Thriving in a Walking (CAM) Boot

If you’ve seen me since January, you know I’ve been in the dreaded “walking boot.” Initially I felt annoyed with it, so I decided to make it the best experience possible. I also took it as an opportunity to further my knowledge of how to help clients others CAM (controlled ankle motion) devices.

Why I’m in “the Boot:”

What exactly did I do to land in the boot? I wish I knew! I’ve had foot pain almost daily ranging from mild to pretty intense since October of 2017. I started with physical therapy and after steady progress, I was advised to try my normal activities again- mainly dancing and short runs. At that time, we thought it was simply tendonitis and an issue with my foot not moving correctly.

But every time I tried to return to a normal activity, I’d end up with flared foot pain for the next couple weeks and needing to rest again. As someone who is used to walking 10+ miles a week, plus dancing & hiking, it was incredibly frustrating to feel like I couldn’t do any of it and not understand why easy activities (like walking 1/2 mile) caused so much pain.

Throughout 2018, I saw several doctors and didn’t get any conclusive diagnoses. My bloodwork was perfect, X-rays looked clear, I had no autoimmune markers and my lack of improvement was a mystery given all the treatments I was using (PT, acupuncture, massage, chiropractic, rest). Finally in January I had better insurance and was able to see an Orthopedist, who suspected I had a stress fracture in my calcaneus. An MRI confirmed this diagnosis, along with multiple tendon issues and early plantar fasciitis. The boot was the best way to fully rest and heal my foot and allow me to still do most things.

While many are bummed about wearing a CAM boot, after 14 months of making little to no progress I was relieved and excited! Finally, a solution and diagnosis that explains my weird symptoms over a long period of time! It was uncomfortable at first, because it forced me to walk correctly and on the most tender spot that I had avoided for so long. But by the second week of wearing it whenever I was on my feet, it felt so much better. I was finally able to walk longer distances without pain!

So, over the past 8 weeks, I’ve learned quite a few things to make this experience as pleasant as possible, including how to walk “easily” in the boot, and how to be as comfortable as possible for the duration of treatment.

Keep a Positive Mindset. There are many “upsides” to wearing the boot:

  • People are way more friendly and helpful to those in the boot. I’ve had so many nice conversations with strangers that it almost feels like being back in the Midwest!

  • Before the boot, I was pretty limited in my footwear choices because most shoes aggravated my foot. Being in the boot means I can wear any shoe I want on my right foot! Hooray!

  • I’ve been slightly more active and walking MORE since being in the boot. I gave up on dancing last Spring, and found Spin classes in the Fall to be my new favorite cardio that doesn't aggravate my foot.

  • I completed the Tunnel to Viaduct 8k walk! I’d registered for it early on, but surely would not have finished without wearing the boot because walking on pavement caused pain after half a mile. I was slow, but still finished!

Invest in Helpful Accessories:

  • Get a boot cover. Yes, it’s ugly and looks like you have a shower cap on your foot. But it works. It keeps the boot clean so you can wear it at home without tracking all the dirt from outside around your floors. It also keeps the boot and your foot dry on rainy or snowy days. If you’re willing to research a bit, there are more stylish and larger covers available, even on Etsy.com.

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  • Another must-have is the EvenUp Shoe Balancer. It’s also ugly, but will ensure you can make your other shoe level with the boot. This is so important for the health of your spine.

  • If you have a very tender heel, try a gel heel cup insert. I needed this to take more pressure off my calcaneus since that was my area of greatest pain.

  • When wearing the boot at home, you still want to keep your hips level. If you’re like me and have a “no shoes” policy in the house, try a thick insole in a slipper to add height to your other foot.

Tips for Walking in a CAM boot:

It takes a few days to figure out what works for your body, but here are some general guidelines I discovered along the way:

  • Take short steps, go slower and keep your knee bent. You’ll figure out the rolling stride from heel to toe within a day or two of wearing it.

  • Uphill: Use an even shorter step and land on the ball/toe part of the boot instead of mid foot or heel.

  • Downhill: Knees even more bent, shorter steps and the rolling stride you’ll figure out from flat-surface walking.

  • Ascending Stairs: Use handrails (at least initially), and push your hips back with each step up, as though you’re just starting to sit in a chair. Rock forward to toe off from the boot when stepping with the normal foot.

  • Descending Stairs: Use the handrail until it feels natural to land with the middle of the boot on the edge of the step. You want to be weighted in your heel and stable on the step while slowly rolling forward and bending your knee to land on your other foot.

  • Walking in Snow & Slush: I had to walk a lot during the big Seattle snow storm last month. There is no good method. It just sucks and I suggest avoiding it at all costs! But if you can’t avoid it at least have a waterproof cover on the boot.

Other Helpful Tips:

  • Get bodywork! Even with a level pelvis, your gait will change which will affect your whole body. Regular massage and acupuncture really helped me manage the new aches and tension that popped up all along my spine.

  • If the boot isn’t feeling right, contact your doctor right away. They can talk you through adjustments to make sure you are wearing it correctly.

  • When you are at rest, elevate your foot to give it a break. If you don’t have to wear the boot 24/7, remove it when you can to give it a break from the boot.

  • If you can be boot free at times, try contrast baths or icing to help decrease inflammation.

  • Decorate it! Put on stickers that make it more fun and to serve as a reminder of what you want to do when fully healed!

This post is meant as a helpful addition to any suggestions provided by your doctor. It is based on my experience of wearing the boot while weight-bearing during the day, not 24/7 continuous. If anything conflicts here with your doctor’s advice, follow what your doctor says. Happy healing!