Balance, Proprioception, and Reclaiming Ten Percent!!

In the spirit of my new training regime, I am celebrating every gain. We measured today, and I have 10 percent more flexibility in my ankle than the last time we measured. Woohooo!

The physiology of recovery is interesting. The thing that I am most working on is balance. As explained to me by my awesome physical therapist, Christine, all of the stabilizing muscles in my foot, ankle, etc. atrophied during the time I was immobilized while wearing the boot. Add to that the inflexibility caused by swelling, and I get a foot/ankle that is locked up.

It’s hard to walk without these stabilizing muscles. Stand on one foot. Notice how many tiny movements the foot and ankle make to keep you upright. All those are gone for me. Walking on uneven surfaces is extremely tiring and, often, problematic.

Christine added a couple of new movements to my PT repertoire. The big one was walking side-to-side on the treadmill for 30 seconds, facing first one way and then the other. Piece of cake, right? Wrong! It’s always shocking to me how difficult some of the simplest-seeming things can be. At first, I could barely do a side step, and we had to slow the treadmill down to 0.9 so I could move without lurching. Ouch. By the third set, I could work the 1.0, so I have hopes for quick improvement. Now, my walking has improved to a 3.2 (forward) and a 1.8 (backward), and my gravity is being reduced by 32 pounds instead of 40. It’s so nice to feel like I’m moving normally, and I think I’m walking without much of a limp most of the time.

Which brings the other factor into play…proprioception. My body has to relearn some very basic movements and be “reminded” of how it moved before. Exercises are often very hard right while I’m “remembering” what needs to happen in order for my foot to move the right way or my ankle to assume the correct position. Lots of popping goes on while things settle in (at first, this was freaking me out. It’s a weird sensation but now I welcome the sound, because it means I’ve “unlocked” another piece). Walking on the treadmill with reduced gravity is good because encourages quicker foot turnover and normal movements without placing full weight on my weak ankle. When I AM ready to take off, I’ll have that muscle memory there to draw on.

Starting this week, I’m in PT twice a week instead of three times. In another two weeks, we’ll redo all my original round of testing. I can’t wait to see the comparison!

This weekend, I was able to walk for an hour and complete the 3-mile loop at Ladybird Lake. New PR, both in time and distance! I’m going to check out the walk down to Quarry Lake soon to see if I’m ready to tackle it; I love to swim in the lake and, if I feel comfortable navigating the uneven terrain down to the water, it just might be the workout tonic I need. I think I may set a goal to try to participate in the next Splash ‘n Dash. Of course, I’d be walking the “run” but who cares?

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Published by Leah Nyfeler

I'm a writer, editor, runner, and adventurer who is always looking for the next new story, exciting adventure, and good meal/book/movie. My focus is on helping people find their best, healthiest self through sharing what I know and how I've come to learn it. In addition to my blog "Enjoying the Journey: Observations on the Fit Life" at, my articles have appeared in a variety of print and online magazines. You can hear me as part of the 2015 Austin cast of Listen To Your Mother.

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