Treading Lightly
Treading Lightly

What I Learned From a Year-long Injury

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.

year-long-injury

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.

First time back in years. Blew out my ankle. #basketball

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.

On the move! #sixmonths up on the blog #physicaltherapy #running

A video posted by Mandy Ferreira (@treading_lightly) on

Exercising with an Ankle or Foot Injury -year-long injury

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.

Peroneal Tendon Surgery Recovery -year-long injury

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.

11. Trust.

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.

Goodbye Crutches

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.

Six Months Eversion Ankle Exercise with Thera-Band

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.

Tips for Exercising with an Ankle Injury

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.

Exercising with an ankle injury

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.

 

5. Plan

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.

  1. Russian Twists: use a plate, medicine ball, or dumbbell to make these more difficult
  2. Bird Dogs: put a balance pad beneath your knees for added difficulty
  3. Fire Hydrants on hands and knees
  4. Hamstring Curls with resistance band or machine. I’ve been doing it like this.
  5. Side Plank 
  6. Plank with injured leg raised out to the side or draped over other foot
  7. 1 Leg Pushup: Hello, core. Or pushups on both knees, increase reps or add weight to your back for a challenge
  8. Pull Ups: Play with grip, embrace the weight of your cast/boot/brace
  9. Dips
  10. Ab Roll Outs: AKA accidental faceplants if you are me.
  11. V-Ups & Boat Pose
  12. Supermans
  13. Kneeling/seated lat pull down with resistance band or cable machine
  14. Kneeling tricep rows on bench or floor
  15. Side Leg Raises
  16. Leg Raises
  17. L-sits & L-hangs
  18. Seated bicep curls or really any seated arm exercise

Cardio:

Exercising with an Ankle or Foot Injury

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?

11 Ways to Naturally Ease Sore Muscles

I love to feel the burn as much as the next person, but sore muscles can quickly go from a nice pat on the back for a job well done to crippling. Instead of popping a pill, naturally ease sore muscles with these tips.

rolling-out-tight-calves-on-barbell-8-months-post-ankle-injury-how-to-naturally-ease-sore-muscles

How to Naturally Ease Sore Muscles

1. Hydrate! Not just when you are done with your workout, but all day every day. How much water do you really need? You can try this calculator for figuring out how much you should drink during your workout.

2. Mobility and foam rolling. I know, the last thing you want to do at the end of a hard workout is roll around on the floor like a spastic seal, but it’s important to get the blood moving into all of the tissue you just used. Foam rolling (and other forms of self-massage) help break up tissue adhesions and speed recovery. Try for 10 minutes a day (wether you worked out or not!) of foam rolling and targeted muscle release. For tips, check out how to properly roll out your legs and your back/chest.

Runner's World Ice Bath Running Recovery

3. Contrast bath. Shock your system and scare the soreness right out of your muscles with a contrast bath. Not really, but a contrast bath will increase circulation and nourish your tired and torn up muscles. You can do full body plunges or stand in the shower, but I like to use two buckets and just do my knees down. Try for at least four cycles of 3 minutes in hot water and 1 minute in cold water. Always start and end on hot.

4. Sleep. My personal favorite. When you sleep your body repairs the tissue you have torn and broken down by exercising. The more sleep you get, the better you recover. Many professional athletes sleep up to 12 hours a day.

5. Arnica gel. This is your best friend for really sore muscles. Arnica helps reduce inflammation and pain. Personally, I like this gel.

6. Magnesium. I used to get horrible muscle spasms. My legs would wake me up in the night with twitches that seemed to last forever. I would jerk myself awake with a massive twitch that would send my arm or leg flying. I started drinking magnesium a couple of years ago to sleep better.

Turns out I was also giving myself a massive recovery boost. Calcium aids in muscle contraction while magnesium helps the muscle relax. An imbalance between calcium and magnesium leaves you with stiff, tight muscles.

I drink Natural Calm every night before bed, but you can also rub it straight on your sore muscles. I like the powder better than a pill because I can control the dose and make sure I get enough on the days I have a hard workout.

7. Gentle movement. An easy walk or short yoga session can go a long way toward loosening up muscles and relieving soreness. This isn’t a sprint or an hour long swim. Get your blood flowing with a bit of slow, gentle movement.

8. Legs up the wall. I love coming home from a hard run or a heavy squat session and putting my legs up the wall. Ahhh, feels so good! I like to imagine the soreness draining out of my legs while I lie back and relax. But in reality, it’s a nice boost for your circulation.

9. Compression. Jury is still out on compression for improved performance, but it does help you recover. Try socks or other compression clothing to get the blood flowing. I swear by the Voodoo band for serious compression and relief – it also really helps remove tissue adhesions and get everything gliding properly again.

10. Naturally anti-inflammatory foods. Ginger, turmeric, and fish all of have anti-inflammatory properties. Whole foods also help muscles get the amino acids, minerals, and vitamins that they need to repair and get stronger.

11. Cupping. A little intense for your run of the mill muscle soreness, but totally worth keeping in your back pocket for the days where breathing feels strenuous. You can read all about my experience with cupping here. (Spoiler, I like it.)

13 Weeks Later

When I hobbled out of urgent care 13 weeks ago I told myself I still had plenty of time to heal up before my half marathon. I was still dreaming of a fast race and the chance to PR in February.

I finally accepted that I wasn’t going to make it to that race. Now I’m staring down the fact that I won’t even be running at all by then.

At three months, this is officially my worst injury. Sure I’ve had lingering tendonitis, but this takes the cake for my longest, slowest recovery yet. And there really isn’t anything I can do about it.

stationary-bike-stanford-rec

I’ve accepted that I have a severe ankle injury, and I need to treat it as such. I’ve stopped crying over the fact that I was coming off a huge PR and I was in the best shape I had been in in years. By now that fitness is loooong gone. I’ve also stopped thinking about how I’m going to get back there as soon as I can.

The past and the future are dangerous places. I end up feeling frustrated and hopeless when I dwell on them.

Lately I’ve been trying my best to focus on the present. Not even what I can do today, but what I can do right now. My ankle range of motion comes and goes. The pain hits and fades. I can do squats fine and then suddenly I can’t do them at all.

And it’s all okay. It’s all progress. It’s all something.

I can’t control my recovery. I can’t predict when I will be able to run. I can’t force my body to heal any faster (which isn’t to say I’m not trying everything I can).

I’m still an athlete. I’m still getting stronger. I’m certainly learning a lot. And soon, I will be able to build the base that will let me run and lift until my legs turn to jelly. But right now, I’m still digging the foundation. I’m getting my tendons strong and getting rid of all of the scar tissue in my way.

What comebacks are made of

Comebacks are made of a bunch of little things done right.

I have to keep reminding myself of that. It’s the two minutes I set aside each day to do my ankle strengthening exercises. It’s the 30 minutes I spend each night dipping my ankle in and out of icy and hot water. It’s all of the things I know I can’t do that I don’t do.

I want to run. Desperately. I’m 11 weeks out from a half marathon, a half marathon I signed up for thinking I would come home with a PR. Now I’m questioning if I will even make it to the start line.

But all of the small things add up. I can’t run right now, but I can spend all of the time I would have spent running getting my strength back and helping the healing process. I can’t squat or snatch or clean right now, but that doesn’t mean I can’t get stronger or that I can’t lift.

dumbell-push-press-homegrown-crossfit-san-carlos

The last time I was injured I was so focused on all of the things I couldn’t do that I was blindsided by all of the new things I could do. Just like last time, I am focusing on different muscles than I normally do and I am working hard to build a solid, healthy foundation so when my ankle is ready, the rest of my body will be prepared to run again too.

Frustration is still around every corner. I still cry about not being able to do what I want. I worry about how long this injury is taking to heal and about what lasting effects I might have in the future. But each thing I do right gives me a little more hope.

The worst is over. Now it’s just about staying focused and working on the little things.

Training update 2/16-22

I haven’t done a weekly update in a while, mostly because announcing to the world that I only ran six miles the entire week makes me never want to get out of bed. But I realized that those six miles matter, and everything else that I’m doing is worth talking about. So here it goes, what life really looks like when you’re chipping away at a comeback.

Monday

I started the week with the day off (hallelujah!). To celebrate I slept in and skipped my usual CrossFit workout. Instead I went to the gym late and did my third week of the Hatch Squat program. My legs were so happy to do this workout fresh. I usually squat after my regular workout, and man do my legs hate it.

Big girl weights only

 

Tuesday

Despite tired legs (hello squats) I got in a slow and careful 2.5 mile run (which if we are being real is a 2 mile run, .5 mile walk).

Wednesday

Sometimes overhead squats feel like you are dying. Sometimes you feel like you can lift the world. Thankfully I felt pretty good for this workout. The best part? I didn’t even have to do more squats after.

hgx-crossfit-snatch

Thursday

Given that more is always better (uhhh or not), I decided to go for a short 2.5 mile run (which ironically is currently the same length as my long run) and followed it up with an hour and 15 minutes of heated power yoga before work. Yoga has been huge in helping me release tight hip flexors and keeping my lower legs loose. The only problem is that standing on one leg really tugs on my tendons and it’s super easy for me to inflame my PTT without realizing it. In this case, tired legs + a fair amount of balance work = unhappy tendons & disappointed Mandy.

Friday

Fridays are for squatting! (I’m trying really hard to make that into a thing. So far no one will join me.) After an hour long CrossFit class I was at it again for my second day of my squat program. I would love to say I was feeling great for this workout, but the truth is that after finding a two rep max power snatch and doing more than 60 pull-ups and dumbbell snatches, I was not feelin’ the squats. It took me almost an hour to get through my front and back squat sets. But I did have a great time sitting and chatting. (Maybe Fridays really are for socializing?)

Saturday

Since I was feeling super energetic the night before (see Friday), I decided it would be a great idea to go for a run and a swim before lunch. I wouldn’t recommend this tactic. It results in homicidal hunger and the inability to get anything else done all day. If you are hoping to take an intense nap, this workout might be for you.

Sunday

I had originally planned on doing another hot power yoga class, but given the state of my body (and my sudden inability to make it through a day without a nap) I decided to skip it and rest my legs. My tendons thanked me… ha. I wish.

Overall stats:

  • 2 hours of PT (Mostly stretching and releasing my calves and hips with a lacrosse ball. I did some of my exercises… but not enough)
  • 1 sweaty yoga class
  • Ran 7.5 miles (and proud of it!)
  • 3 hours of CrossFit
  • 2 squat sessions for a total of 5.7 tons (over a ton more than the average car) squatted. Ouch.

The little mermaid grown up

There are moments in life when you know you are exactly where you should be. You fit in. You are comfortable. It’s wonderful.

My first few kicks off the wall before I come up for a breath always reaffirm this for me. I feel at home in the water. Swimming makes me feel simultaneously graceful and powerful, a true rarity for someone who is as spastic and klutzy on land as I am.

treading lightly swimming

I have always loved to swim, and I spent as much time as possible in the pool growing up. I started swim lessons before I had walking down solidly, and I still have strong memories of learning to swim. To this day I can still tell you my favorite suite (it was green with iridescent patches that I thought made me look like a mermaid while I was swimming) down to the shower curtains in the locker room (fish on a clear background, way cooler than anything we had at home).

treading lightly baby pool swimming

While I always loved swimming, I didn’t compete until high school. I swam for three years and had a blast, but by senior year I was burned out (not just from swimming but from an extremely busy schedule and difficult classes) and not willing to swim for the team after our beloved coach retired and the golf coach subbed all season. I swam when I could in college, but it was more something I would sneak out and do when I was really stressed and needed some space or when the weather was amazing and I just couldn’t pass it up than a part of my typical training schedule.

Since I can’t run, I have been taking advantage of a nearby indoor pool (the perfect setup for my sunburn prone-skin and zero tolerance for cold). While I can’t kick… or really do anything other than gentle flip turns and swim with the pull buoy, it has been great to get back into the pool. It has helped me keep my sanity and remember that I am not one thing. I am not just a runner. I am not just a swimmer. I am not just a writer. I can be or do whatever I want. It was definitely a much needed reminder since not being able to run or olympic lift has left me reeling and desperately trying to figure out who I am outside of the things I love so much.

What I did this month

Being injured is not my jam. There are days where I’m completely calm and rational about it and others where I feel like I am seriously loosing my mind and would do anything to get back to my regular training. For the days when I’m going crazy, I remind myself that every day I’m careful, every time I rest, the closer I am to being able to run again.

swimming speedo women's vanquisher racing goggles treading lightly

The stats:

Ran: 21.4 miles (most of them I probably shouldn’t have run… denial is a strong force)
Swam: 6-7 miles
CrossFit: 12 classes
Yoga: 4 fantastic power classes
+ an hour or more weekly of rehab exercises, foam rolling, and targeted stretching

What you can’t see:

Switching from running to swimming at the end of the month brought me back to my competitive swimming days, and it’s given me inspiration to consider doing a triathlon next year. It has also reminded me that there have been a lot of times in my life where an injury of some sort sets me back for a time, but I always come back and I always learn something while I’m away. So maybe I can’t run right now, but I can pay attention to my body and make it stronger and more prepared for when I do get to run again.