Patient Stories

The Neck Bone’s Connected to the… Big Toe?

Posted In: Foot Pain Elaine Taylor-Klaus | January 9, 2014 | 08:46 AM

At a young age, I was already a comfortable shoes kind of girl. Flowy skirts and Birkenstocks were just my style. I may not have exactly been in vogue, but I believed in comfort above all. However, I knew things were going in the wrong direction when my foot started to hurt in Birks – and I had no excuses like pregnancy to explain it.

In my late 30’s and early 40’s, I struggled with a “bad foot.” To be specific, it was a bad big toe. Maybe it was all those years of clumsily dropping things, only to break their fall with my right foot. I’m not really sure what caused it, but I developed a “bone spur” on the joint of my big toe.

I went to the doctor. I went to the podiatrist. I went to the chiropractor. No one seemed to be able to help me with my foot. I taped a funky-shaped pad to the bottom of my foot to relieve the pressure, and my wardrobe was reduced to about two pairs of shoes. Whenever I tried on a new pair, in split seconds I could tell if it would hurt, or not. 99 percent of the time, it would. The height of the heel didn’t seem to matter at all – it was something about the angle of my foot.

It got so bad that I considered surgery. I even went so far as to schedule it. I wanted to take a vacation that required a lot of walking, and it was absolutely out of the question. My big toe was in control of my life, and I wanted it back.

But when the podiatrist told me, casually, almost in passing, that he could remove the bone spur, but he couldn’t guarantee that it would fix the problem, THAT stopped me in my tracks. Was I really willing to go through all that torture, only for the issue to continue to plague my life? (I watched several friends survive foot surgery, and torture is the only term I could come up with to describe it. I’m so independent, I think being immobile for that long might make me go crazy. But I digress).

Back to the drawing-board. At the ripe old age of 41, I felt like I was falling apart. In addition to my foot, I had been managing a chronic, life-long neck injury since I was a teenager. In and out of physical therapy my entire adult life, my neck wasn’t feeling so good, either. I really wanted to get healthy and get my life back, but how?

I went to see a new chiropractor – for nutritional guidance, actually. After he listened to me whine about my long list of woes and ills, he referred me to his partner, who immediately told me that my posture was a mess. (After all those years of dance and yoga? I was indignant!) I was skeptical – but something about his approach, his confidence, really got my attention. He sealed the deal when he took my purse off my shoulder, handed it back to me, and told me to stop carrying it – or, if I must, then carry it with my arm dropped by my side.

The prospect of being out of chronic pain was too tempting to walk away. He really believed he could help me. I decided it was worth a try.

And it was. It turns out, my toe bone is connected to my hip and neck bone. Who knew? I thought it was only connected to my foot!

This chiropractor taught me to re-position my posture. He taught me to pull my chin back instead of thrusting it forward, to tuck in my abs instead of arching my back, to stop holding anything with my shoulders against my ears. He gave me a specific posture to sleep in (THAT was a difficult re-adjustment!). Most of all, he saw everything as inter-connected, nothing as isolated.

I returned to my massage therapist to help my body hold the muscle memory. I removed dairy from my diet to try to reduce inflammation. In a relatively short time, I started to feel better. Within a few months, I could sleep with my head on a pillow. Eventually, my foot stopped hurting! Truthfully, though, by that time the other changes were so significant, I hardly cared about my foot anymore!

So, what do I know now?

1.We are all interconnected. There is no part of our body or mind that is isolated. We must always remember that we are a whole unit.
2. We’ve got to pay attention to the signs. We know when there is something that is just not right in our bodies. We must listen to our own warning signs, and take action. We can’t wait for someone else to tell us to seek help.
3. We’ve got to be persistent when we know something is not right. Just because no one has been able to help us figure it out does not mean that it’s impossible. Try again.
4. Nutrition matters.
5. Our bodies are like a delicate eco-system. When one thing gets out of whack, it can cause a chain reaction.

It’s been many years since I saw Dr. Bob. I can’t say that nothing has ever been a problem in my body since then, or even that my foot never hurts. But when I do notice a problem, I take it seriously, because I know it’s a sign that something is going on. Now, when my big toe starts to twinge, it’s like someone’s arthritis warning of a coming storm – but the storm is inside my body. It’s a sign that I need to pay closer attention. Maybe I need more sleep, or to walk more, or lay off the sugar.

Yes, it’s still open to interpretation. This is more art than science, for sure. But I’m grateful for the signals that my body offers me, and the creativity to figure it out.

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