Back pain as the result of a leg length discrepancy due to scoliosis and lumbar spinal stenosis forced my father to change his life during his mid to late 30s. Prior to that time, he had been an outstanding athlete both on the basketball court and with baseball bat. I inherited the painful structural defects in my spine directly from my father. I have known this since I was diagnosed with scoliosis as a high school student.
If you have a good eye for structural anomalies you can see our curved spines and leg length discrepancies in this 1957 photo taken at the bullfights in Nogales, Sonora Mexico.
What I did not learn until later in life is that early intervention could have dramatically reduced the negative impact of these genetic gifts on my overall health status. I want young people who find that they too have inherited these defects to understand the importance of intervening in the degenerative processes as early as possible. They may need to become proactive self-advocates long before physicians are concerned. Young people may need to remember that conventional medicine is designed to treat illness and dysfunction. They will require a more preventive approach to achieve wellness.
As I approach my 72nd birthday, I am grateful to have recovered some of my ability to walk. My morning walk is my favorite part of the day. I only measure the length of my walk in terms of physiological effect and time elapsed. I walk until I have worked up a good sweat and elevated my heart rate. Right now, it tends to be 40 minutes from the time I leave my dwelling until I return. My goal is to increase the amount of time that I can walk once my heart rate has been elevated.
I want to find the wall of my endurance and push through it until my brain rewards the effort with a “rush.” I know from experience that my brain manufactures the best “feel good” chemicals in the world and that is the pain relief that I am chasing. I know I have achieved that state when my internal sound track plays James Brown’s “I feel Good.” The purpose of my rehabilitation program is to change the frequency and intensity of the pain signals that my body sends to my brain AND how my brain interprets those symptoms.
Ready to Roll
I tend to sleep “ready roll” for walking. I roll out of my bed, wash my face, brush my teeth, take my thyroid hormones, grab my stuff and go. My “stuff” includes the right stick, the right shoes, the right music player, and the right mindset.
I have a few sticks and trekking poles (in addition to several pairs of crutches and a few canes). I love what I call my “big stick.” It is beautiful and functional but not quite right for my current physical status and needs. These days I only go for aerobic walks in my neighborhood. Therefore, I have opted to use a lighter stick for help with balance, cadence, and to incorporate upper body movement into my walking routine. The wolf carving on the straight lighter stick is symbolic of lupus and serves as my reminder to behave in ways that keep the beast calm
Keeping the beast calm while using a footlift to compensate for the difference in the length of my legs, requires walking shoes with specific characteristics. I look for lace up shoes with a removable insole, extra depth, and a wide toe box. The Merrell shoes on the left have served me well and I am getting ready to put a new pair into the lineup.
The laces that come with new shoes are too long for this Lupangeezer. I often replace those laces with a brand that locks. Sometimes I simply lock the original laces, cut or burn them, and tie the ends into knots. On other occasions, I resort to the original curly no tie type of lace. The only thing that I do not do is trip on my shoe laces.
All Shoes Need a Lift
One of the most important things about wearing the footlift to reduce the shear on my right sacroiliac joint is that the footlift must be in place every time that I stand up. I cannot walk barefooted, and a lift must be inserted in every pair of shoes that I wear. This pair of Rocket Dog Stokers are my favorite house shoes. They are not great walkers, but they have the required removable insole. The wide toe box and elastic and Velcro closure keep me relatively comfortable indoors with the challenging concrete subfloor.
The music that I prefer for aerobic activities is already loaded onto the waterproof mp3 player that I use in the pool. I clip it on, push play, and I have four hours of music that I love, music that inspires me to move. I thought about adding an appropriate playlist to my phone but after a lengthy discussion with ALEXA about song choices, I realized that turning the phone off and adding it to the contents of my fanny pack was the best option.
I am more than a tad obsessed with the concept of walking. Since I started working on DNA genealogy and family history, I am fascinated by the fact that some of my ancestors walked from the coastal plains of eastern seaboard of the United States to the Mississippi Territory and beyond: the slavery trail of tears – https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/slavery-trail-of-tears-180956968/.
This connection to walking motivated me to join GirlTrek.org http://www.girltrek.org/.
It feels as though the founders of this movement have read my heart, mind, and soul. So, even though I am stranded in my neighborhood and walking alone, I walk in communion with a group of like minded women. Harriet’s Handbook has become one of my most important tools. It provides inspiration. It adds the accountability that a person walking alone really needs. And it rewards the achievement of goals. I am documenting my first official Warrior Week.
Sometimes my thoughts retreat into a more distant past, such as the development of bipedalism in early humans. Sometimes it starts flipping pages in anatomy texts trying to figure out what else I can do to compensate for the skeletal defects with which I was born. “Here there be dragons.”
Sometimes, I don’t need more information or more thought. I just need to walk far enough, long enough, and fast enough that my brain can handle no thought more complex than “I FEEL GOOD.”
- One day a new comer to the therapeutic pool at Sheltering Arms watched me go into a session really dragging (think “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”) and come out singing “Papa’s Got a Brand-New Bag.” She asked if the exercise had changed my pain level that drastically. I answered her honestly. “The pain has not changed. My brain just doesn’t care as much about it.” I am still moving my body through the pain to change the way my brain feels about it. ↑