Navigating Chronic Pain

Since 2016, I’ve had chronic pain in my ankle that made my active lifestyle fall apart. Before my ankle injury, it was normal for me to workout five days a week and walk about six miles a day seven days a week. After two ACL surgeries on the same leg, I discovered my posterior ankle tendon ruptured. The official diagnosis is PTTD where my ankle tendon isn’t able to hold my ankle in place and my foot is slowly rolling onto the inside of my ankle because of my flat-feet.

I was told surgery was the only way to fix it. Multiple opinions agreed. The foot surgery proposed troubled me because not a single doctor could assure me that I’d be able to walk more than a mile after the eighteen-month recovery period. 

The same day I had scheduled surgery in 2018 because I had grown tired of the pain, I met a chiropractor (Dr. John Soborowicz) who told me that my brain had dismissed my left foot. I’m sure I looked at him like he was crazy, but since I wanted to avoid surgery, I was willing to try his treatment plan. 

The first day that Dr. John adjusted me, I think I could’ve walked out of his office if my leg hadn’t had so much atrophy. I did everything he asked, no matter how crazy it sounded to me, and within five months I was walking longer and longer distances. I still had pain flare-ups, but it was nothing compared to before.

Eventually, (about a year later) I was able to hike in the mountains of Colorado. I met Dr. John every week to stay adjusted. There were still limitations to what I could do, but the weekly adjustments kept me moving. The best thing with Dr. John, compared to the many other chiropractors I met after him, is that he educated me about the anatomy of how my body moved and what the home exercises he gave me were designed to do. 

There were weeks at a time when I’d have my ankle pain flare up to the point I had to limit walking, but after a few adjustments, I’d be back to normal.

The problem returned in 2020 when we moved to Idaho. I struggled to walk the foothills near our house. The declines on trails caused my ankle to hurt bad enough I’d have problems walking for the next few days. I tried the chiropractors there and none of them were able to make the pain go away. 

By the time we moved to Minnesota in 2022, my ankle pain had become a constant companion. A chiropractor up here told me I had to accept the fact that I’d always be in pain and shift to a pain management mindset using red light treatment. I never went back. It didn’t want to accept the pain; I wanted to find someone like Dr. John (his office is five hours away from here) who could make the adjustments that made it possible to walk in the woods. 

The pain in my ankle became a constant presence. Standing in one spot for more than ten minutes made the inside of my ankle feel hot, and I’d often stand on one foot if I couldn’t sit down. The constant pain discouraged me because we live in an area with many hiking trails. The Superior Hiking Trail, which is 300 miles from one end to the other, is within walking distance of my house. 

I kept searching for answers. I purchased a book called Fixing You: Foot & Ankle Pain by Rick Olderman MSPT that helped me understand the anatomy of my foot. It also showed me that there is a lot of information that is still unknown about our feet. The book recommended some exercises and a few taping methods to support the arch. 

The tape it helped immensely. It heightened my awareness of my knee locking and definitely supported my arch. The recommendation is to tape for up to two hours a day. I made progress, but still ran into problems when I walked long distances or down inclines. My daily plans were strategy sessions on figuring out where I could walk that wouldn’t cause pain.

The hiking trails still called out to me and I still couldn’t go.

Then I started working at a sales position at Split Rock Lighthouse. I was nervous when I started because the position requires me to stand most of the day. Thankfully, there’s a stool that’s about the height of my knee so I can rest on it while appearing to stand. My managers know about my injury and told me to do whatever I needed to do to manage my pain.

My counselor recommended The Melt Method by Sue Hitzmann as another thing to try for my ankle. The cost of the materials is less than two chiropractor appointments and I figured it was worth a try since I’ve tried every non-surgical and non-pharmaceutical option I could find. 

The Melt Method is about working on our fascia. The fluid that is under our skin that gets built up and causes inflammation around the body. Pain happens when the fluids build up in areas of our body. This causes joints to not move as easily or tension in our muscles. The way to ease the pain in these areas is to use a soft foam roller and different sized balls to roll near areas that commonly cause pain.

I’ve been diligent about rolling my feet, my hands, and most of my body for about six weeks. The days that I work, I roll my feet and hands in the morning and when I get home. 

For the first two weeks, I didn’t notice much difference. When I’d come home from work, my ankle burned and I’d have to elevate it to reduce the pain. But I kept at it because I noticed each time I rolled out sections of my body, the pain grew less.

At the beginning of each session, Sue recommends taking inventory of how you stand with your eyes closed. This is where you pay attention to how your weight is distributed, if you’re locking your knees, if there’s any tension in any section of your body. You do the evaluation before and after the melting session. For me, there was always a difference from the beginning and ending, which took as an an indication that the rolling was helping in ways I didn’t understand.

The most interesting thing was sometimes I could take a soft foam ball, set it on the floor, and rub my foot vigorously on it for less than ten-seconds and any pain I felt immediately disappeared. I joked I’d just carry a ball with me everywhere I went and when my ankle troubled me, I’d do the technique. This simple technique kept me continuing with the Melt Method just to see what other improvements could happen. 

As of this writing, I’ve been rolling for six weeks. Six days ago, I woke up feeling zero pain. I walked about a mile outside, through a few stores, and along the beach and still hadn’t felt pain. The next day I walked in the morning and was on my feet nearly the entire day, still no pain. Over the weekend, I volunteered to help with Ruby’s Pantry, where I stood for nearly four hours and went to a glass store and stood for a few more hours, still no pain. As of this writing, the pain I have is a result of me doing more than I have in a long time.

I’m pretty sure that much of the pain relief is from rolling my hands and feet daily and the rest of my body three to five times a week. Before I started the Melt Method, I cleaned up my eating and started lifting barbells. I’m sure my increased body strength and weight loss is also helping my ankle pain go away.

The fact that I’ve woken up six days in a row without having any pain has left me excited to try the things I’ve been avoiding to see what will happen. I’m a boundary pusher when it comes to my body. Though, over the last seven years, I’ve learned to let pain be my guide.

I’m hopeful that I’ve found a solution that will allow me to do most of the things I struggled to do. I don’t think I’ll be able to go back to taekwondo or plyometrics because twisting and jumping are immediate pain triggers. But who knows? Maybe in a few more months I’ll be confident enough to try.

In the mean time, I’ll keep lifting barbells, doing yoga, and doing the Melt Method exercises.

If you suffer from chronic pain and feel like you’ve tried everything, I encourage you to try the Melt Method or Dr. John (if you happen to life within driving distance of Eau Claire). I understand that sometimes the damage that happens to our bodies is irreversible and may require surgical or medicinal intervention. I hope that if you have chronic pain, the above options will help you have some easing of the pain, if not relief from the intensity of the pain.

The most important lesson I learned through my experience is not to give up searching for a solution. Yes, it gets discouraging and time consuming, but if you end up finding things that help, you’ll be grateful for the effort. 

I hope you have a good week.

2 responses to “Navigating Chronic Pain”

  1. Robert R Avatar
    Robert R

    You may recall that my daughter had an ankle injury that was giving her grief and you’d suggested Dr John to her. While his technique didn’t work on her, ultimately it was a physical therapist that spent time on myofascial release and strain-counterstrain that get her back to normal, so definitely something to be said for attention to fascia.

    1. Brandy Woldstad Avatar
      Brandy Woldstad

      I’m glad your daughter’s ankle is doing better. Fascia is definitely a fascinating study.

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