Sunday, November 28, 2010

Both Feet on the Ground

My mother is one step closer to walking again.

Four years ago, my mom had back surgery, which started a chain of disasters: she developed deep bed sores from lack of care, she was assaulted in a rehab center, and she ended up in a wheelchair. One of the sores was on her heel, and so even putting weight on that foot was out of the question.

My mom's heel pretty much healed in July. There was a scab on it until a few weeks ago, but no depth to the wound. With the scab gone, one roadblock to walking again is gone.

The other roadblock was that she couldn't put her heel all the way down to the floor. Being in a wheelchair for four years, her muscles had tightened and atrophied. My parents and I discussed three options:

  • One doctor recommended making a small incision in the leg to either stretch or cut a tendon or muscle, allowing the heel to move downward. (Isn't that what some people have done to racehorses to end their careers?)
  • Another doctor wanted to fit a boot to Mom's foot, along with wires actually going into the foot, and making adjustments over time to stretch the foot. Given that my mom had a sore on the same foot that took three years to heal, Dad and I thought this was a bad idea. So did Mom's general practitioner.
  • My idea: if you can stretch the muscles by wearing a boot, why can't you stretch them with stretching exercises?

Physical therapy had helped with this while my Mom was a rehab, and at home she'd worn a brace that helped also. But with the sore on her foot healed, she started doing more stretching exercises at the kitchen sink for ten minutes a day, along with doing some light work standing up. Over the past few weeks, I've also been leading my mom in Slow Burn resistance training. (She even bought some two-pound free weights.) Dad and I have encouraged her to walk with a walker and stretch her muscles. I know from my experience with turf toe how quickly muscles weaken when they aren't used: when I resumed serious dancing a month after my injury, I was amazed at how much strength I'd lost in my feet. Mom still needs to develop a lot more strength to walk again. Physical therapy is good, stretching is good, but there's no substitute for making demands on your muscles.

The result of my mom's self-directed exercise program is that she can put her foot flat on the floor. No procedures needed.

The next roadblock to remove: lack of strength in her feet and flexibility in her legs.


Danny Dave said...

I am somehow concerned by the fact that none of the doctors recommended stretching exercises?

Lori Miller said...

Agreed. I don't know my mother's doctors, but what I suspect is this: there's not much money to be made from telling patients to go home and stretch. That, and the procedures I described are the doctors' shtick.

Anonymous said...

Well, and MOST people probably won't actually DO the stretching at home... If you don't have someone cracking a whip (or providing loving-but-active-and -present support {G}), it's way too easy to just not do it! Elenor

Lori Miller said...

My mother ended up having the surgery (see the first bullet point). She's still in recovery, so we'll have to wait and see what the outcome is.