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.
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?
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
I’d like to think I’m handling this injury better than my last.
Which is funny given my propensity to lose my mind the minute anyone suggests I can’t run, jump, or do anything fun.
It’s almost easier that this injury has been visually pronounced (my bruise turned a nice shade of green just in time for Halloween. It didn’t hurt that I walked like Frankenstein’s monster) and the pain is violent and consuming.
There’s no ignoring this one.
The good: I didn’t break any bones. The bad: I’m out for 4-6 weeks. The ugly: … well my ankle.
After x-rays and WAY too many doctors painfully poking and prodding my already grotesque, swollen lump of an ankle (MUST you push so hard? I mean really!), I had “sprained ankle” stamped across my chart and I was sent on my merry way.
I finally started PT, which means I now spend 30 minutes or so a day doing weird exercises that seem like a test of patience more than a way of getting back to the things I love. Like going down stairs without pain.
This time there’s no groveling. There’s no trying to run or pushing through nagging pain. I’ve never been so in touch with my painful reality. I’m out for the count.
It doesn’t matter that I was in great shape. It doesn’t matter I had just pulled off a massive 7-minute PR on a difficult course. It doesn’t matter that I have a half in February. It doesn’t matter that I love to run in the rain and it happens to be raining.
On Wed. 10/28 at exactly 12:30ish p.m. I massively sprained my ankle.
Those are the facts. That’s my reality.
I’m out for now, but you damn well better believe I am going to do all of the weird exercises and I am going to fight back and return to running stronger and hungrier than ever before.
I had some big milestones this week. I ran my first race since October (more about that soon). I completed my longest run in 5 months. And biggest of all, I hit over 1,000 all-time miles.
I know some people run 1,000 miles in a handful of months, but I’m proud of how far I’ve come. Between injuries, graduating from college, my first full time job, and everything else I’ve experienced in the last four years, 1,000 miles feels pretty damn good.
Here’s a sneak peek of yesterday’s race location.
By the numbers
Three CrossFit classes (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday)
One sweaty heated power yoga class
11.42 miles! (including a 10k race)
Lots and lots of PT, foam rolling, lacrosse balling, and stretching
My comeback is well on its way, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t setbacks. I’m taking a few days off running after yesterday’s race to give my poor feet a chance to catch up on healing and relax again. I was feeling pretty good, but a couple days before the race my plantar fascia started to bug me. After really pushing it for the last mile of the race, they deserve a break.
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.