Commentary: Of 'toe buddies,' podiatrists and ibuprofen

A few years ago my doctor called me an "under-utilizer," which I took to mean I didn't use much medicine.

Today I'm an ultra-utilizer.

The podiatrist's "toe-buddy" encircles my big toe. Physical therapy tape lines the bottom of my foot, and marbles to pick up with my toes roll around the floor.

However, my favorite treatment is a belly full of ibuprofen.

In my last commentary, I wrote that pain in the ball of my foot made me limp when I walked and burned when I ran as I trained for the L.A. Marathon 2014. I was sure the burn would disappear if I ignored it.

It got worse.

I turned to medicine.

Specifics of current treatment start with physical therapy exercises to strengthen my ankle and foot, ice to reduce swelling and a bit of massage. The podiatrist presented me with a silicone "toe buddy," which softly separates the big toe from the next toe. He said that taking pressure off the joint and reducing inflammation with ibuprofen would banish the pain.

I'd avoided ibuprofen. Turns out I'm a faster, smoother, happier runner on drugs. I'd forgotten how it felt to run without favoring a foot, without (and this is a bonus) my knees creaking.

I can see how athletes become addicted. I will be sorry to stop the ibuprofen in one week to prevent gastrointestinal upset, as both the physician's assistant and podiatrist directed.

Today on my glorious El Moro hike, Laurie, a nurse/hiker told me she'd read my last article, and then asked, "The diagnostician in me wants to know what exactly is your foot problem?"

My grateful answer, "Neither the nurse practitioner nor the podiatrist gave it a name." Somehow it would be more daunting if they identified, for example, a neuroma.

Laurie continued cautiously, "You're putting a lot of miles on that foot. Have you considered ..."

I knew where she was going.

"Nobody told me to stop running," I said.

In fact, when the podiatrist took a look at my foot and left the exam room, I expected him to return with a syringe of cortisone and an admonition to rest the foot. Instead he came back with the "toe-buddy" and a story about his daughter, who'd run the L.A. Marathon a few years back. Apparently he understands the personality type.

At present, I'm pain-free — and elated. I'd forgotten the freedom of stepping on my left foot without hesitation, using both feet to descend stairs, passing runners ahead of me on a training run.

No telling whether the inflammation will return post-medication.

In the meantime, I enjoyed the memory of Saturday's 16-mile-run and today's brisk hike, when I never trailed behind. I finished my conversation with speedy nurse Laurie, saying, "I'm keeping up with you today."

Then we watched the first fiery fingers of sun point over the Santa Ana Mountains.

Newport Beach resident CARRIE LUGER SLAYBACK is training to run the Los Angeles Marathon at age 70.

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