I have to say, I REALLY wish I wasn't writing this post right now. But, I am, so I am going to suck it up and share my experience with you in the hope that maybe someone can benefit from it, or that you can provide information in the comments section that may be beneficial to myself or another reader.
As I have posted previously, I began running last October. Since then, running, training for races, and improving my physical strength has become a godsend to me in terms of managing stress and in actually improving my Sjögren's symptoms. Yes, you read that right: running has improved my Sjögren's symptoms. From some of the research I have read regarding increasing endorphin levels (think low-dose naltrexone), I believe it is the endorphins and other feel good hormones that I get from running which has accomplished this. My chronically arthritic knees have IMPROVED and I no longer experience inflammatory joint pain in my knees, ever. Not even when other joints flare up. I don't think that is a coincidence and have read about how running, when done correctly, has improved arthritis in some individuals.
Sometime around the end of May, I noticed that I was having pain in both my heels, not so much when I was running, but with walking and standing. I ignored it for a week or two, despite it being a new symptom. However, the pain continued to worsen and I decided to cut back my running and did not sign up for any summer races. This worked out OK for me because running in the summer is too difficult for me with the heat, sun, and Sjögren's. I was still running about twice a week, usually on the treadmill in the air conditioned gym or early in the morning.
Within a few weeks, I decided to stop running for about four weeks as I was concerned about the worsening pain and despite stretching and ice, it continued to not improve. I talked to my rheumatologist in July as I was concerned about how painful it was to even walk and I was also have some swelling and pain in other joints, specifically my hands and shoulders. I knew my diet had been lousy and i was under a lot of stress at that time, so I wanted to try and got those issues in check before resorting to medication. My rheumatologist wanted me back on a low dose of prednisone. I never started it because again, I wanted to see if I could manage my symptoms with other means. I have already begun to have minor steroid-induced long-term effects and although this was a low dose, I wanted to try and resolve the issues without the prednisone.
And I did. Except for the feet issue. I was on a different combination of herbs, I worked on my stress, and completely cleaned up my diet and my hand and shoulder issues resolved. My fatigue even improved. But the feet kept getting worse. I had told my doctor and her fellow that this was a new symptom for me and I was concerned about it. Something just didn't feel right. Being told to just go back on prednisone didn't seem like the right way to find out what the problem was.
I decided to consult with a podiatrist and was very grateful to have several friends recommend a local podiatrist, Dr. Tammie Black. It was going to be a while until my appointment, but I figured I would tough it out until then. I tried not to pay too much attention to the pain. I tried running again, but shorter distances and paid more attention to cross training to reduce the impact on my feet. That lasted a week. I then started experiencing numbness and tingling in both my feet on a daily basis. I called the podiatrist again. She had a cancellation and I got in a month sooner than I was supposed to.
Well, thank god for that!
This doctor was great. She did some xrays (which I had previously asked for from another doctor and never got) and checked me out. I told her all the things I was doing to manage my symptoms. After a full evaluation, she told me I had severe plantar fasciitis and tarsal tunnel. I have had plantar fasciitis once before in one foot and it did not really feel like the symptoms I was having, but after she explained to me how having both can work, I could see that she seemed right on with her diagnosis.
I was already wearing orthotics in my sneakers but the problem was, I only wore my sneakers for exercise and walking distances, like when on vacation. Also, I ALWAYS go barefoot in the house and as much as I can outdoors, which contributes quite a bit to the problem. She instructed me to always wear my sneakers or get a pair of shoes called Vionic, which have arch support built into them. I just ordered a pair today and cannot wait to try them out because I have found in the past several days that wearing my sneakers all the time, while helping initially, seems to be making the nerve pain on the inside of my heel much worse. She also gave me two exercises to start on and I start physical therapy in a few days.
Since I've had plantar fasciitis, I was already familiar with it, but not with tarsal tunnel, The doctor explained to me that it is similar to carpel tunnel, but in the feet. It is even more difficult than carpel tunnel to effectively treat. She is hoping that if we get the plantar fasciitis under control, that the tarsal tunnel will improve, but time will tell. I asked her about the prednisone my rheumatologist wanted me to take and she said that prednisone would only mask the issues and that as long as I don't need it for my other Sjögren's symtpoms, that it would be better for now to wait on it.
Of course, we don't know for sure what has caused all of this. I figured the running may have something to do with it, but then I found out that autoimmune illness can as well. Sjögren's syndrome being one of them. As stated in an article entitled Neurological Manifestations of Sjögren's Syndrome by Dr. Stephen Mandel which you can read HERE, tarsal tunnel is a mononeuropathy that can occur with this illness. It can also occur in rheumatoid arthritis. But at this point, the bigger issue is not how it happened, but taking care of it now that it has happened.
It's frustrating that's for sure. My doctor made it very clear to me that even though she appreciates how much running means to me, if I want to get better (and not worse), running needs to be stopped. So much for the fall races I have planned. But I know she's right. My husband and I were away for two days after my appointment and I cannot even tell you how difficult it was for me to walk or stand the time we were away. Pain and numbness were my constant companion. At the gym Friday morning, I went on the Arc Trainer and elliptical, as those have both proven invaluable to my exercise regime when my joints act up. But, the pressure on my feet was too much as was the resistance on the bike. So tomorrow I am going to try and do a water aerobics class because if I stop exercising completely, my joints and muscles will all go haywire.
It seems like, and I'm sure anyone who reads this blog regularly would agree, that it seems like it's always something with me when it comes to my physical health, most of which can be attributed to this unrelenting autoimmune illness. But, like all the challenges I have faced, it is just one more obstacle to overcome and conquer...hopefully!