Have you ever had a problem that medical professionals, physical therapists, and massage therapists have told you about, but no one has ever really resolved the issue?
I have lost count of how many people have told me my right leg is shorter than the left one over the years.
That right leg has been stretched, pulled, manipulated, and exercises recommended to fix the issue. Nothing that has been suggested has worked to fix it. Well…beyond temporarily and after a few weeks, my leg would return to its shorter length.
On Friday morning, I headed to VA Togus for my weekly physical therapy session to rehab my left knee. I can’t believe it’s been over four weeks since the surgery!
Once there, things were super quiet since it was the Friday before New Year’s Day. I was the last patient until after lunch and my PT was the only one on duty that day. This meant that the physical therapist wasn’t in as much of a hurry as usual. She did a sonic knee massage, then measured my knee flex – I got to 127, up a little from 124 last time, but it’s still damned uncomfortable to get that much flex and I need to get it up to 135. Yeah, I gotta work harder.
While she did the sonic massage, she asked if I have been running yet. She laughed when I told her about running telephone poles at the end of walks (I’m not supposed to be running yet, according to the powers that be), but she didn’t seem too worried about it. She told me that she knew that I would be running sooner than I was supposed to and we both laughed about it.
Since I had been running and she didn’t seem too upset about it, I suggested she watch me on their treadmill, and surprisingly she agreed.
It was the first time I have been on a treadmill since March 2020 and it felt kind of strange, but good. I’m one of those odd runners who enjoy running on the treadmill. I got the speed up to 6.0 mph and bounced along merrily for a couple of minutes. Well, more like I slogged for a couple of minutes, but I was happy and had a smile on my face. When she said stop I was out of breath and my knee was getting a bit grumpy, but nothing serious. It felt good to just run. The PT told me my left leg looked fine, but the right one was thumping the belt harder – a lot harder. I said I know and I could hear it too. Plus my right hip was dipping down with every stride.
After I stopped the treadmill and could talk again (it was back in May, that I last ran like that), I let her know I have been told I have a 1/2″ or so right leg length discrepancy. I’ve known about this for years, but nobody ever has done anything about it, other than to pull or stretch the leg to make them more even and give me exercises to make changes.
She asked if I would be willing to try a heel lift.
A Heel Lift
After not running for almost eight months, I’m ready to try just about anything that will help me get back to running and I said sure. Especially, since I have lots of problems with my right leg and could definitely hear and feel the difference in how I landed while I was running on the treadmill (a benefit of it being so quiet in there).
I put the heel lift in and walked around – I have to admit it felt weird and more than a little uncomfortable. I walked back and forth multiple times while she watched. She adjusted the heel lift a couple of times, and after the second adjustment, suddenly my walking seemed to level out, and my hips felt different. She told me that the hip dip to the right side that I had in my gait wasn’t there. All I knew was that there was a definite difference in how I was landing with my right foot, just walking back and forth on it. Even if it still felt weird and uncomfortable.
Then I walked a few more times back and forth and she suggested getting back on the treadmill to see how it felt. I got the ‘mill up to 6.0 mph and ran for a tenth of a mile, the difference was evident to both of us. Same speed, but no right leg extra-thumping the belt, and from her perspective the hip dip was much less pronounced.
Now, this isn’t some miracle cure, it is a small heel lift under the insole on right foot, nothing more. However, it made a difference in the amount of sound that I made when I landed on my right foot and leveled out my hip dip according to the PT. She warned me that my right leg and hip would most likely be sore as it adjusted to the different landing angle and to not overdo it.
Like I told her, “Me, overdo something!”
We both laughed.
This heel lift might be a part of the answer, at least I am hoping that it is. I still find it rather amazing that something that small could be making a big difference in how I run. Hell, let’s be honest, in how I walk as well.
Once I got done with the physical therapy session, I wanted to see if the heel lift would become less noticeable. So, I did a walk around the back of the VA grounds over to Old Hallowell Road. That warning about overdoing things was ignored as usual. However, the more I walked the more the heel insert seemed to disappear and while the right leg got a little grumpy from the change of angles, it didn’t tell me I was being stoopid either. The right leg felt better than it has in a while.
It was something I didn’t notice during the walk which was a big surprise.
While walking that mile and then an easy jog at the end, not having issues with my right foot’s Tailor’s Bunionette was something that I didn’t notice. This has been a problem area for too many years and something an Orthopedic surgeon wanted to “correct” surgically back in 2014. This would be huge if it helped minimize that issue as well.
The Reality is that
I did run from the last white house to the parking lot to finish the walk. The longer that I ran, the more it felt like I was running, not just slogging along. No, I’m not going out and running a mile or start training again right off. I know without any doubt in my mind that the knee isn’t ready yet. However, the time on the treadmill and the little run at the end of that walk gave me hope that I will be fine when the knee heals some more.
It is interesting, that something as simple as using a heel insert might be part of the solution to my right leg issues that have plagued me for so long. I am withholding judgment on whether it works or not until I can actually start training with the heel lifts.
Of all the medical professionals, physical therapists, chiropractors, and massage therapists who have told me I have a leg-length discrepancy over the years, no one that I remember suggested the idea of using a heel lift to counteract the discrepancy. Sometimes, the experts forget to use the simple things that could help someone a great deal, while they focus on more exotic, lengthy, and/or more expensive options. After all, a heel lift would be too simple of a solution and couldn’t possibly work — could it?
No matter what, I know that the muscles in both of my legs are grumbling about being used again and will talk nasty to me about why we are doing all this extra work when we could be relaxing on the couch.
We are doing this because we can.
Good to see you’re slowly making progress! Slow is good for the immediate, think long term!
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Thanks Gordon, I’m trying to go slow, but as the knee starts to feel better, I can see it being a problem, but I will do the best I can 😉