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.
It’s been a year since I first hurt my ankle. I’m torn between the part of me that wants to wallow in fate or misfortune and the other that’s ready to celebrate.
This has been a year of challenge. A year of learning. A year of pushing my limits and redefining the way I see myself.
Of course I miss running like crazy and I want to be the badass I once was, but I am way more resilient and grateful than that woman was. She didn’t know how hard it was to feed yourself on crutches. She never woke up crying in the middle of the night because her ankle was on fire. She didn’t know what it was like to persevere through a full year of pain and frustration and set backs.
What I learned from my year-long injury
1. You can sob all you want, but you can’t change reality.
I fell apart as my friend helped me off the court. I couldn’t accept that I was poised to set a PR and instead I was going to be rehabbing a severely injured ankle. Crying and disbelief won’t change anything.
A photo posted by Mandy Ferreira (@treading_lightly) on
2. Ice cream won’t kill you.
I’ve done my best over the past year to severely limit my sugar intake. It’s a known inflammatory food and I need all the help I can get healing. While I stand by my decision, I also don’t regret the times I had ice cream or another sweet treat.
3. You aren’t what you do.
Runner. Yogi. Lifter. Athlete. These are all just parts of me. They don’t define me. And even when I’m not able to do them, that doesn’t mean they aren’t still a part of my identity and a part of what makes me me.
4. Do what you love.
I love to run and push myself and move my body, but even before I discovered my love for sports I fell for books. This year has given me the opportunity to spend more time than ever before reading. Reading has fulfilled me in ways that running or lifting arguably could not.
5. But how is it today?
It’s so easy to get caught up in how I think things should go or should be. But life doesn’t work like that. I had to learn to take my recovery a day at a time and realize that each day was going to be wildly different. Turns out it fits for even more than just an injury. Things look and feel different every day. Some days cooking feels like the worst way to spend my time and others it leaves me feeling warm and content. How is it today?
6. Slow down.
There’s nothing like crutches or a bulky boot to slow you down. But more than physically, I had to try to slow down mentally. As much as I tried, you just can’t look ahead two months and try to project where you will be. Recovery is slow and your body does its own thing. This year forced me to drop my obsessive planning and projecting, or at least try to.
A video posted by Mandy Ferreira (@treading_lightly) on
7. Keep moving.
An injury (most of the time) isn’t a sentence to the couch. I did my best to move both before and after surgery. I don’t always feel like exercising these days and it’s really difficult for me to make it to the gym since I still can’t drive, but I’m trying my best. A very nice woman around my age who was doing a seriously badass workout came up to me and told me that seeing me workout in a boot was really inspiring to her. She made me realize that it should be inspiring to me too. It forced me to look at what I was doing and the effort I’ve been putting in and appreciate my effort more.
8. Put your feet up.
Don’t forget to relax. Healing takes time and a ton of your body’s energy. Respect that! A week after my surgery I thought I could go to the farmer’s market. I was so wrong. I ended up sitting on a cold concrete bench willing myself to apparate home. Even almost two months later, I still feel like I have to sleep all day after a workout. Indulge in healing. Treat yourself to some elevation and a nice soothing soak.
9. Listen to yourself.
That pain is your body trying to tell you something. The voice in your head that says “this is a bad idea” is probably right (unless it’s just fear talking, then tell it to STFU). I’ve gotten a lot better this year at checking in with how I feel and adjusting accordingly. In the past I’ve been the queen of pushing through pain, which usually ends in a lingering injury. Since I already have one of those, I’m trying to be extra in-tune with what my body needs and what I really want. It’s changed the way I work, spend my time, and exercise.
10. Pain is temporary*.
It’s so hard to remember that it won’t last forever when you’re in the thick of it. The pain spreads like wildfire, lashing at everything in its path. But it will burn out. In a few days or a few weeks, you won’t remember just how bad it was. It will slowly drain away until there’s nothing left.
*I am blessed that this is actually true for me. I don’t know how people handle debilitating pain on a daily basis. Those people deserve our admiration, love, and help.
This year I learned to trust. To let myself be taken care of. I’ve never had surgery, and while I was ready for this to be all over, I wasn’t thrilled with the idea. I put complete trust in my surgeon and the entire team. I felt safe going under, and while I recovered I forced myself to let go and lean on my friends and family. I also have to trust that I’m going to recover and be back to 100 percent in the future.
Where I am now
Lately I’ve been having weird flashbacks to the first month of my injury. Post surgery it seemed like I was in worse shape than when I first hurt it, but now that I’m really making progress it reminds me of last October. Only this time I actually know what’s going on and what my body responds to best.
After weeks of crutches and cast/boot life, I’m so happy with my progress.
FINALLY! I was originally told I would be on crutches for three weeks post-surgery. What they really meant was I could not put any weight on my foot for three weeks. After that I would slowly! transition to weight-bearing until I could walk without my crutches. It took me two weeks or so to get down to one crutch and be able to walk the seven steps from the sink to the dining room table without feeling like I was ripping my ankle in half.
Last night I walked two (short) blocks in just the boot and felt pretty good! The way back to the car was less fun and rest of the night was a bit uncomfortable and swollen, but it felt so good to move around in the world without the crutches.
Bye Bye Boot-y (er… sort of)
A couple weeks ago I got the okay from my doctor to start putting weight on my foot without the boot. I started with putting a teeny tiny bit of weight on my foot while brushing my teeth or showering. Progress has been slow, but earlier this week I made it up and down the stairs in Tiny House in just my socks. I’m still stupid proud of myself.
Physical Therapy (Round 2)
I’m back to doing nightly Thera-Band exercises in addition to everything else I’ve been doing. It’s only been a week, and my progress is astounding. Physical therapy gives me the warm and fuzzies. And hope for the future. And really weird marks.
There is something so comforting about a routine, especially a nightly routine. The right routine can set you up for a good night’s rest and an even better next day.
The hours before bed are precious. But it’s all too easy to try to get as much done before the day runs out. The laundry that’s been strewn about all day, the dishes from your after-dinner snack, the pile of work you didn’t get to today.
I’m fully guilty of this. It’s so easy to run around and clean up my messes and randomly decide to organize my closet in the hour before bed. But since my surgery I’ve been more strict with my nightly routine. To be fair, I didn’t consciously stop doing all of the random tasks that used to distract me and keep me from getting in bed in time – I can’t physically do them on crutches. But my limitation gave me the space to create a relaxing nightly routine.
The best part of a soothing bedtime routine is that it’s all yours. You can make it into whatever you want. These quick tips will help you make your own soothing nightly routine that you won’t want to skip.
1. Set Aside Time
Nothing is relaxing or calming when you are rushing to fit everything in. Decide when you are going to start your nightly routine, and be strict with yourself about it. You can set an alarm that reminds you to start your bedtime routine if that will help.
I have found that for my pared down nightly routine, 30 minutes is cutting it too close. I like to have a full hour, and if I get done early it means I get to read in bed or do something else relaxing with my extra time.
2. Slow Down
Take a few deep breaths and slow your roll. When we spend all day running from one task to the next, it can be hard to sit still and take things slow. Let your body and your mind transition from your busy day into a calming night. Give yourself space to adjust.
3. No Screens
Trust me, it’s hard for me too. It’s so tempting to scroll through Instagram while I brush my teeth or to watch a video or two while I contrast bath. But between the light from the screens and the nature of online content, we leave ourselves more wound up than when we started. Turn it all off. You’ll sleep better and the time away is refreshing.
My nightly routine used to just consist of getting ready for bed, but since I’ve started sitting in the bathroom for a half hour dipping my foot into buckets, I’ve had time to actually read before bed. I equate reading in bed with luxury. It feels like a soak in a really deep bathtub without the pruning or the water use.
You don’t have to read. You can write, play a game (IRL, no screens), draw, meditate – whatever helps you relax.
5. Play Around
I haven’t been sleeping all that well since my surgery. Between a busy mind and a restless body, I have trouble settling in and falling asleep. My daily routine is a mess and my body doesn’t know what to do without its daily hit of exercise.
To try to help myself get to sleep faster, I’ve been playing with my routine and my timing. I’ve been switching up the time I get in the morning and the time I go to bed to try to trick myself into being tired sooner.
You might not find the perfect nightly routine right away. Being flexible and playing around with what you do and when is a great way to sort it all out. And don’t freak out if your nightly routine stops feeling right for you. Switch things up until it all fits again.
For the first time in years I’m having trouble motivating myself to exercise. I’m not training for anything – all of my energy is focused on recovering and healing. While exercise is definitely an important part of that, my limited abilities are a total downer.
If you don’t mind me borrowing from Beyonce, “I’m not feeling like myself since the baby” ankle injury. My drive is muddled in feeling frustrated and trying to moving forward. My focus is on improving my ankle motion, depriving myself of sugar in the name of healing (AKA eating the best nutrients I can every day), managing inflammation, improving circulation, and trying to figure out how much pain is alright.
I don’t have a ton of mental energy to get creative with my workout. Especially since I can’t actually drive myself to the gym and crutching there may kill me. I have no experience working out at home, and so far I have to be honest, I hate it. Going to the gym is a reset. Even if I don’t feel like exercising, once I’m in the gym that feeling disappears 95 percent of the time.
How to Exercise With an Ankle or Foot Injury
Despite my whining, it’s fully possible to get a great workout without weight-bearing on an injured foot/ankle. Bonus, you’ll heal faster if you do.
1. Change Your Priorities
The last time I was off my ankle, my arms and core were solid. I returned to CrossFit being able to do things that were impossible for me before. Sure, you’ll have to build up your leg strength and balance again, but that doesn’t mean you can’t fine-tune something else. All is not lost.
Target your weaknesses and focus on setting yourself up for a quick, safe return. I’m focusing on hip strength and stability (yes, even without weight-bearing), core strength, and getting rid of imbalances between my arms.
2. Embrace a New Focus
I fight change like a boxer. I refuse to let it go, even when it’s clearly going to win anyways. Before I hurt my ankle I was working on running further faster and improving my leg strength. Weeks before surgery, I hit my previous squat PR.
After surgery I’ve had to let go of all of that. You can’t mourn the strength you are losing or the effort that was “wasted.”
Put all of that energy into something new. I’m all in on my recovery.
3. Track Your Progress
I write down what I’ve done each day to recover and heal, including how I felt and the quality of my sleep. Your workout journal is a great place for this. My phone is full of (nasty) pictures of my incisions so I can scroll through and remind myself how much as changed and how far I’ve come. (Pro tip: These are also great for freaking out your family and friends. You’re welcome.)
Same goes for my workouts. I write down what I did that day, if anything caused pain, and if anything was too easy/hard.
4. Drop the Comparison
You wouldn’t say any of the shit running through your head to someone else with a similar injury. Stop comparing yourself to what you used to be able to do. Yes, it’s disorienting and frustrating. Quit being an ass to yourself (talking to myself here).
An injury is a clean start. Stop looking back at what you used to do and explore what you can do now. I’ve stopped flipping through my workout log to decide on weights. Instead of failing at them and feeling less than, I’m listening to my body and getting a solid workout.
This is the most important. Go into your workout, whether at home or in the gym, with a general idea of what you are going to do. Leave room for making adjustments based on how you feel (and the availability of equipment). This will stop you from wasting time once you get going and will make exercising so much easier.
Exercises to Do When You Have an Ankle or Foot Injury
This is not an exhaustive list, but it’s what I’ve been working with so far. This list is for people who cannot weight-bear at all. These exercises are perfect if you are in a boot/cast or are on crutches.
Russian Twists: use a plate, medicine ball, or dumbbell to make these more difficult
Bird Dogs: put a balance pad beneath your knees for added difficulty
Seated bicep curls or really any seated arm exercise
Ride a stationary bike. No, you probably can’t go to SoulCycle, although by all means ask your doctor. My doctor got me on the bike in my cast for five minutes at no resistance. I’ve slowly built up to 10-15 minutes in my boot, still with no resistance. 100 percent ask before trying this if you are not supposed to be weight-bearing.
Swim. Be sure to have proper support for your injury (tape or brace), no kicking, and don’t push off of the wall with your injured foot/ankle.
Arm cycle. No one wants to do it, but it will definitely get your heart rate up.
Row. Put your injured leg on a skate board and go for it. Personally I feel off-balance when I try this, but see how it feels to you.
What have you tried? Are there any other good non-weight bearing exercises?
While it’s been 11 months since I first injured my ankle, I’m only three weeks into my peroneal tendon surgery recovery.
After a solid two weeks of rest, I finally felt ready to do my first workout. It felt so so good to move around and get a little sweaty, although I was less excited to be sweating in my cast. I’m still trying to figure out creative things that I can do while sitting or lying down. I’m planning on including a list one of these days so you don’t have to scour the entire internet like I did. For some really hardcore ideas, you can check out Lauren Fisher’s Instagram.
I got the cast hacked off me and breathed a huge sigh of relief when I finally got to wash my leg and trim my toe nails. (Casts are a worst nightmare for a germaphobe like me.) But I haven’t exercised since I got the cast off on Monday. It took me a solid 24 hours to adjust to life in my boot. The first night was terrible, but we’re starting to understand each other better.
I may attempt to flop around on the floor a bit today in the name of stretching and exercise, but since I started partial weight-bearing today and my ankle wasn’t a huge fan, I’m waiting to see how things progress into the afternoon.
Peroneal Tendon Surgery Recovery Lifesavers
1. Friends and family.
I have been blessed to have so much help. You don’t really realize how limiting crutches are until you are trying to get yourself grapes out of the fridge and you have to sit on the floor and eat them right there because you can’t crutch and carry them.
My lovely boyfriend has taken the brunt of it. He makes me a solid three meals a day, does the dishes, retrieves snacks, and doesn’t say anything when I ask for the chocolate… again.
2. Extra pillows.
Fun fact, my whole foot turns purple when I don’t elevate. While it is an interesting hue, I find it best not to experience it.
3. Knee-height stool
I scoot myself around the kitchen with a stool. It means I can ditch the crutches, actually have clean hands, and carry things. Amazing!
4. A great book… or four
Reading has kept me sane. It’s one of my few hobbies that I can still do while recovering.
5. Tasty Tea
And the disgusting turmeric tea I drink to appease the gods of inflammation. But man do I look forward to my warm cup of green tea in the morning. Bonus points if you drink tea every time you ice too (unless it’s a thousand degrees outside like yesterday, and then by all means put some of that ice in your cup).
7. What laundry?
Not really a lifesaver, but this bonus should not go unnoticed. It turns out not going to the gym and spending most days at home means you produce 1/4 of the laundry you once did. Score! Especially since the aforementioned lovely man has to do it all by himself.
While I was rarely left to fend for myself the first week and a half, the time came for me to be more self-sufficient. My biggest barrier (other than pain anytime my foot was below my hip for more than two minutes) was my inability to carry things.
A photo posted by Mandy Ferreira (@treading_lightly) on
I fixed that problem. A little creative problem solving goes a long when fending for yourself in less than optimal conditions.
I’m in the boot for six weeks, but my doctor has encouraged me to start testing my range of motion. Full discloser, that has been awful! My total range of motion is less than three degrees at most and it lets me know what it thinks of this plan loudly. Needless to say, I’m not rushing into that.
Ideally in the next week I will ween myself off the crutches (and become a more fully functional human being in the process). While my hands are ready to burn the crutches for what they’ve done to them, my ankle has made it clear that a very slow transition will be necessary.
I start PT (yay, again!) in three weeks. I have legitimate fear about it right now. But three weeks is a lot of time to heal (and toughen up).
Preparing for peroneal tendon surgery and the aftermath has been a weird experience. Never before have I known an injury or setback was coming as clearly as I have with this. I said goodbye to lifting weights (for now) and talked to my foot the night before knowing I wouldn’t see it again for a while (no judgements).
Our vacation has a bittersweet tinge to it. I’m so thankful I got to do so much, but the view from my bed seems a little grayer in comparison.
I purposefully scheduled my surgery as soon after my trip as possible so I would have the least amount of time to stress about it. While I had a of couple insanely busy days when we got back, it worked out great.
I had a wonderful team in the O.R. that made me feel comfortable and safe, which let’s be honest is not easy. My surgeon and his team repaired a tear in my peroneal tendon and removed a bone spur from my injury. I still don’t know how long of a tear or even how any of this works, and for now I’m good with that.
My family and the doctor’s fellows have reported that I was hilarious in the recovery room. Thankfully there are no videos or photos to prove it. I vaguely remember repeatedly asking if I had a tendon tear before falling back asleep and promptly forgetting the answer (sorry guys!).
Recovery (AKA Why I’m Not Made for Crutches)
It’s taken me a bit longer to bounce back than I expected, but overall the whole process has gone much smoother than I feared.
I’m learning to laugh when I lose my balance for the hundredth time instead of crying like a toddler. Stairs are my current nemesis, and I have yet to figure out the best way to carrying things with crutches. I’m still coming to terms with having to ask for everything. I love to do things on my own, and having to ask for someone to fill up my water bottle or make me breakfast has been infuriating.
This will get better. I will get better.
In the grand scheme of things, this really ins’t so bad. I’m in cast for two more weeks and on crutches for a total of three. At this point I’m really looking forward to when I’m in a boot for 4-6 weeks because it means I can take it off! I’m trying to embrace the tightness of the cast and it’s constant presence. But telling yourself something is comforting when your body is sending you signals otherwise is a bit of a challenge. I’ve also started to daydream about my stitches coming out and what it will feel like to wash my leg.
We are obsessed with showering and extreme cleanliness in the U.S. We put medical grade antibacterials into our body wash and encourage women to douse the inside of their bodies with unnecessary chemicals. Showering daily has become a cultural norm – one that is difficult to break.
But the more I read about our bodies’ microbioms and the amazing, helpful bacteria on our skin, the more I realize we are living under false assumptions. You don’t need to use harsh soaps, you don’t need to shower every day, and you don’t need to treat your body like a battle ground.
No Poo or Less Shampoo
For years I have wanted to wash my hair less often, but I was hesitant to go to work with greasy hair while I transited. I washed my hair every other day for years, despite the dry scalp and frizzy hair it gave me.
When I started working from home in February, I seized the opportunity to experiment with my shampoo schedule (and spend entire days in the comfort of my pajamas). At first I stretched it from two days to three. Then after a couple of weeks I went for a crazy stab at five days.
These days I wash my hair every three to four days. I typically wash my hair after my sweatiest workout of the week or after I swim. I could likely keep stretching the time between washes, and it seems like a shame to wash it again after only three days, but it works out well with my workout schedule.
Why You Should Wash Your Hair Less
Since I stopped washing my hair so frequently I have stopped incessantly scratching my head. My hair doesn’t have crazy flyaways, and it feels silky smooth.
I typically wear my hair down the first 1-2 days, and up the other 1-2. By the last day it is a bit greasier than I used to tolerate, but I’ve come to realize that no one notices! And those natural oils are so good for your scalp and hair.
Washing and drying is tough on hair. If you normally style your hair with heat, washing it less means you can go much longer on a single style. Your hair will be less damaged, and you can stop staring at your split ends incessantly.
Ditch the Soap and the Daily Shower
There was no transition for showering less like there was with my hair. I went from showering every other day (or every day during super sweaty summer workouts) to about 3-4 times in the average week.
When I do shower, I (mostly) skip the soap. For the past six months or so I have been washing my body with water. I haven’t turned into a massive stink bomb (and yes I’ve asked people who spend time with me). After a sweaty workout, I wash my arm and leg pits with soap. The rest of me gets a good rinse and I’m done. (Although it should also be pointed out that I shave my legs with a moisturizing handmade soap, so I do effectively wash my legs with soap once a week.)
You don’t need to jump in the shower to get clean. If I have put on sunscreen or I feel like freshening up without turning on the tap, I wipe down with a wash cloth.
The Benefits of Showering Less
On the days that I’m not washing my hair, I can be in and out of the shower in two minutes or less. Although when I shave my legs it can take me closer to 10 minutes. I try to shave on days that I don’t wash my hair to break up marathon showers. I used to spend nearly an hour a week in the shower. These days it’s more like 20-30 minutes.
I could easily run out of hot water in the shower when I was growing up. Fifteen minutes was the norm, if not longer. The amount of water I wasted makes me cringe. My new shower routine likely saves me 95 gallons of water a week. That’s 4,940 gallons a year!
Despite eschewing soap and only washing my hair twice a week, my skin and hair feel better. They are less dry and I don’t get so itchy anymore. My back and chest haven’t exploded with zits (if anything they look better than before). Instead of needing an intense moisturizer after every shower, a light application of sunflower oil is plenty.
“Applying detergents (soaps) to our skin and hair every day disrupts a sort of balance between skin oils and the bacteria that live on our skin. When you shower aggressively, you obliterate the ecosystems. They repopulate quickly, but the species are out of balance and tend to favor the kinds of microbes that produce odor.” I Quit Showering and Life Continued, The Atlantic
Much like the bacteria in our guts, we are only just starting to understand what these bacteria do and how they benefit us.
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.
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