Turf toe

Today I would like you to meet a teenager who hopes and prays that his physical therapy regime will allow him to return to baseball. His story starts with a bad case of turf toe in both feet, and the realization that he needed a pair of size 12 cleats instead of the size 14 he had been wearing. I met this particular young man on Twitter after he sent me a DM asking for fitting help because he had recently received a pair of New Balance cleats for Christmas. While I’d love to pretend that I can instantly tell whether footwear fits, there are times when that’s not possible so I gave him my number and asked if he could call. I was almost in tears when I heard that he had blown out his left ankle while wearing the too long and overly wide cleats. He was stoic about the recovery process, incredibly so as I listened to what he does as part of his rehabilitation. I don’t know if you can feel determination in the voice of another, but if dedication and perseverance are what he needs to get back to baseball, he will undoubtedly return.

We went back and forth about the New Balance cleats he now wears. I sent him some pictures I had found of cleats that I thought might work well for him, but he ended up sticking with the pair he had received as a gift. Being a so called expert is a funny thing. People call, text, or DM me in order to hear what I have to say, and invariably I end up learning from them. Turf toe is essentially a sprain, and if your foot bends in a place other than where your shoe bends, you can give yourself this type of an injury simply by wearing shoes that are the wrong size. I can’t say for sure whether shoes that fit could have prevented turf toe development in either of his feet, or the injury that required him to have reconstructive surgery on his still growing ankle, because I can envision scenarios where both things could occur while wearing shoes that fit, but I do know that my life is better because somewhere out there a player I’ve not met in real life now wears cleats that fit.

Bony Prominence

His name isn’t a secret, but I prefer to keep it confidential to protect his right to medical privacy. We met some months ago on Twitter, and after a brief discussion I gave him my number so he could call if he ever wanted to talk about his feet. At eighteen he had already had surgery to replace an ulnar collateral ligament. As I listened to him speaking I marveled at how optimistic, yet realistic he was about his recovery which he described as long, drawn out, painful, and depressing.

After our talk we kept in touch via Twitter. He told me that he felt that cleats needed to be broken in, and I’m uncertain if he means what I do when I say that most shoes should be eased into regardless of whether you’ve had that style and model previously. I had to laugh when my client told me that he walked around the mall until he had a headache. Looking at people’s shoes to determine whether or not they fit can be exhausting, it’s also a great education as you start really noticing how many ways footwear can fail an end user. Since then my client has purchased new cleats, and I’m eager to find out how they will affect his performance when he returns to pitching.

I believe that a bony prominence on a foot could indicate ligament laxity elsewhere in the body. I’m wondering if there may be a connection between people who have the tell tale bone that others don’t on their instep, and a future proclivity for ligament failure elsewhere. So far this is the only person I’ve met who has both the bony prominence and had Tommy John surgery so I don’t want to make a larger deal out of a single occurrence than I should, still, it would be very easy to screen for this and track it if only to increase player foot health since that area is already being stressed abnormally.

Preserving player health

Today I read another article about a pitcher needing Tommy John surgery. Many have theories about why so many young arms bear this surgical scar. Sometimes it makes me cringe to see it bandied about casually, as if we’re dismissing what happens when a surgeon makes an incision and does what he or she needs to in order to reconstruct what will hopefully be a functional elbow going forward. For me Tommy John surgery is a colloquial part of baseball terminology but for others, it is their rehab, and their crushing reality.

Recently I read an article that stated that the number one way to prevent all injuries was to get enough sleep. Experience tells me that everything is worse when I’m tired. I’m clumsier, I can’t think as clearly, and I’m more likely to regret things I do late at night such as heading into the kitchen for a snack despite not really being hungry. Nutrition is another aspect that can increase or decrease health; there’s no mystery there although the people selling protein powders and shakes bother me since I feel as if the people purchasing them are being duped, but that’s a post for another time.

Hydration is another component of staying healthy. People know that they need to drink enough water to stay hydrated. That can become challenging when you’re standing beneath a hot summer sky for hours at a time whether you’re playing, practicing, or enjoying a day at the game. Rest is another factor that people need to consider if they want to stay healthy. Your body needs recovery time from lifting, running, or whatever you’ve been doing to train. Well rested athletes are less likely to become injured; they’re also more alert, and more likely to take things in stride as they go along.

My primary concern when I watch sporting events is footwear. I’m looking at every part of someone’s foot to see if I can determine whether their footwear fits. Most of the time I’m comfortable making a statement about footwear fit, but that isn’t always the case. I believe that Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo have cleats that fit well, just as I believe that Ervin Santana does not, but sometimes I run into a Justin Verlander who wears Reebok cleats that are deceptive. His balance is wonderful, his cleats may be short, but they could also fit, and I wonder if that could be why he tends to be effective.

I believe that Justin Verlander would benefit from wider cleats. They wouldn’t need to be much wider, but it seems to me that his small toes are being pinched, and I’m wondering what would happen if we gave him footwear that allowed his toes to spread the way that yoga instructors recommend. One of the reasons I write is because I want to educate people. The right shoes are not going to hurt anyone. Shoes that fit will improve your balance, relax you, enhance your proprioception, and since feet are the foundation of your body, the right shoes are going to make you a healthier person from the ground up.

While I can’t say for sure that ill-fitting footwear contributes to the need for any type of surgery, I think it makes sense for baseball to rule out the factors that they can control that will also increase player health and wellness. Cleat fit can be controlled. Players can, and should, be measured for cleats. That’s the bottom line here. Measuring players for cleats is simply the right, fair, and ethical thing to be doing for people whose livelihood is on the line.

Focusing on Tommy John as an epidemic is understandable; however I believe that the injury umbrella is much broader and more insidious than that. As far as I can tell, cleated sports have no standard protocol to measure and fit players for footwear. This creates a liability for them that can translate into large sums of money being lost, but the bigger issue is what is it doing to the players, coaches, managers, and umpires who are being denied this type of preventative care?

In a game where everything is measured, there is a gaping hole that could be easily repaired. Measuring players takes mere minutes, people are buying footwear anyways, and I believe that the process could be streamlined to take a minimum of time since everyone is busy in today’s world. Preserving health is way more important than winning a ball game, even if that’s game seven of the World Series. No spine, neck, hip, knee, or ankle should be subjected to pain and discomfort that is preventable.

Often times we don’t want to admit that we’re part of the problem instead of being a part of a possible solution. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t bother with measuring at the MLB level since the budget exists for custom cleats that are constructed from an individual set of feet on out. I believe that the level of baseball we’re seeing now is a shadow of what we could be watching if cleats were made solely for their owners. I can see hitters improving, pitching would be better and more importantly baseball would lose fewer players for shorter periods of time to things like shin splints, inversion sprains, and ingrown toenails.

Tommy John surgery is the tip of the proverbial injury iceberg, there are many ways to decrease health, and there are also simple things we can be doing to increase and preserve whatever level of foot health people currently have. Footwear that fits is not the sole answer; it is a common sense approach to an area that has long been neglected for whatever reason. Take a minute to flip through old photos of previous generations of baseball; I believe that you will notice that posture and cleat fit degrade as you move towards present day ball players. Is it just a coincidence that we also have more players than ever needing UCL replacement?

Saberfeet: How healthy are your feet?

Where do we go from here?

Every so often I feel as if I should post something to my blog. Typically what happens is I sit down, type out what I want to say, and decide to scrap it during the editing process. This is silly, but that’s what happens, and I’m really not sure why which leads me to today’s thought. Before I get into the role of Saberfeet I want to make it clear that I’m not quitting, I’m just sharing what’s going through my head right now.

When I started Saberfeet, I think I thought that it would be easy to sell a simple concept. I can’t find anyone who says that people are better off if they are wearing footwear that does not fit. I also can’t find many who are willing to let me come into their school to measure various teams. The Athletic Director where I went to school told me that his coaches would be pissed if I took practice time away from the students, and turned me down flat when I offered to stop by after practice.

This coach admitted that he has several bone spurs and has to force himself to keep going past the first half mile of pretty severe pain when he runs. He wears his running shoes longer than he should, he wears two different inserts in each shoe with the idea that he’s giving himself more toebox room than he would if he had the same inserts in his shoes, but that isn’t really my point. A girl who goes to our church attends the same prep school that I did. That basketball player already has 1,000 points to her credit. She’s committed to a college out in Southern California, and I hope things go well for her.

Before I learned that she played basketball I saw her running around in the knock off Ugg type slippers that many teen girls favor. They were too short, and not wide enough, but I knew that her parents didn’t have a lot of money, and no one asked what I thought about her footwear. Two days ago that girl underwent ACL replacement surgery. I haven’t heard how the procedure went, but hopefully, no news is good news.

Since my youngest was a cheerleader this past year, I had an opportunity to attend several basketball games. I can say with a great deal of confidence that a company like Saberfeet is desperately needed, and I’m not here to prove anything, but if you want your athlete to perform well, you have to give him, or her, the right tools. Part of the toolbox that an athlete brings to their game is footwear, and what I really don’t understand is why people are so reluctant to take my offer of free advice.

Maybe I’m approaching busy people the wrong way. Maybe the idea really is too simple; the philosophy that people should be wearing shoes that fit is not complicated, but what I think is that people are lacking the exact kind of education I’m offering which is why they can’t perceive future value. I can’t say that the girl who now has a new ACL wouldn’t need that surgery had she worn better shoes, but I can’t say that she would either.

The only way to prove that Saberfeet works is for people to make changes because as my chiropractor said this morning, sometimes you don’t know how bad things are until they are no longer that way anymore. I remember taking my oldest daughter into the eye doctor when she was in second grade. I’ll never forget the excitement in her voice when she told me that she could see the letters on the wall. Her doctor told us that glasses were our decision, and I went ahead with them to add that clarity to her life.

Sometimes people just aren’t ready to hear what you have to say. You need to be a very patient person to radically change any current model, and even then you know that you’re not going to reach everyone. I am not patient. I’m very impatient, and since I have a tendency to be passionate about the things that I care about, it’s hard for me to step back and realize that seeds take time to grow.

A friend of mine on Twitter says that everyone has a theory on why so many people suddenly need Tommy John surgery. A lot of life is complicated because people make it that way. Food is complicated by those saying go vegan versus the crowd pushing the Paleo lifestyle. The truth is that your body needs a certain ratio of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, and it doesn’t really care what source they come from unless you happen to have food allergies or intolerances.

Wearing the wrong shoes is a bad idea. I don’t need a study to confirm that. Wearing shoes that fit is a smart idea. It isn’t any more difficult than that, and one of the fun parts of my job is helping people become more objective when it comes to selecting their footwear. It is amazing how illogical and irrational many are when they shop, and I include myself in this category because I know I have bad feet, yet I used to buy my shoes at Target.

Shoes that fit will be a better bargain than shoes that do not fit, yet many people I speak with are unwilling to shift the current paradigm. They think it’s a good idea, an athletic director I spoke with the other day said it sounded like a reasonable proposition when I asked if I could have a few minutes with each of his athletes, yet he still hasn’t called me back.

Any time you have a gift; to keep it to yourself is selfish, and unwise. Each athlete that has the wrong equipment is being denied the opportunity to perform optimally. Footwear is equipment, and now those two athletic directors are compromising the health and safety of however many students are in their program. They probably aren’t bad people, but they can’t see the value of me telling them how many athletes in their program are wearing shoes that do not fit.

For Saberfeet to work, people need to come to terms with the concept that their organization could be more efficient and safer than it is now. No one likes to think that their players are being compromised for any reason. It’s probably an ego blow to some to hear a middle aged woman stand up in the middle of a break out group and tell people that players are not being measured for cleats, but at the end of the day, I know something that will change lives, and I owe it to the world to share what I know because it is the right thing to be doing.

Saberfeet: Where do we go from here?