The Agony of the Feet, Part Two

I am feeling a bit like Peter Pan these days. Peter Pan was the only male I knew who regularly wore green stockings. I understand that during the Middle Age, men also wore stockings. These days though men who wear stockings are either getting in touch with their feminine side or suffering with vein disease. In my case, it is the latter.

The agony of my feet, which I described more than four years ago, never totally went away. In recent months, it has gotten considerably worse. It was manifested in numbness in my right foot (on a good day) or a constant aching and burning feeling in both feet (on a typical day). More recently, it has sent me scurrying to various physicians (podiatrists, neurologists and vein specialists) to see if I can do something about it. I now know that since I have varicose veins I have vein disease. Vein disease means that the veins in your leg have a hard time returning blood from your feet to the heart. It affects many Americans sometime in their lives, more as people age, as you might expect. In the typical case, your legs feel heavy and mostly unconsciously, you spend a lot of time with your legs propped up on chairs and stools. In the latter stages, walking becomes painful and even sitting with no pressure on the feet still hurts. I seem to be approaching the latter stages.

After doing some fancy tests, my neurologist also confirmed I have tarsal tunnel syndrome. It is like carpal tunnel syndrome, except it applies the feet. I also have neuropathies at various places in both feet as well as possibly in my leg and spine. This means that certain nerves are not doing a good job of communicating with my brain. These too are common with age. In many cases, people simply ignore them.

What to do about these conditions? That is still being triaged by my team of doctors, so the extent to which I can find relief is unclear. Vein disease never goes away, however removing veins from the leg usually results in more blood pressure in the remaining leg veins, often alleviating symptoms, at least for a while. Legs in the vein though are not limitless and the veins cannot be restored to normal functioning. At some point you either have to deal with a lot of discomfort or pain or do what I am doing: wear thigh high compression stockings and hope they relieve the symptoms. These compression stockings essentially provide more pressure to the feet and legs making it easier for veins to do their job. This results in less blood pooling in my feet and legs and, I am happy to report, a lot less misery during the course of my day.

Of course, these taupe stockings I now wear are hardly a fashion statement. Fortunately most of the time they are easily hid underneath jeans, but there are certain times of the year when wearing jeans is not desirable. Nor are they terribly comfortable to wear, feeling at times like vices on my legs and itching my thighs. I suspect in time I can get used to them, but I do not want to. Putting them on is quite a challenge and can leave me sweating because they require a significant amount of agility and force. If vein surgery means I can ditch the stockings I am all for going ahead with the surgery.

My mother had varicose veins. To my knowledge, she never had any veins removed, although she probably should have. In her last days in the nursing home she was, like me, wearing these Jobst compression stockings. Varicose veins seem to be largely heredity, but are often manifested by too much standing or stooping. She did plenty of that chasing after my seven siblings and me. She often said we gave her grey hair. It is more likely we gave her the varicose veins.

For now, these support stockings are a relief more than a burden. As annoying as they are to put on and wear around, they beat going around all day with tired, aching and burning feet. As my vein specialist suspected, they are also identifying the root of my foot problems. It appears that my poorly functioning veins are at the root of my tarsal tunnel syndrome and probably helped create my neuropathies. As best I can figure out, because of my suboptimal veins, my legs and feet have suffered from high blood pressure for years, and this has been wearing on the various nerves, bones and tissue in my legs and feet. I still have some numbness in my right foot but I am hopeful that it will recede as vein pressure in my legs improves.

My point in whining about this is mainly to draw attention to vein disease. If you have varicose or spider veins, or find yourself habitually propping up your feet, or your feet regularly feel tired, or worse, numb, aching or burning you should not do what I did and largely ignore the problem until it becomes acute. Rather seek early medical attention so you can avoid neuropathies as you age and problems like tarsal tunnel syndrome. I wish someone had drawn it to my attention. I have been dealing with it so long I assumed everyone propped their feet up after walking for a while. If you spend prolonged hours at a desk or in front of a keyboard, you should also consider footrests for your feet. A combination of these strategies may make your life livable again.

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