“Once in a while you find yourself in an odd situation. You get into it by degrees and in the most natural way but, when you are right in the midst of it, you are suddenly astonished and ask yourself how in the world it all came about.”
― Thor Heyerdahl
I am someone with problem feet so I can write this blog post with a great deal of authority. In fact, as I write this post I am looking down at my poor feet and I am quite horrified. There is frost bite damage, bone spurs, blisters and sections of missing skin that just won't heal because I haven't had days out of ski boots in some time. This did not happen all at once. I have been in ski boots since mid November and what I am experiencing is cumulative damage.
I had originally written a fairly cheerful optimistic sounding post over the summer that was filled with helpful tips for how to keep your feet healthy for the ski season. However, I can't bare the hypocrisy. Hear I am, having difficulty walking in the mornings because of the shape my feet are in. So instead, I am going to tell you everything I have done wrong that has lead to the less than favourable predicament I find myself in, so that you may learn from my mistakes.
First of all a little context. As a full time professional Ski Instructor training for the next level of certification I am in my ski boots seven hours a day, six days a week. I love this! If I could I would ski eight days a week. I consider Ski Instructing a privileged calling and so I forget sometimes that it is a job. When I am not teaching skiing I am training and when I am doing neither of those I am free skiing for my own enjoyment.
Over the Christmas holidays I worked a twelve day stretch right on the heels of a ten day stretch. Nothing is remarkable or strange about this in my line of work. All my colleagues have been doing the same and many of them have feet that look even worse than mine. You will notice the injuries happened during or shortly after this busy Christmas period as that was when my body was under the most strain and yet the thing I needed to do to prevent those injuries should have been done far before I ever got to that point.
My first and most regrettable mistake this season was to not replace my foot powder when I ran out in November. It was one of those things relegated to the bottom of of my shopping list when in fact it should have been at the top. The reason foot powder is so important is that it keeps your feet dry. On very cold days that alone can be enough to prevent frost bite. Even though it sounds pretty docile frost bite is no trivial matter. Once you get it once you are prone to getting it in the same spot again even when it's not as cold as the temperature that caused the original injury. Always apply foot powder before putting on your ski socks in the morning. If you are putting your boots on at the resort make sure you exchange the socks you have been wearing in your shoes en route to fresh dry ski socks. The dryer your feet are, the warmer they will remain.
My second unfortunate mistake was that I waited until after the Christmas holiday period to buy boot gloves. A boot glove is a neoprene slop that goes over the toe box of your ski boot fastening around the heel piece with velcro. They work remarkably well to keep the feet warmer. Instead of boot gloves I was using disposable toe warmers on the top of my toes inside my boots. This was inferior for two reasons. First of all, they held my foot in a slightly different spot than normal causing a pressure point. Secondly, because of the lack of foot powder, the toe warmer made my toes sweat. As these disposable toe warmers are good for only five hours on hours six & seven my sweaty toes were very vulnerable to frost bite.
My third mistake was not addressing the above mentioned pressure point sooner. The minute I noticed my tailors bunion swelling I should have been into the boot fitter to get the plastic shell punched. I only waited two days but that was enough time for the swelling to extend to my pinkie toe and get far worse. Even with the boot punch I was in a lot of pain. I started to rely on Voltaren gel, a topical anti-inflammatory, just to get through the days. That meant my feet were wet so I got frostbite on the bone spur.
In one of my daily morning meditation practices I had a difficult time sitting cross legged as the outer edge of my foot resting against the floor was really uncomfortable. Of course, the point of meditation is to be mindful of what is happening in the present moment. I realized that this was my sign and I needed to heed my bodies message. That is when I bought the boot gloves and stopped using the disposable toe warmers. Now the swelling has gone down but the frostbite damage is looking pretty ugly.
My fourth and by far most catastrophic mistake was attempting to break in new, high performance, race fit ski boots on a cold training morning after there is already damage to my feet. Ideally I would have bought and started breaking in the new boots early season when my feet were fine. That way I could have figured out where the pressure points were and visited the boot fitter to get punches in the appropriate spots.
I was feeling lucky so I went ahead and wore my boots for a full morning of training. The super snappy edge pick up that I was getting was so awesome that I completely didn't realize I had lost the skin off both navicular bones. That was unfortunate. In-spite a very creative combination of corn cushions and gel mole skin the resulting blisters just will not heal. I am in a situation now where I need to be really careful about infection and I need to take time off, so no free skiing for me for a little bit.
The navicular bone is on the inside edge of the foot below and slightly ahead of the ankle bone. Normally it is a small protrusion that acts as to provide leverage for a tendon that wraps around it. In ski boots this bone can rub against the hard plastic shell of the boot. This rubbing is traumatic enough that the body responds by thickening the bone just like it would do for any bone injury. As the navicular bone grows it rubs more and then grows more, you get the picture. The only solution is boot punching early enough in the season to head off the growth.
So I have been absolutely terrible at taking care of the outer edge structures of my feet. I have to give myself credit though for all the good stuff I do daily to protect the inner structures of my feet. I give my feet a daily massage before I put on my boots. This is very good for stretching the connective tissue and muscles surrounding all those little bones. One quarter of all the bones in your body are located in your feet. That is a lot of inter joint cartilage that can become damaged if you do not ensure they all can move easily as they are intended to do.
I practice during all of my standing yoga poses separating the toes. I have become quite good at this over the years. Separating or abducting the big and pinkie toes of your feet strengthens muscles that support healthy toe alignment. Bunions are bone spurs that over time will distort the alignment of the toes detrimentally to balance. I have to be extra conscious of this as I have already started to form bunions, however, I have noticed this simple practice of separating my toes has slowed down their progression.
I roll out the muscles of the metatarsal arch using a lacrosse ball and sometimes a frozen water bottle if they are especially inflamed. Standing with the ball or water bottle under one foot I apply a little pressure as I roll the length of the foot. This is helpful for maintaining the full range of motion of the plantar fascia. This is a very powerful band of connective tissue that runs the length of the base of the foot and wraps around the heel bone connecting to the achilles tendon. If the plantar fascia sustains trauma it is incredibly difficult to heal it as to do so requires immobilizing the foot for weeks. I also stretch and strengthen the muscles of the metatarsal arch during my yoga asana practice.
I am confident that I will learn from my mistakes this season. Admitting them openly in this blog will certainly keep me honest if the pain alone is not enough. I hope you keep your feet healthy this season. You only get two after all.
Next Week: How I Earned The Nickname Crash, a story about alignment or lack thereof.
Christine Davidson is a Ski Instructor, Yoga Teacher and Peak Performance Coach on a mission to make humans awesome!