aging · health · injury · menopause

Menopause, depleted estrogen and increased rolling of ankles

By Martha

A few weeks ago, I ran into my house to retrieve a beach rug and I ended up rolling my ankle severely. While it wasn’t bad enough to warrant a visit to urgent care, I wasn’t my swiftest either.

Having dealt with the sprained ankles of others over the years, I knew I had to rest, ice, apply compression and elevate my injured ankle.

I was curious though: over the last few years, I have rolled my ankle just slightly enough to pause but never enough to feel pain.

As someone with ovaries and estrogen, it occurred to me maybe this might be connected to menopause. Our bodies change in response to depleted estrogen (cessation of periods being one symptom and hot flashes being another.

Turns out our ligaments are affected by menopausal hormone changes including increases in swollen tissues in our feet. Good foot care is important at this stage of life as recovery from sports related injuries such as sprains in feet and knees can take time.

I was lucky. I bought new shoes, acquired some fancy compression socks and regularly applied a topical pain reliever. I’m back to walking lengthy distances without post walk aches. However I’ll keep practicing my ankle exercises (flexing, pumping, and writing the alphabet with my toes) while also stretching my upper leg muscles which compensated for my injury.

So if you are a pre, post or experiencing menopause person, maintain your weight bearing exercises for strong bones and remember to pay attention to your ligaments and soft tissues in your feet.

MarthaFitAt55 likes learning new things about how our bodies work.

fitness · yoga

Working on my base– a foot yoga workshop

What’s your weak spot? Mine is my feet and ankles. They are almost never perfectly happy. I am constantly searching for that magical, elusive shoe that will 1) cushion my flat feet; 2) be gentle enough to avoid giving me blisters, and 3) be sturdy and supportive enough so I don’t twist, turn or sprain an ankle.

So imagine my surprise and pleasure to see that my local studio, Artemis in Watertown, MA, was holding an event called Functional Body Workshop: The Feet! Sign me up now!

The workshop was part information session and part foot/leg workout. We started with a cool exercise that added an arts-and-crafts element: we were supposed to pair up and draw an outline of our partner’s feet on a piece of paper. Here’s mine:

a drawn outline of my two feet, on a piece of white paper.
a drawn outline of my two feet, on a piece of white paper.

Then, we were asked to stand on our yoga mats for a bit, eyes closed, attending to what our bodies felt like, focusing on the feet. We were asked to annotate our foot drawing with that information. I noted the following on mine:

  • both feet pronate inward
  • some pressure on left heel
  • more stability on right foot
  • more pressure on left foot
  • some leg and lower back stiffness

Then we went to work: The teacher, Carly Vernon, who does integrative muscular therapy, handed us each a woolen ball (squishier than a tennis ball), and we proceeded to use it for various forms of deep massage. We used our body weight and moved the ball around to work areas of our legs, ankles and feet. We massaged and rubbed our toes.

Here a person is pushing toes against the wool ball, which is against a wall.
Here a person is pushing toes against the wool ball, which is against a wall.

Here a person is in a lunge, with the front knee bent, and a wool ball is under the foot, being rotated, and then at rest.
Here a person is in a lunge, with the front knee bent, and a wool ball is under the foot, being rotated, and then at rest.

Some of these exercises, well, uh, they hurt. A good bit. When asked about pain, Carly said, “when you experience pain during these exercises, double down on it. Let yourself get inside it. Don’t back off.” Uh, okay. It was pretty interesting to play around with intensity while doing these exercises. We worked all the way from our IT bands above the knee to the knee area, down the calf (front and back) and focusing a lot on the foot and ankle.

After about 75 minutes of intermittent exercises (with breaks), I tried a couple of yoga poses. I often have trouble with balance in some of the warrior poses, like this one:

A woman in a warrior lunge pose, front knee bent, back leg straight, with torso upright and arms straight and overhead.
A woman in a warrior lunge pose, front knee bent, back leg straight, with torso upright and arms straight and overhead. Me

What happens sometimes is that my feet will start to cramp, as I’m holding them tightly for balance. Well, I tried several warrior variations, and they felt great. It was a totally different experience. Wow.

Before we ended, we were asked to stand on our yoga mats again, eyes closed, paying attention to our bodies in general (and feet in particular). Were there any differences?

You betcha. Here’s my feet picture showing in green my before-exercise comments and in red my after-exercise comments:

The same picture of my feet with comments in green and red ink indicating before and after exercises.
The same picture of my feet with comments in green and red ink indicating before and after exercises.

So what changed?

  • less inward pronation
  • a shift in the areas and degree of tenderness in my left foot
  • overall more even distribution of weight on both feet
  • no more feeling of pressure on left foot
  • no more leg or lower back stiffness

Wow! Yay!

Of course, none of this is a miracle (although I’m very grateful for Carly’s expertise and help at the workshop). It’s the result of concerted attention to my feet. If I want my feet to feel great, I will have to attend more to them. Sigh. One wishes that feeling great in parts of one’s body required less work. But knowledge is power, and I now have some easy-to-do exercises (and a nice orange woolen ball as a takeaway gift) that I can (and should) do anytime. They do a lot for me– it’s the least I can do for them.

A pair of feet with a french pedicure and lotion in the shape of a smiley face.
A pair of feet with a french pedicure and lotion in the shape of a smiley face.