Keeping Active with Freiberg’s
I’ve decided to post about my recent sports injury to prevent other athletes from doing unnecessary damage to their feet and also, to clear up any misconceptions about why I haven’t been able to run and do other high impact sports for the past year.
My “wild and free” sporting life changed last May.
I felt an extreme sharp “snapping”pain in my right foot while walking with daughter, after her Kung Fu lesson. The pain was so intense that I took off my sandal and hobbled barefoot along the sidewalk to the car.
As walking was very painful, I made an appointment with my general physician. He informed me the x-ray looked okay so there was nothing to be done–he could not help me. The pain continued. Believing that there was nothing to be done, I’d rest my foot for a week and then try to do my beloved sports again. I could no longer dance or run but I could walk my dogs and hike, despite the pain.
Last fall, I spent many hours a day, five days a week, on my feet, teaching writing at a local college. Each day, after work, my right foot was in extreme pain and my toes numb. I had to take off my shoe and drive home barefoot.
I returned to my doctor and begged to be referred to a sports medicine specialist. After a six month wait, I finally got an appointment. The specialist palpated the foot, and told me that x-rays are often inconclusive when dealing with many foot fractures. He advised me that I was to completely immobilize and rest the foot for 3 months: I had to wear a boot-cast and crutches for twelve weeks (I’d just purchased a season pass for alpine skiing–thankfully, the ski resort put the money towards my next year’s pass purchase).
I hobbled all over campus on crutches and finished the term without missing any classes. In retrospect, this was not a good decision for me to make, as walking all over campus on crutches, with a heavy backpack, proved to be very hard on my (good) left foot and my actions damaged my left ankle.
After twelve long weeks (I couldn’t even walk my dogs), the boot came off and I went on a vacation to Florida. As I walked along the beaches in bare feet, I soon realized that the foot was far from healed. The pain returned with a vengeance. By vacation’s end, I could barely walk on it. I returned to the sports medicine doctor and begged for an MRI.
I was advised that it may take up to a year or more to get an MRI; however, the universe was with me and the MRI technician students needed to practice foot MRIs and I was able to get an MRI almost immediately!
The MRI results were unexpected: I have a condition called Freiberg’s Infraction (also called Freiberg’s Disease). It is a rare disease that involves the metatarsal bone (most often the second) in the foot. Repeated sports trauma limited the blood flow to the bone and finally caused the bone to die and become necrotic. It is most common in athletic teens (females), who have long, lean bones, specifically, long metatarsal bones. Repeated high-impact sports and also wearing high heels exasperates the problem.
I am lucky, I’ve most likely had this for a decade or more, but my body managed to self-heal until now. I believe intense, high impact dancing (sometimes, unfortunately, on cement and tile surfaces), and running on roads caused frequent, reoccurring trauma and finally my body could not self-heal, and the blood loss was too great; thus, the bone began to die.
I am disappointed in the medical system in my home city. I had to fight every step of the way to be taken seriously.
I am also disappointed in the FiveFinger barefoot runners that I wore for years to dance and run in. I believe these contributed to my developing Frieberg’s. I remember after running, I’d develop a round, marble-sized, blood-filled ball under my foot, behind my 2nd metatarsal (at least a few times a season). It would hurt to walk and would take about a week to heal. I assumed it was regular running ware and tare (even though none of my other running friends experienced this). Now,I realize it was a serious injury, with blood loss, in the metatarsal joint. I had no idea that running in Vibram’s FiveFinger runners was not protecting my feet from the extreme impact on my foot bones.
The diagnosis has felt devastating at times; I am a person whose livelihood is sports and being active.
Where Do I Go From Here?
It’s been over a year since the first initial bone collapse. I live in Hoka runners (for all occasions) with a podiatrist designed insole.
I will never wear high heels again. I always hated wearing high heels and never understood how anyone could wear them for more than 20 minutes a day. However, many of my really ‘hip’ footwear have just enough of a heel to make them dangerous for my metatarsal and thus, I will have to give away at least a dozen expensive boots and shoes 🙁 My daughters will benefit from this shoe give away. #nohighheels
I hike and have attempted to dance (a few times). My foot hurts and I cannot dance properly–no jumping or hopping. I cannot go barefoot anymore, walking in sand is especially painful. I worry that my foot may never heal enough to return to walking barefoot in the sand, surfing, running and “real” dancing. However, it is a worry and not the truth; thus, I manage my foot pain daily and work on adding new activities until I am able to run again.
My advice to athletic women with long, slight bones is to be aware: recurring front foot pain and/or numbness when engaging in high impact sports or while wearing high heels could be the beginning of Freiberg’s.
There are a few good things that have come from this personal struggle:
I wanted to start swimming laps, but never found the time. Being unable to do many sports while in the boot, I took up lap swimming during our time living in Australia. We lived in downtown Brisbane in a high rise apartment with a swimming pool. Every morning, I went down to the outdoor pool and swam laps for half an hour. I am now the lap swimmer I longed to be.
In the winter, I love being outside, skiing through high alpine forests all day long. This past winter, I watched my family leave for the ski hill on weekends and I felt depressed. How would I survive the long winter without skiing? I’ve always wanted to snowshoe but couldn’t justify the time and money required to do it as my family chose alpine skiing as our main winter sport. Finding myself unable to ski, I thought perhaps the soft snow might be easier on my foot and so I took up snowshoeing. I adore walking through secluded forests in my new snowshoes.
I love being on the water. I wanted a paddle board for years but never purchased one. I decided that paddle boarding would be easier on my foot than surfing (which requires toe strength). I researched and bought a Paiwen: a lightweight SUP, designed exclusively for women. I am addicted to SUP now! After an early morning lake paddle, before I head to shore, I like to sit on my board and meditate for a few minutes–it is an amazing way to start the day.