Two of my last three posts have been about, basically, being active and moving my body, and how important it is to me. It’s why I am challenging myself to do yoga for 28 days in a row. What is amazing is that I am able to do all that I do now. I was born with metatarsus adductus, which is commonly known as pigeon toe or in-toeing. Apparently, it is quite common, and most cases are mild. Mine, however, was extreme. The causes of it are still unknown but, in my case, while in my mother’s womb, my feet bent and stayed that way. My feet were so crooked and turned in that starting somewhere around 8 months, I had to wear a polio brace, the kind that had the metal bar from knee to knee. I searched and searched for a picture of this type of brace but I was unable to find one. So, there I was, an 8 month old baby, a quite active, climb-out-of-my-playpen kind of baby, wearing a brace on my little legs to try to straighten out my feet. I started walking at 9 months, and I must have been a sight. I clearly liked walking from a very early age and didn’t let the fact that I was in a brace keep me from it. The picture below is me on my first birthday. You can see the angle of my left foot, even after 4 months of being in a brace.
At some point, which I of course do not remember and neither does my mother, the polio bar brace was replaced with a brace similar to this one…
This was as close as I could find to what I wore. For five years! I seem to remember that the metal bars went down both sides of my legs, but I could be wrong about that. All I do remember for sure is how much I hated, despised is probably a better word, wearing it. And I had to wear it 24 hours a day. The only time I didn’t have to have my braces on was bath time and when my feet grew and I had to get new shoes attached to the metal bars. Other than those two times, I always had them on. I wore them through kindergarten. Thankfully, by the time I went to first grade I was finished with them.
As if this wasn’t enough, when I was 11, I had a growth spurt that messed my knees up, pretty much, for life. I grew too tall, too fast, and this caused my knee caps to slide and for fluid to accumulate on my knees. Luckily, it was never enough that I had to have a giant needle stuck into my knee to remove it. When it first happened, I was splinted, told to take aspirin however many times a day (don’t remember exactly) and given my first pair of crutches. And from then on, I was on crutches at some point every single year until I was 19 years old. I ‘broke’ my splint within a week. I couldn’t stand having my leg immobilized and each day would practice bending my splint until it broke. Of course, all that meant was I had to go back to the hospital and get another one.
So, like I said, at some point in each year from 1971 to 1979, my knees would flare up, and back to the orthopedic doctor we would go. If I remember correctly, I only had a splint the first time, but I would have to use crutches for a few weeks at a time until the pain went away and I could put my full weight on it again. And I took so much aspirin that it stopped working for me. I then switched to Tylenol when that came on the market, until that stopped working, too. Now, ibuprofen is the only pain reliever that (sort of) works for me. Actually, thinking about it now, that first growth spurt was big, but I continued to grow until I was about 20 or 21, which is probably why I had problems all through my teens.
When I was 17, I was sitting on the back of a metal folding chair and fell over backwards and when I hit the ground, my foot somehow hit the seat of the chair and my heel broke. You can’t really cast a heel, but you can use crutches. I had permanent calluses on my hands and under my arms from using them so often. Then, when I was almost 19, the night before I was leaving to spend the summer in Wildwood, New Jersey, I stepped on a rake handle wearing Dr. Scholls sandals and broke three bones in my right foot. That necessitated a trip into Atlanta (at the time my parents were living in Canton and there was no orthopedic doc on staff at the hospital) to get x-rays and a soft cast. I did make my flight the next morning, on crutches, though that made it impossible to get a job as a cocktail waitress, since I couldn’t tell potential employers exactly how long I would be on said crutches. Instead, I worked in a sea shell shop on the Boardwalk.
Though I continued to have periodic problems with my knees, especially my right one, I more or less stayed off of crutches until my later 30s. I was in Barcelona and tripped crossing the street and tore cartilage in my knee. Not, of course, my ‘bad’ right knee, but my left knee. While in Spain, it was misdiagnosed as severe tendonitis. I stayed off of it and by the time I got back to the States a month later, it seemed fine. Six months later, though, it started clicking. Long story short, I had to have surgery, where 30% of my meniscus was removed, and fun, fun, fun, I got to be on crutches yet again. When I went to physical therapy after my surgery and told the story of the history of my knees, my therapist was astounded that it had taken that long for me to have had a serious problem. Well, really, if I wouldn’t have tripped and wrecked my better knee…
I do know that yoga has helped my knees over the last 3 1/2 years. And while there are certain poses that I will most likely never be able to do, that’s okay. At least I am still able to walk, and I am happy to say I have not been on crutches since 1997, and I am doing my best to keep it that way.
I wore them for pigeon toes too, but I’m not sure how long, I just remember crying because I had to sleep in them and crying because I couldn’t run with the other kindergartners. Finally, when I developed a huge grey knot on top of my spine (and probably because I had finally outgrown the cursed piece of equipment), I was allowed to stop wearing them. Interestingly, I was required to wear support (saddle) shoes until high school. My memory is slightly different than yours– As I recall, the brace down the side of my leg was a heavy-duty type of plastic (though the interior may have been metal). When my youngest was diagnosed with a chest deformity in late middle school, I recall being presented with three options: A). To do nothing, B). To wear a brace 22 hours a day, or to C). Have surgery. My son ultimately made the decision– And he chose to do nothing.
I find your site while trying to find pictures of the braces I wore as a kid. The picture you have is pretty close to what I remember! It was in the early 1980s when I was around five or so! I had to wear them too! My legs are still rotated, but I am a runner.
Best of luck to you!
Strolled across this blog after researching things that could be wrong with my knees. I too had these braces back in the 80’s. I am having problems with both knees and have an appointment in a few days to see what the problem is. I have narrowed it down to possibly a combination of two things. 1, the braces, and 2. I took growth hormone injections from the time I was 12 until I was 18. I voluntarily stopped taking the injections 3 years before I was told to so that I could join the Army. Which I was ultimately discharged because of needing the shots. That was in 1999 after I graduated high school. I’m now 38, 5’11 and weigh around 250. I cannot exercise by walking or running due to my knees hurting so much. 2 days and them I’ll be down for a while. I constanly work on concrete floors, and bad knees are hereditary in my family. I think with the 2 reasons I mentioned it above, I have it worse than anyone else does. Just wondering how you have been doing in the past 3 years you posted this
I wore a brace like that, too, only mine had red shoes instead of white ones. I’m not sure how long I had to wear it – maybe a couple of years? – only that I no longer had to wear it when I went to Kindergarten. But then I had to wear orthopedic shoes until I was a teenager. My mom and I used to trek all the way across town to the one shoe store that sold orthopedic shoes (I remember my mom saying I needed a “Thomas heel”) for kids. I remember the ordeal of getting into the brace…how much I hated it…trying to sneak out of the house without it and getting caught…how I used to daydream about throwing it out of a high window…. I remember people constantly asking my parents what was wrong with me, as if I couldn’t hear them or understand them.
I also had the ones with red shoes, but they still had the same wide white belt. I wore mine 24 hours a day and sleeping in them was the worst – you could only sleep in one position all night and sleeping in the hard clunky shoes sucked. When I outgrew the shoes my parents had to cut the toes out because they couldn’t afford to replace them. The real kicker is that years later an ortho doctor told me they now know this is one of the worst things they could do to mild/moderate pigeon toes. Turns out those cables are the reason I’m so clumsy and if I’d never had them I might have been a good runner.
Now reading all of your posts I’m wondering if they might also be the reason so many of us have knee problems. My knees randomly swell up to 2-3 times their normal size and my current doctor can’t find any reason why.
I started having knee issues when I was 11 years old when I grew too tall too fast. I was on crutches every year from 1971 to 1979 at some point during the year because of my knees. Fast forward to 1997, I was in Barcelona and tripped crossing the street and tore cartilage in my left knee (my right knee was always my ‘bad’ one) and eventually had to had surgery. My knees did seem to get a lot better when I started doing yoga.