I was in the Army in the nineties, and I did a lot of wear and tear to my body. I’m 5 foot 0 inches and while in the Army, weighed 105 pounds. I always pushed myself to the limits, wanting to prove to myself and others that I can do anything, just like one of the guys. In fact, I pushed myself to be “as strong as the weakest male” I would always say--I could pass the male version of the PT test (physical training test), which means I passed the female PT test with ultra-superior numbers. I prided myself in carrying 60 pound boxes by myself. I ran 5 days a week (we’re forced to), and I even completed a 10 mile marathon run, just for fun.
But after 4 and a half years, my left foot started bothering me. I was in a lot of pain. I went to the Army doctors and they gave me the usual treatment for what they said I had, tendonitis: Ibuprofen and instructions to ice it. It didn't work, so I kept going to the doctors, even though it is seen as being "weak". We're taught to "suck it up and drive on."
Well, I was eventually referred to an Army orthopedic doctor. He was an older male doctor. He treated me as if I were overreacting, as if it were all in my head (maybe being female had something to do with it...he's prejudice!). He put me in a walking cast for 6 weeks, saying that immobilizing it would help it to heal. During those 6 weeks, I complained to him that I was in even more pain. I told him that the cast was driving me crazy with pain. He brushed me off and said that the cast was helping the problem area rest. I kept saying that it hurt really bad. He ignored me. I cried myself to sleep every night! The walking cast was embarrassing to have on my leg, with everyone around me, my fellow Army soldiers looking at me, thinking that I was "weak." Finally after 6 weeks, the cast came off. My left calf was thin and tiny, all my muscle from 4 years of being in the Army was gone. And guess what? I was still in pain.
The orthopedic doctor was frustrated with me! I felt bad. I felt ashamed. I felt like he thought that maybe I was a hypochondriac or that I somehow wanted to be in pain! He NEVER sent me to physical therapy after he took the cast off (he cut my leg too, on “accident” when removing the cast, which is supposed to be a painless removal with the saw). I had heard years later, he was supposed to send me to physical therapy! I didn't know at the time, so it never occurred to me to ask him to send me to physical therapy to build up my leg muscle again. I struggled each day with the pain. Well, eventually, I got out of the Army a year later (my contract was up in 2000). Oh, and by the way, to this day, 13 years later, my left calf is smaller than my right.
About the year 2000 or 2001, I went to see a "civilian" podiatrist, and RIGHT AWAY, he diagnosed me with TARSAL TUNNEL SYNDROME: a nerve problem in the foot, similar to carpal tunnel syndrome, due to overuse and inflammation of the surrounding tendon. It was when he tried to touch my inner left ankle and I jerked my foot and almost kicked him! I yelled, don't do that! Now it's gonna hurt really bad for a while! I told him. He watched how I walked (my gait) with my left foot going slightly in while my right foot went straight ahead as it should, plus he asked if I drove a stick shift car, which I did. I described the pain like this: It’s as if someone has cut open my ankle and stuck their fingers in, and they are just squeezing my insides really hard, with their fingers or their fist. You know how when you watch a horror movie and you get the heeby jeebies—the chills? That’s how it feels, with the added pain, of course. I had explained the same pain to that Army orthopedic doctor, and he didn’t think to re-diagnose me??? The civilian podiatrist knew INSTANTLY what was really wrong. The Army orthopedic doctor had looked at me as though I was nuts and treated me as though I were a hypochondriac. When my x-rays had come back normal, he had said, “Look, it came back normal, no fractures, no stress fractures,” like, see, see, there’s nothing wrong with you. But I didn’t get excited about no fractures because I was still in pain. He didn’t think that a 24 year old could have tarsal tunnel syndrome?!?!? Did he even know what that was??? He’s supposed to know!
The civilian podiatrist told me that the walking cast was the absolute wrong thing to do. When I explained to the Army orthopedic doctor that it hurts more with the cast on, he should have known. That’s a sign. People with tarsal tunnel syndrome cannot have ANYTHING touching that area, no tight shoes or boots, and surely not a walking cast! The Army orthopedic doctor should have taken it off and not let me suffer.
Well, the civilian podiatrist put me on Vioxx (which is banned and illegal now, because of all the heart attacks people were having—good thing I was only on it for a month or two), then Celebrex (I only took that for a couple months too). Then he put me on a diabetic neuropathy med that dealt with nerve pain, which made me feel weird, mentally. He gave me a steroid shot once. The custom made orthotics that he made for me weren’t working. I was still in pain. He suggested surgery. I procrastinated and never saw him again!
Then a couple years later I decided to take advantage of my VA Benefits. If you are in the military, when you get out, make sure you take your medical records to the VA to get evaluated. Depending on what’s in them, you could be eligible for disability benefits, if you left the military in worse shape than when you entered. I did that and was awarded 10% disability for my left foot. They called it “Flat feet.” I was admitted into the Army with “mild flat feet” in my entrance physical, and when I left, I now had flat feet and a whole host of foot problems!
So about 2003-2004 I went to the VA podiatrist (they’re “civilian!”), and he diagnosed me with tarsal tunnel syndrome right away as well. The VA has a custom made orthotic that is state of the art, called PedAlign. You step on a clear glass thing and it takes extremely accurate measurements of the bottom of your feet which show up on a computer screen. I got my first pair a couple months after the appointment, and do you want to know what my reaction was? I cried! They were tears of joy!!! The pressure was instantly relieved and my pain went away! The custom made orthotic lasts about a year or two and I can go back in to see the VA podiatrist and get new ones, one per year can be given out. Oh yeah, he prescribed me Ibuprofen to take for just a month until I got my orthotics. Now, I’m on NO pain medication!
But I’ll always have this condition. When the orthotic starts to wear out, I get that squeezing-with-a-fist nerve pain that is unsettling. I had to quit a job where I was standing for long periods of time. That means no amusement parks either, because of the long standing lines. I can’t run anymore or it will flare up. I can’t jump rope, which I would love to do. And I traded in the stick shift a long time ago for an automatic. It sucks, because I liked that race-car-driver feel to driving a stick! But these are the adjustments I have to make to increase my quality of life…because believe me, pain sucks, it ruins your mood, and it limits you…so you gotta do what you can to feel better.
The moral of the story is, don’t let a doctor bully you and make you feel bad. They are there for US. It’s THEIR job to find out what is wrong with us, then fix us in the best way possible without prescription drugs, if possible. If your doctor shows frustration toward you and is not helping you, request another, or see if there’s a patient advocate (the VA hospitals have them to help us if we need it).
Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome explained: