One of the hardest things to give up after surgery was lifting. And even then I didn’t really give it up. I was back in the gym, struggling under heavy weights, while I was still in a cast. I just couldn’t stay away for that long. Lifting keeps me sane, strong, and happy.
But it wasn’t always this way.
“In college, I avoided the “bro zone” of the gym like it was a frat house after a rager. I was intimidated by the grunting, the weird machines, and the almost entirely male population outside of the cardio section and free weights. I didn’t want anything to do with their protein shakes and bro tanks. Instead, I used the cardio machines and would do the same one or two exercises with 8-pound weights every time I went to the gym.
But I really wanted to lift.
A taste of CrossFit was all it took to get me addicted to lifting heavy. After a couple of months, I was lifting more weight than I thought possible. Five years later, I regularly squat more than I weigh, and 25-pound dumbbells are my go-to. Today, I feel at home under the bar.
While there are great weight loss and calorie-blasting benefits of lifting heavy, it’s not why I do it. Weightlifting makes me care more about the weight on the bar than on my body. I work hard at the gym to push my body and mind. It’s about what my body is capable of, not what it looks like.”
Let’s just get right out there and say it. I am not at all where I thought I would be 6 months post peroneal tendon surgery. I went into my 6 month post-op appointment yesterday feeling like I was meeting with a professor to check in on a project I hadn’t started.
But I left feeling pretty good about where I’m at.
My calves are finally the same size. (Which means my crops don’t creep up to my knee anymore– hallelujah!) The (albeit exceedingly nice) fellow showed a great deal of enthusiasm for my stellar hopping ability and single leg heel raise strength.
My leg strength had been coming back, which also means nearly all of pants actually fit again instead of hanging off my legs like sacks. Its amazing how looking like what you’re used to makes you feel like yourself again.
I was feeling strong. Ready. I was slowly creeping up in how much weight I could lift, my single-leg squats were rapidly improving, and I was throwing in new things at least once a week. Running felt like it was right around the corner.
And then I woke up 65 years older.
Out of nowhere I woke up early one morning with a completely numb left leg. In my half-asleep state I decided it was asleep and just need a little extra blood flow. The more I tried to get the feeling back, the more I realized something else was clearly wrong. After panicking, ruling out a blood clot, and being wide awake, I realized it was sciatica.
Two weeks later and I’m still fighting with it. I finally have a better sense of what makes it better and what angers it to the point where it sends angry stinging bees all the way down my leg into my foot. Short of anger management for pissed off nerves, I’ve tried just about everything.
After months of progress and feeling like I’m finally coming back into myself and a healed body, the sciatica has been particularly devastating. I can’t lift at all, even benching seems to irritate it. Running on the Alter-G or outside like I dreamed of is out of the question until this is fully resolved. Just staying comfortable and getting my work done day to day has been a huge challenge.
But there is good news.
I can swim. Swimming seems to be the one thing that reliably soothes my sciatica and my mind. My ankle is killing it in the water – I can kick a fair bit and flip turns are no problem. Now if I could just get my skin to stop peeling off like a molting snake from the chlorine…
My two best friends recently went to a 45-minute meditation class together. My friend Noe, a mindfulness teacher and neurofeedback technician, loved it. She spent the class relaxed and fully into the experience. My other friend Meagan was a mess. She couldn’t sit still. At one point she got so nauseated she thought she might throw up. Her body freaked out and fought her hard (or something she ate chose the worst time ever to pick its fight, you choose).
I laughed and teased Meagan when Noe told me. I thought it was hilarious, and typical energetic Meagan, to fail at even sitting still.
It’s a whole lot less funny now.
Pretty Sure Meditation Shouldn’t Feel Like This
My first meditation this month ended as about 50 percent of my previous attempts did, in the overwhelming need to STOP.
As soon as the person leading the meditation practice says to pay attention to your breathing, my heart rate picks up. I immediately take control of my breathing, and then try to slow it down and calm my body while my heart slams against my rib cage. The teacher says to let go and let your breath flow without your influence, but I don’t know how you can notice your breathing without controlling it. Fighting it.
Now I’m supposed to be noticing my thoughts and letting them pass by, but all I can think about is how uncomfortable this chair is and how badly the tag at the back of my shirt itches. My arms start to ache, and I want nothing more than to readjust the way I’m sitting.
But I fight it. I try to just count my breaths and not lengthen them. I try to pay attention to how my body feels without giving into the scratching and fidgeting.
And then it gets worse.
Out of nowhere this intense tightness and overwhelming feeling wash over me. I feel like my nerves are on fire and the only way to put it out is to move. It spreads across my chest into my shoulders and my arms. I try to breathe into it, to relax, to fight the absolutely all-consuming urge to move.
It’s the opposite of sleep paralysis, trying to stay still instead of fighting the chemicals in your mind to let you move, but the panic and the oppressive feeling is the same. In both cases it’s as if your body is suddenly encased in concrete and it’s slowly crushing you alive.
Ah, meditation. So peaceful.
Daily Meditation Progress
To be fair, it has been getting better. On Wednesday Headspace paused without me realizing it and I accidentally sat on the brink of sleep and meditation for 15 minutes. Out of the past eight days, I’ve only had the searing need to move RIGHT NOW twice. That’s not terrible I guess.
Daily meditation is one of those things that I’ve always known I should be doing, but never actually put in the effort to make it happen. Back when I was frequently running, I considered that a substitute and let myself off the hook. We meditate at the end of the yoga class I go to once a week. That counts! I’m done.
But January was a rough month for me (and most Americans). The political upheaval was constantly swirling in my mind. Headlines and New York Times notifications would keep me up at night.
My mind has been full – overwhelmingly stuffed with so many ideas and way too many worries. I can’t seem to get a grip or slow them all down. I’m standing in the middle of a Formula One raceway trying to slow my thoughts down without being run over or blown off the track.
I’m taking on meditation this month to try to get some peace and quiet in my own mind. I need to slow my roll and get back in control.
February Goal: Daily Meditation
Daily meditation has been on my list since for months, but I somehow, conveniently, never get to it.
Once I committed to doing a new goal every month this year in the hope of creating a few new habits that improve my daily life, I knew meditation would be one of the first I would try out.
For now, I will meditate every day after lunch before picking up work again. I spend the morning fully focused and allow myself to indulge in some internet reading while I take my lunch break. More often than not this leaves me feeling scattered and I have trouble coming back to my work day afterwards.
I can’t completely shut out the world for my entire work day – I have to stay up-to-date on the latest news and delve into the internet for my own writing. But that doesn’t mean that I have to spend more than half the day feeling overwhelmed and like my mind is just dragging me along for the ride.
The final push (or guilt trip) came from Tim Ferriss’ Tools of Titans. I picked up the book late last week, and I have been spending my morning reading time curled up with it. Just about every person highlighted in the book recommends meditation of some kind.
Daily Meditation “Rules”
I have to spend at least 5 interrupted minutes on intentional meditation.
Moving meditation counts, but I have to do it intentionally. I can’t just come home from a workout where I blasted music and sung along (in my head) or constantly repeated my to-do list like a mantra and check off my meditation practice for the day.
For the most part my daily meditation practice will consist of me sitting in a chair for 5-10 minutes. I plan on following guided meditations, especially for the first half of the month while I’m getting into the swing of things.
Life is creeping back toward normal, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Four months post peroneal tendon surgery I’m sleeping without mummifying my leg. I am just starting to get back into squatting again. I got the go-ahead to finally leave the brace behind for daily life. I’m physically moving on.
In the day to day it’s hard to see the progress I’ve made. And it’s even more difficult when my pain and mobility fluctuate wildly. Some days are great, others feel like I’ve lost weeks of progress overnight.
But I’m slowly slipping toward normal and my obsession about my progress is going with it.
My expectations about my recovery were woefully incorrect. I was under the impression that I would be back to where I was before surgery after three months. At four, I’m still not there. But I’m also not worrying about it anymore.
My outlook on my recovery post peroneal tendon surgery is heavily skewed by the nine months I spent desperate to get better before anyone realized I needed more than physical therapy could offer. I feel like this has been dragging on forever, that I will never actually get better. But when I can set all of that aside, it’s clearly not true. I’m making strides, I’m inching forward and the steps backward are much less frequent.
Healing is slow. Connective tissue like tendons is particularly sluggish. I’m doing what I can, and I’m not worrying about the rest.
I’ve stopped comparing myself to Lauren Fisher, the CrossFit athlete who had her surgery within days of mine and has shot past me. We aren’t the same person, we have different goals, and frankly, it just doesn’t matter.
2017 is my year.
I’m so excited to start the new year feeling a bit more like my old self. I can throw on my sneakers and head out the door (for a walk, but still). I am working on my leg strength and aggressively building my balance. When it stops raining I can ride my bike outside instead of being cooped up in the gym. My physical therapist has given me a great deal of space to try things out on my own and decide what feels right for my body right now.
I don’t want to be too bold, but I have a feeling I’ll be running in the next month. I’ve already done some really short jogs on the Alter-G treadmill at 80 percent of my bodyweight. If things keep moving like they have been I think I’ll see pavement soon.
Yoga has brought back my sanity (and some of my flexibility). I’ve left each class with a huge sense of relief and space in my body.
My body is forever changed, and it still hasn’t quite figured out what that’s going to be like, but I’m starting to get a hang of the way things are now.
Last weekend I went to my first real yoga class since surgery. I’d been desperate to go, but also knew it was important to really rest and not overly stress my tendon. But my body was begging for some relief.
After being highly restricted in a cast and then boot for two months, I have been feeling painfully tight and out of balance. While I would do specific stretches every now and then to target problem areas, I would get bored or distracted or frustrated after 15-20 minutes and roll up my mat. It’s no surprise that my tight back and painful hips from sitting with my feet elevated straight out in front of me so much persisted.
For the first two months I was extremely careful about not putting any extra tension on my tendon while it healed. Unfortunately this meant that most leg stretches were out, and I was tentative at best in hip openers. Six weeks of crutches didn’t necessarily help.
My body did not feel like mine during my first class. I was tight in unexpected places, really bound on my left side of the body, and I shook the entire class from not using my stabilizing muscles extensively for so long. But by the end of it I had a new appreciation for all my body had tolerated the past three and a half months and a greater understanding of what poses and stretches my new body could tolerate.
Benefits of Yoga for Recovery
It’s not just me – yoga is proven to be a great tool for recovery. And you don’t have to be injured to get the benefits. Yoga can also help you bounce back from tough training (or a late night).
1. Yoga helps you to reconnect with the body.
The last thing I wanted in the wake of my surgery was to listen to my body. It was telling me I was crazy and that it wasn’t going to forgive me for letting someone cut into it. I was also surprised by how hard it fought my rest. I was antsy, sleeping extremely poorly, and my muscles kept twitching or cramping.
But listening in is really important, especially as your recovery progresses. Yoga can help you pay attention to what needs more of your focus and what may be slowing down your recovery. My tight hips and calves were actively tugging on my entire leg – definitely not what you want to properly heal.
Injuries, surgery, and recovery are stressful. I imagined a peaceful time where I would curl up with a book and pamper myself with healing foods. But the reality is rarely like that.
Yoga can help you hit reset and calm down. There’s so much to overthink and fret over, not just with your body but with the world. Between the breathing practices and the simple encouragement to pay attention to your breath, yoga can help you actually fill your lungs and relax the body.
As much as I hate it (and I really really hate it), the body you had before your injury is gone. You will most likely heal back to 100 percent, but things will never be exactly the way they were. For me, my tendon was surgically shortened. It may take me years to get full ankle flexion back. I’ve been surgically altered, but the way I have recovered, laid scar tissue, and strengthened my muscles and tendons have also permanently changed my ankle.
I can’t do anything about those things, but I can start to get to know what my new body feels like, how it responds, and what it’s capable of. Yoga has been a great way for me to do that.
4. Regain strength and balance.
A light breeze could knock me over when I was first out of the boot. My body completely lost all of its muscle tone and the ability to call upon the right muscles to keep me upright. In addition to strength training and spending what feels like half my day standing on one leg, I’ve added yoga as a way to strengthen my stabilizer muscles and remind my core that I have two feet again. Yoga is a great way to improve muscle strength and balance. Also, it’s totally cool to fall over. People won’t even laugh at you. Trust me, I’ve done it.
5. Improve mobility.
Injuries often come from an imbalance or lack of mobility. Once you’re injured and recovering, forget it. Nothing will mess with your mobility like being immobilized for a length of time. But yoga can help you get it back and prevent future mobility-related injuries. A consistent practice can help you improve your flexibility and keep muscle tension at bay. Don’t forget that stretching should be pain free (but not as comfortable as just chillin’ on the couch) to get the benefits.
9. Help you sleep and improve recovery outside of class.
Yoga’s benefits carry over into other areas that are important to recovery. Thanks to its stress reducing capabilities and the physical movement, yoga can help you sleep better. Since your body heals while you sleep, you definitely don’t want to miss out.
Things to consider
How to know when you’re ready to try yoga for recovery.
Ask your doctor or physical therapist before returning or starting yoga post injury/surgery. But don’t forget that even if they say you may be ready, you know best. I got the okay to try yoga a couple weeks ago, but my (unscientific) tests at home (downward facing dog without pain? Can I balance in crescent pose or warrior one without pain? Does standing on one leg make me cry?) all said I needed a bit more time.
If I hadn’t modified my yoga practice for months after my original injury, I still wouldn’t have gone back yet. It takes a lot of listening to what your body is alright with and what makes your injury worse. It also takes a great deal of experimentation and a willingness to problem solve in the middle of a flow class. (Keep an eye out for an upcoming post about my go-to modifications and substitutions.)
You can always ask your doctor or physical therapist for modifications. Even just knowing what type of activity or stretch my increase your pain can be helpful. Your teacher can also be really helpful.
Choose an experienced, certified teacher.
You want to work with someone who can understand the complexities of your recovery and not blindly encourage you to do poses that may make your injury or pain worse. Look for teachers who mention a focus on alignment and anatomy, certifications above 200 hours of training, and a background in sports or kinesiology if you have a sports injury.
Definitely talk to the yoga teacher before you start class. Let them know about your injury and limitations, and absolutely ask them questions you might have about making the class work for you. If they don’t know how to modify poses for you, don’t take their class!
Pick the right class for you.
My first class back was a restorative yoga class that was honestly 90 minutes of lying on the floor in different positions with a bolster. I thought I might lose my mind, especially when the instructor started playing the loudest crystal bowl (I left with my ears ringing like I left a rowdy rock concert), but it was a good place to start. Gentle yoga and yin yoga are also great for beginners or coming back from an injury. I have worked my way back into my favorite power yoga and flow classes, but I took my time getting here and I modify (and tape!) quite a bit. Start slow, gentle, and easy.
Don’t even tell me you don’t have time for yoga. A recent study found that just 12 minutes of yoga a day is enough to reap the benefits. That’s less than the time it takes to watch trashy TV on Netflix.
Now you could blame the cookies for blinding me, but in reality I had finally made it on my feet for an extended period of time without pain. I finally made it past the threshold where that pain is always right around the corner, always on my mind.
3 Months Post Peroneal Tendon Surgery Progress
These days I’m walking. Big news over here. I can now tolerate walking around a mile and a half before the pain starts to set in. While I’m starting to get sick of the brace, I’m overjoyed to ditch the damn boot. Also, it helps that I only wear the brace when I’m out of the house.
Sleeping has gotten so much easier since I had to sleep in the boot/ the night splint made from my (smelly!) old cast. Unfortunately my side-sleeping habits still put too much tension on my tendon at night. Pro tip, a couple stiff pieces of tape can fix this right up. Tape from the center of your arch up the outside of your foot and ankle so the tape holds your foot in slight eversion and you are good to go (to sleep).
The gym has gotten more exciting. I can finally weight-bear which means not only can I carry my own equipment, but I can also start doing some light deadlifts, air squats to parallel, and standing arm exercises. (Also, another important tip. Do not try to crutch with 20lb dumbbells in each hand. Does not go well. You’re welcome.) It’s to the point where I don’t mind sweating it out on the bike instead of freezing on a winter run. Timing is everything.
I can drive! Okay, technically I can drive, but someone backed into my parked car the week I started being able to drive again. So you know, I can drive when my car is back from the shop.
I got the okay to try kicking, but it’s way too cold to even think about swimming. So that’s on hold until I get braver, it gets warmer, or I find a comfortable indoor pool.
I’m still quite a ways off from running, but I’m working hard to strengthen my feet, ankles, and hips so the rest of me is ready when my tendon is. I’m finally getting into heel raises and balance work, which is both exciting and acutely painful.
Yoga is my next goal. I think I’m about ready to heavily modify my favorite power yoga class. A couple blankets, two blocks, and a ton of tape is all it takes.
And hopefully my ankle and foot will stop turning purple soon too.
You can have a joyous, fulfilling, heart-warming Christmas without piles of gifts pilling out from under the tree. There is also nothing inherently wrong with giving someone a physical gift, but most of us have more than we would ever need.
These minimalist gift ideas will help you give a meaningful, clutter-free gift to anyone on your list. They are also great ideas of what to ask for if you would like to avoid receiving physical gifts.
Minimalist Gift Ideas for Everyone
Give a voucher to their favorite class or a gift card for somewhere new that you think they will love. If they love a bunch of different workouts/studios, you may want to look into something like ClassPass.
Hobby gift cards
It can be incredibly difficult to purchase an item that will fit in with your recipient’s hobby and what they already have. Gift cards are a great way to recognize what they love to do and allow them to get something they will really value and use. Great places to consider are art supply stores, yarn shops, cooking stores, local running shop, tech centers, local golf course, or anywhere else that supports a specific hobby. I personally love getting a gift card to my local running store and it supports their small business too.
Take your friend on a museum trip or just purchase a gift card and let them buy tickets for the day that’s best for them. Even your local museum/aquarium/theater should offer a gift certificate.
Concerts, sports, movies, shows, the list goes on. You can buy specific tickets, offer a self-made voucher, or give a gift certificate for the location or ticketing company.
Or dog sitting as it may be.
Cookies just for me? Yes, please. You can also make their favorite meal and freeze it or give a coupon for a fresh batch in the future.
A bottle of wine, an assortment of local beers, coffee beans – the list goes on. Bonus, these are easy to tailor to your recipient’s taste and they are easy to buy in bulk.
Many years ago (before it was cool), my mom gave my grandparents a Netflix subscription. My tech-savvy grandpa loved it. There are so many subscription services today – although I would encourage you to avoid any that send stuff unless it’s quickly consumable like wine. Subscription boxes can quickly add clutter and feel overwhelming.
Soaps, candles, beauty products, and other homemade consumables are a great way to cover multiple people on your list without adding a ton of clutter. Once they are used up they are gone.
It sounds so cheesy that my face is getting hot just writing it, but some of the best gifts really are spending time with your friend or family member. Take them on a picnic or a hike. Invite them over for tea and snacks. Offer to help with a big task like painting the room that’s driving them crazy or decluttering an overwhelming closet. If you can’t think of anything great, make an open-ended voucher for an afternoon of your time and let your recipient cash it in on whatever they want.
No gifts please
When someone specifically asks for no gifts, it’s best to respect their wishes and not get them a gift. But that doesn’t mean you can’t clarify and see if something on this list (like spending the day together or a bottle of their favorite beverage) would still be alright.
You can also ask to not receive gifts without causing a kerfuffle. The best way is to explain why you don’t want any physical gifts this year and offer alternatives (like the list above) to people who are adamant about getting you or your family something. (This article or this forum may help you broach the subject.)
Looking for more ideas? Check out these great posts.
I believe in treading lightly on the Earth and my feet. I hope to inspire and support you on your journey to live a natural, sustainable life.
All images and copy are original to Treading Lightly unless otherwise credited. Please be respectful when using material from this site and link back. I am not a doctor or a trainer – all of the content on Treading Lightly is my opinion and experience.