Back at the beginning of July, I underwent foot surgery to correct the hallux rigidus in the great toe of my right foot. Now, two months later, I am in the process of learning to walk again – properly this time.
I did not become aware of my hallux rigidus – an arthritic condition that prevents big toes from bending properly, especially upwards – until February or March. Until then, the only major physical ailment I knew I had was sacroiliac joint pain on my left side. The sacroiliac joint connects the base of the spine to the ilium or, in plain English, your backbone to your hip bones. Last summer, my left SI joint seized up and became inflamed. The pain was excruciating and the injury left me unable to walk or sit for the better part of a month. Even though X-rays revealed nothing, the doctor who diagnosed my condition claimed I had suffered a slipped disk in my spine. I knew the diagnosis was wrong and eventually managed to work out the SI joint diagnosis on my own.
After the pain subsided, I worked out a regimen of rehab exercises to regain my mobility. Within a month, I was able to walk and sit again. Once I reached that milestone, I turned my attention to uncovering the actual cause of my sacroiliac joint pain. During my research into the subject, I discovered incorrect posture and gait were the most common triggers of SI joint pain. I began to concentrate on my walking and very quickly realized that I was indeed walking incorrectly. Though I could not understand why, I noticed excess supination (rolling outward) in my right foot when I walked. Thinking weak ankle joints, tendons, and muscles to be the culprits, I initiated a series of ankle strengthening exercises and made a concerted effort to keep my foot straight whenever I walked. A few weeks later, I became conscious of dull pain and stiffness in the big toe of my right foot. The more I attempted to improve my gait, the more glaring this dull pain and stiffness became. In retrospect, I should have made the connection immediately, but it took me several addition weeks of walking and thinking to understand that I had a stiff big toe, and that it was the true source of my SI joint pain – and a slew of other physical maladies to boot.
It did not take me long to learn that this stiffness in the great toe had a name – hallux rigidus – and that it was a degenerative arthritic condition, most likely caused by some trauma to the joint. At some point in the past – and this could be going back a decade or more – I injured the joint that allows the great toe on my right foot to bend. To alleviate the pain and stiffness of this injury, my body subconsciously compensated by allowing the right foot to roll outward in an effort to keep pressure off the toe. This over-supination on the right side eventually became my normal mode of walking and remained my normal mode of walking for over ten years. Though the adjustments my body had made in an effort to relieve the pain in my foot worked for a while, they ultimately came with a price. Ten plus years of misalignment eventually took their toll on my left hip, leaving me immobilized and in agony on a bright sunny day last July.
I decided to undergo the hallux rigidus surgical procedure this past summer in the hope that it might allow me to walk properly again and, hence, remove the cause underpinning the other associated physical troubles – SI joint pain, knee pain, sciatica – I have experienced intermittently over the past decade. The surgery was a success and my foot is healing nicely. My right big toe is little shorter than it originally was, but it now bends the way it is supposed to bend. The only real problem I am experiencing currently – aside from swelling, which could last several more months – is walking.
While the physical obstruction that had prevented me from walking properly all these years has been removed, the underlying subconscious obstruction has not. Put another way, I am physically able to walk properly now, but my subconscious mind simply refuses to let it happen. The compensatory actions my body took to deal with the pain and stiffness of my hallux rigidus are so deeply ingrained that it takes an immense conscious effort on my part to overcome them. Muscles and tendons trained and accustomed to doing things wrongly now rebel against having to change their ways and return to doing things correctly. The moment my vigilance relaxes, the learned, wrong ways return, and my foot rolls outward again. The compensatory ways, though harmful and damaging, are effortless and comfortable, while the correct ways are gruelling and disagreeable.
I have to push through all of this regardless because I have to make my way back to that point in time before the injury that precipitated the hallux rigidus; that point in time when I was still walking properly; that point in time when I could not even fathom I would ever walk improperly.
All of this has led me to the awareness that I have suffered another setback of sorts in the recent past, a barely noticeable but significant religious setback that occurred about three of four years ago; a setback for which I have been making subconscious spiritual compensations ever since. More clearly, I have come to the glaring realization that my religious gait, my manner of walking with God these past three or four years, has been mostly a matter of alleviating discomfort and suffering at the expense of causing unacknowledged harm and damage.
As with my physical gait, it took me a while to locate the source of my own personal religious problem. Now that I have, I must overcome the comfortable spiritual compensations I have subconsciously erected to manage this problem over the years and train myself to walk correctly again. This requires tracing my own personal history back to that point in time where I could not have even imagined that it was possible to walk incorrectly with God. I need to relearn my gait from that time, ensure my stability, and confirm that every step I commit to taking lands properly.
I got my work cut out for me - in both areas.