What happened to the days when a power door lock was as fancy as it got? When you would turn the heat on if you got cold and the AC if you got hot. Now cars practically do everything automatically, even if you’d rather they didn’t, and there are so many knobs on their control panels that you need to pass a NASA course just to figure out how to adjust your radio stations. It’s funny how complicated we’ve made “simplicity.”

And what’s up with recent car models’ tiny windows? So many of the vehicles we test drove had such small windows that you could barely see the road from their stuffy interiors. They made me feel like I was driving around in a coffin. Claustrophobics of the world unite! Sure, from the outside their designs looked sleek but I think I’d prefer being able to see traffic to having aerodynamic windows. Carmakers, let’s not sacrifice functionality and practicality just so our vehicles can look like spaceships. Remember: the only flying cars can do currently is into pavement so it would be nice to be able to see that pavement before takeoff.

6 Mar

Braving Brian Head

Posted by on March 6, 2013 at 8:51 pm

A few months ago I won a weekend stay at a condominium on Brian Head Resort, a place Jason and I had never snowboarded before, at a charity auction. We were excited to try out some new slopes, especially since these new slopes could be accessed just by walking out the front door of this condo. We decided to use our Brian Head getaway a couple weeks ago and that turned out to be very advantageous timing. A storm dropped 13 inches of fresh powder on the resort in the 48 hours before we arrived and another one threw down 8 inches while we were carving it up. Those delicious flurries made our weekend amazing but complicated. Here is the thrilling tale of our adventures at the Head.

That's the way I like it.

That’s the way I like it.

Brian Head is a little over 3 hours away, which is why we’ve always opted to hit one of the closer resorts rather than head south to its peaks. But, now that we’ve been to this secluded mountain, I think we will be returning again. Brian Head’s base elevation is actually the highest of any Utah resort at 9,600 feet and its extensive terrain satisfies boarders, skiers, snowshoers, and snowmobilers. Plus, it’s got a cool tubing hill. My favorite thing about this resort though was its lack of patrons. We didn’t have to constantly check over our shoulders for other riders as we cruised downhill. Yes, I believe we’ll be going back.

It may have been cloudy but the view from the top was still striking.

It may have been cloudy but the view from the top was still striking.

Thanks to those previously mentioned storms, and the lack of people present, the snow at Brian Head was fabulous! The powder was deep and heaped. It was glorious! Our one concern about the mountain’s conditions was the potential presence of blow-me-over air currents. The weather forecast indicated that the resort would be very windy, with gusts up to 26 MPH, all day Saturday. Not only would that much blowing make boarding cold and miserable but it could also cause the lifts to close, which would halt our fun altogether. Good thing Mr. Weatherman was incorrecto. While it was a touch breezy, the day was much more pleasant than expected. We didn’t see a lot of the sun but the constant flurries formed another thick blanket of snow by the afternoon. We were overjoyed about that extra layer of powder but, judging from the number of riders we saw stuck in the fluff after lunch, I think it may have been a vexation to the lesser skilled. When 4:30 hit and the resort closed for the day, Jason and I couldn’t believe it was already time to call it quits. Time flies when you’re flying down a mountain.

Even my limited skillset seemed to impress the crowds at Brian Head. I got cheers, waves, and gawks from those on the chairlift. It was odd but flattering.

Even my limited skill set seemed to impress the crowds at Brian Head. I got cheers, waves, and gawks from those on the chairlift. It was odd but flattering.

I think Jason was probably the best boarder on our side of the mountain. I didn't see anyone else trying his type of stunts.

I think Jason was probably the best boarder on our side of the mountain. I didn’t see anyone else trying his type of stunts.

That snow wasn’t all fun and more fun though. It piled up on the roads quickly and made it impossible for us to drive into town to get dinner that night. Luckily, the tasty local pizza joint was happy to deliver. Later that evening those expected winds finally gusted in. Both of us were woken up several times during the night by the bedroom’s shrieking windows as the storm whipped about them.

Gliding through soft powder is like pushing through cottony clouds. It never gets old.

Gliding through soft powder is like pushing through cottony clouds. It never gets old.

We stayed on Brave for a good portion of the day because we are brave?

We stayed on Brave for a good portion of the day because we are brave?

And our drive home the next day was intense to say the least. Those of you who have wound around the steep climbs of State Route 143 that lead to Brian Head can understand why any amount of snow would be extremely hazardous on that twisted narrow road. Upon leaving the resort, we had to wait about half an hour at the top of the pass with a number of other cars while plows attempted to remove the remnants of the night’s blizzard from the highway. Once we were allowed to proceed, our convoy of vehicles crept down the canyon going only 7 MPH. Even at that sluggish speed we were all still sliding precariously, the 4WDs included. Our antilock brakes got some serious use and it took us about two hours longer to get home than it should have all thanks to just 11 miles of slick drops. That fluffy powder beast may look friendly but its wagging tail will knock you off your feet.

I was freezing when we returned to our condo after boarding so I stayed right next to its fake fireplace for hours.

I was freezing when we returned to our condo after boarding so I stayed right next to its fake fireplace for hours.

Even with its scary moments, our weekend was terrific. Being able to just grab our boards and walk onto the runs was fantastically convenient and the quantity of powder on those runs was excellent, especially since we had so much of it to ourselves. Brian Head was a finer resort than we expected. We won’t wait until we win another bid to go down there again.