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Five things I learned after I sprained my little toe

Looks innocent, doesn't it? Fold it in four, leave it lying around, and you'll see the damage it can do.

I learned that if you’re walking barefoot, and your little toe gets caught in something and you keep walking, your little toe will hurt, for a long, long time.
A month ago last Tuesday night, just after the first class came out of Savasana, I walked through the studio to open the door and let the students for the next class in out of the rain.

Someone had left a folded yoga mat in the middle of the room. My little toe got caught in the fold. There was a flash of pain, and then I just kept walking.

My inner Spartan boy – the one who hid a wild fox he had stolen under his clothes and suffered the consequence – kicked in immediately.

I had one more class to teach, and I couldn’t see sending the students home, or teaching from a chair in the middle of the room. So I made it a game to see if could get through the 90 minutes without letting on I was I injured.

Knowing what I know now, I’d have sent out for ice, and taught large portions of the class on my back, with my legs up the wall.

When I sprained my little toe, I learned that it’s important to keep props out of the circulation space.

I don’t blame anyone for the sticky mat incident, or if I do, it’s me, for not paying attention. But the truth is, I walk around the studio looking at the students, not the floor, so I need all the help I can get to stay safe.

For years I’ve seen the scattering of props around the room as a happy sign of yogis at work. I thought that teachers who insisted on keeping the room clear were a bit on the military side.

Not any more. Just call me Captain.

I learned what a sprain is.

By definition, a sprain is an injury at a joint, usually the knee, ankle or shoulder, but little toes count too.

In a sprain, we tear the ligaments that tie the bones together. Ligaments, from a Latin word meaning to tie or to bind, and by association, a bandage, connect and stabilize one bone to another. They look a bit like bandages, white, stringy, fibrous and tough.

They can be stretched to increase range of motion. If they are over-stretched they can’t regain their former shape, and the result is a loose and weakened joint.
Hence the alarm about “hanging in your joints” when you do yoga poses.

When you wrench ligaments, by say, getting your little toe stuck in a yoga mat, they take a long time to heal. In fact, a sprain can take longer to mend than a broken bone.

Ligaments don’t get much blood supply, so they are naturally slow to heal. And they are always subject to new strains, just in the normal course of doing their jobs.

Think of it: the work of the ligaments is to halt the movement of the bones when they go too far away from each other. You don’t have to be playing sports to make a ligament stretch. All of us place our weight unevenly and stumble from time to time.

I learned that it’s best to take sprains seriously.

One of the hidden but real dangers of yoga is that you generally feel so good that you come to think of yourself as invincible. I almost never get colds or flu. When there’s a bug around I might have a hot bath and then tuck up in bed with a cup of tea for the afternoon, but that’s about all that happens. (In fact, the illusion of invincibility is so strong that I’d completely forgotten The Sniffley Sadhana when I wrote this. And that was only six months ago.)

When I sprained my little toe, I expected it to heal quickly, almost by itself. Everything else always does. Why not this?

I could have taken anti-inflammatories on a regular schedule, but I didn’t do that, nor did I lie down and put my feet up as much as possible.

I didn’t even Google “sprained little toe” until into the second week, so certain was I that all I could do about it was ice and wait. And since it was going to heal quickly without much help from me, I didn’t really bother too much with the icing.

A month later, my foot still hurts. Today, it’s swollen and it looks bruised again. I seem to be able to walk inside, barefoot or in sandals, without much trouble. Not so much outside, in shoes.

I used to take 40-minute walking breaks down to the library and back to clear my head when I’d been writing. I trotted up to the bank, bought most of my groceries on foot, took just about any chance to head out the door and see how the world smells, and how the air feels on my skin.

Now it makes a difference to me if I park in front of my destination, or a block away.

I’m getting an X-ray, to see if it’s just a strain (whew!) just a broken bone (whew! again) or a broken bone with a small chip of bone lodged in the joint (not so whew!).

And the last thing I learned?

I need a bike.

Photo courtesy of bradleypjohnson, via Flickr.

If this is your kind of post, you might also like:
Wrecked by yoga: a personal story
Greet your feet in the foot-work series
Tricky Triangle Pose: protect your SI joints

VanCitybuzz just published my story on the joys of Iyengar yoga, titled Highlighting Iyengar Yoga. If you like it, please share.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Barbara December 7, 2012, 6:22 am

    So sorry to hear about your toe mishap. Pain is…well, a pain, isn’t it? As much as I tell my yoga students to listen to their body and to pay attention, I still find it so much easier to pay attention and listen to the external cues rather than the internal ones. And when I’m teaching, I really focus on students much more than myself. I read somewhere that yoga teachers are more likely to get hurt demonstrating a pose than in their own private practice. Makes sense. But it’s a lesson, too – we should try to pay as much attention to our own bodies as we ask our students to pay to theirs. Always something to practice and learn. Best of luck to you and your toe – hope you get the answers you need so that you can heal quickly from here.

    • Eve December 7, 2012, 6:30 pm

      Hi Barbara,
      Thanks for the thoughtful comment.
      I can believe that teachers are more likely to get hurt demonstrating a pose rather than in their practice. A little bit of not being warmed up enough added to the desire to make whatever actions you’re asking for visible in your own body is a pretty potent recipe for getting hurt.
      Thanks for the good wishes, and yes, I do plan to pay more attention to where I’m walking.

  • Joanne Laverman December 6, 2012, 8:48 pm

    Hi Eve,
    Sorry to read about your toe. Yes, indeed a strain takes often longer than heal than a broken bone!!! I tripped ( long story sort, getting out of bed with my laptop open , stepping over the dog and next step pen with one foot on a metal doorstopper. This is months ago and still hurts mainly when I walk down stairs after a long day on my feet. On the bright side my laptop is still working and I have learned not to walk around with an open laptop. :)
    Good luck with the X-ray and do not forget the helm when you are biking!!!


    • Eve December 7, 2012, 12:11 am

      Oh Joanne,
      That sounds like a disaster. You’re lucky that the laptop didn’t shatter too. I have to stop myself from walking around with an open laptop – I guess because I used to always walk and read at the same time, at least in the house. A bit of a transferred habit.
      It’s lovely to hear from you. Thanks for the good luck wishes.

  • Hester Riches December 6, 2012, 7:06 pm

    Quite the tale, thanks for sharing. These stories make us all more cautious about the “little” things — simple household/workplace accidents and seemingly-insignificant parts like toes. These minor injuries can add up, everything is connected…

    And if you’re serious about the bike thing, check out the EasyBoarder. Less chance of hurting your hips:

    • Eve December 7, 2012, 12:09 am

      Hey Hester,
      Great to hear from you. I’ve been loving the bird photos.
      I will check out the EasyBoarder. Thanks for the link. My bike is definitely going to be a step-through model.

  • J'aime December 6, 2012, 5:57 pm

    Ouch! Hope your toe feels better.

    I admit I sort of cringed when you mentioned the yoga invincibility complex. Sounds a bit too familiar. I have been known to get a bit resentful on days I don’t feel well. What do you mean, I don’t get to have perfect health and zero injuries, every day for the rest of my life?

    sigh. :)

    • Eve December 7, 2012, 12:07 am

      Ah yes, we’re the yogically entitled. Not that we don’t work hard for it.
      Nice blog you have there, Jamie, and thanks for the pingbacks.

  • Laura December 6, 2012, 3:31 pm

    Tell me about it! I’ve explored practicing and teaching with various foot/toe injuries over the years, and learned a lot about patience, empathy, creative use of props, humility, paying attention (!). These injuries have taught me to slow down, appreciate what I can do, and remember that so much about this life, by nature, is impermanent. About three weeks ago, my 83 year old father was so pleased to be using his walker faster than his limping-along 56 year old daughter… Such a thrill to feel his joy!
    Thank you so much for each and every one of your posts, wonderful food for thought every time. Namaste, L

    • Eve December 7, 2012, 12:02 am

      Thanks so much for this.
      I love the image of your dad, delighted to be using his walker faster than you could walk. And so lovely that you could take pleasure in his happiness.
      Ah, yes, impermanence. Someone told me recently about a man they’d known who used a wheelchair, and called those who didn’t “TABs,” short for Temporarily Able Bodies.
      I’m so looking forward to being a TAB again.

  • Cathy December 6, 2012, 2:13 pm

    My fellow sprained one. I did a couple of numbers on my knee last week. First I caught my foot in the strap of my briefcase as I was rushing out the door to catch a morning ferry to Saturna. Fell flat on my face, bruising my right knee. Then I was carrying some cut wood over rough terrain and fell hard on the same knee – WOW – pain! I now wear a lovely knee brace – so attractive under pants. I have to plan every move and it takes about the same time as it might take a not-so-spry 90 year old to get anywhere. Saturn is traversing my sun sign. And, according to Tim Stephens, it’s a time of reckoning, exposing weaknesses or neglect that must be overcome with harder work. I too, will be watching where I tread very carefully from here on in. Sending you healing wishes!

    • Eve December 6, 2012, 11:56 pm

      Oh dear, Cathy, that sounds brutal.
      Damn, I hate astrological forecasts that suggest I have to work harder. I’m hoping against hope that you’re not a Pisces.
      Hope to see you soon.

  • beth December 6, 2012, 1:33 pm

    Sorry to hear about your wee toe Eve, your like a lion with a thorn! The ravages of the small parts are not to be under-estimated!
    Hope it’s feeling better soon and it’s one of the formers and not the latter.

    • Eve December 6, 2012, 11:53 pm

      Thanks for the good wishes, Beth. If I’m a lion with a thorn, then where’s Daniel, I ask. I love that phrase, “the ravages of the small parts.” Turns out none of them feel small when they’re ravaged.