Appreciating Feet and Ankles

It’s amazing how easy it is to take our bodies for granted - until something goes wrong. I don't have this happen often, but when I do, I always think that I’ll remember to feel gratitude for what my body does and to appreciate feeling good. But it doesn’t last long.


Maybe this time will be different, though, since it’s my first broken bone.


The accident

A week and a half ago, I went on my annual camping trip to Baxter State Park. I was really looking forward to it since 2020 was the first summer I hadn’t gone since 1986. And at first, all went well.


But at 7 a.m. on the first day, after I’d been hiking for 45 minutes, my left foot slipped on a mossy rock and turned sideways.


I was able to hike out on my own, which is a good thing since I was by myself (my friend was on another trail) and had no cell phone reception. I hoped I’d only sprained it, but when I got home on Friday, I decided I should go to Urgent Care just in case.


That’s when I found out I had broken a bone.


It’s not nearly as bad as it could have been, at least. I can still walk some while wearing an ankle brace (not even a boot or cast), and it doesn’t particularly hurt unless I move it the wrong way. The doctor said to treat it like a sprain, which means lots of resting and elevating when I can.


But it’s still another 4-5 weeks before I’ll be back to normal.


Thinking about feet and ankles

So I’ve been thinking a lot about feet and ankles.


It was also interesting timing for all this since I’d just finished reading The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson. This is some of what he had to say about feet.


First, he pointed out that while feet don’t get as much attention as hands, feet are also pretty marvelous. They perform three major functions: act as shock absorbers, give us a platform, and push away from surfaces to help us move. As Bryson wrote:


“The foot’s curved shape… is immensely strong, but it’s also pliant, lending a springy rebound to every step. The combination of arch and springiness gives the foot a recoil mechanism that helps to make our walking rhythmic and bouncy and efficient in comparison with the lumbering movements of other apes.” (p.170)


I’ve been thinking about that as I’ve been wrapping and unwrapping my left foot. At first, it didn’t look very marvelous because it was so swollen, but as the swelling has gone down, I’m appreciating as never before the curve of the arch, the multitude of bones and muscles that give us that springiness.


I’ve also been noticing my ankle, of course, which finally looks pretty much back to normal, at least on the surface. I never really thought about how flexible it is. It can absorb a fair amount of abuse since the joint allows us to move the foot about pretty freely, but that only goes so far, of course.


Missing walks

Due to all this, I haven’t been walking since the fall. This is the longest stretch I’ve gone without walking, and I miss it.


And so it was interesting to read Bryson’s description of walking. He pointed out that it’s more challenging than we often think.


“Walking is a more skillful undertaking than we generally appreciate. By balancing on just two supports [instead of four], we exist in permanent defiance of gravity…. A pedestrian in motion has one foot or other off the ground for as much as ninety percent of the time.” (p. 175)


I’ve been thinking a lot about that as I’ve tried not to put as much weight on my left foot. At first, I was limping more, but then I noticed how much strain that was putting on my right hip and knee, and given that my right knee had issues earlier this year, it’s another kind of balancing act between sparing my left foot and not aggravating my right knee.


All this makes me think even more fondly of walking, and I’m eagerly anticipating when I can get back to that. (I should be able to start going on short walks, at least, later this week.)


I should also add that I know not everyone has feet they can use to walk, or even feet at all - for example, one of my uncles had an amputation below the knee after a motorcycle accident. But knowing that reminds me, even more, to appreciate what I have, particularly when everything is working right.


Holding onto gratitude and appreciation

Even after my ankle heals, I want to try to hold onto this feeling of appreciation and remain grateful for what my feet allow me to do. And not only my feet - our bodies are amazing all around.


I hope to spend a couple of minutes each morning focusing on all the wonderful things my body does. I also want to take better care of it (including paying more attention when hiking).


And if you struggle with body appreciation, you might read Bryson’s book, which has a lot of fascinating information. Or, instead of worrying about appearance, you could try to focus on all the ways your body allows you to be and act in the world.

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