Recuperating from my broken toe has taught me a great deal about recuperating from an injury, the importance of rehabilitation, rest, and patience. (That last one is very difficult for me.) Two broken bones within two years will do that. From my experience I can tell you that your body gets a bit discombobulated when you break a bone. Your body parts know their job until something bad happens like a broken bone. Your body will try to figure out a way to work around any limitation a broken bone puts on it. That is when the trouble can start. I have been learning all about this from my new hero, Carrie, a certified rehabilitation fitness trainer who is working to get me back in shape for the Boston Marathon.
Carrie has been teaching me about proprioception. Proprioception is considered by some to be our sixth sense. It is a system of receptor nerves (proprioceptors) that tell our brains where the various parts of the body are, if they are moving, and how they are moving. A good example of proprioceptors at work is walking on a moving train. As the train car sways from side to side, you have to adjust your body as you walk. Otherwise you will run into things or even fall over. Your proprioceptors are sending information to your brain so that it can tell your muscles how to adapt to the swaying car. Injuries such as broken bones in our feet or ligament damage can disrupt the proprioceptors. When our “sixth sense” is not working properly, we can have balance issues or our stride and posture can be off.
I noticed a few months ago my balance seemed off. For example, I was having difficulty balancing on one foot while going up and down stairs. I don’t need any more broken bones so I decided to get help to sort myself out. Enter Carrie. During my first appointment with Carrie, she put me through some tests and proved what I had suspected. I was putting more weight in my heels instead of the balls of my feet. The wrong parts of my feet were engaged when I was walking (and when I ran). As a result, I had developed a nagging pain in my ankle that increased with my long distance runs. I could only run 6 miles before my ankle started to scream at me.
Carrie explained the proprioceptors in our feet send information to our brains about the running surface – whether it is hard or soft, even or uneven, flat or steep. Using this information, the brain tells our bodies how to adjust to the conditions – things like our stride, our gait, and which muscles to use. When I broke my toe, I disconnected some of those proprioceptors so my body was improvising – and badly, I might add. Worse, I was at risk for more injuries.
Over the last month Carrie has given me specific exercises to get the proper muscles firing again. I have been following her instructions for strength training exercises for my feet as well as my core. There are a number of balance exercises as well. I am regaining my “sixth sense.” My running form has improved and the pain in my ankle has disappeared. No more 6-mile ankle for me.
If you are experiencing recurring injuries or have injuries that are not improving despite periods of rest, I highly recommend that you seek out a rehabilitation fitness trainer. Someone who understands how the body moves will be able to assess how you might be compensating for an injury and help you make the appropriate corrections to prevent further injury. I am grateful to have Carrie on Team Funatical Runner. I don’t think I would have regained my sixth sense of proprioception without her.