Dancing Through The Pain

My ten-year journey to living pain-free

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Photo credit: Dakota Cross

I fell in love with ballet when I was seven years old and never looked back. Throughout my childhood dancing became an outlet to escape any obstacles that were going on in my life. Dance was something that I got lost in, like a dream; something where you feel like a new person and just get to express all your emotions. But my passion for the art also resulted in some very painful injuries.

In high school, I experienced my first stress fracture in my right foot, and despite doctor’s orders to wear a walking boot every day, I only wore it about half the time I was directed. Three years later, I suffered two new stress fractures and once again found myself in a walking boot.

While the stress fractures ultimately healed, the pain never seemed to go away. When I went to college, I wasn’t prepared for how hard it would be to walk around campus. Not only that, but I would wake up in pain, regardless of what I had been doing the night before. Despite the discomfort, I grew accustomed to the pain and continued to practice ballet. Eventually, I assumed the pain would be my new normal, and I refused to stop dancing through my college career.

Searching for a solution

After college graduation the pain became intolerable and I finally stopped dancing. This was the start of my journey to living a pain-free life. Soon after returning home, I started experiencing constant, throbbing pain on the ball of my foot. I was diagnosed with Morton’s neuroma, a thickening of the tissue around the nerve between my toes.

I tried every kind of treatment option to fix the neuromas, including cortisone injections and sclerosant injections, but nothing worked. I finally had the neuromas surgically removed, but since nerves can grow back, one did and restarted the whole process. After the procedure, I began to experience odd, rock-like sensations in the bottom of my foot, which prevented me from wearing any type of shoe with a heel or even going barefoot.

At this point, I felt like I was almost out of options and feared the pain would continue to control my entire life. As a nurse, I have seen first-hand how the opioid epidemic is affecting people and knew that potentially dangerous medication routines would never be an option for me. Even more important, I didn’t want to rely on medication because I needed to be able to function and treat my patients. During work, I would sit at my desk when I had the chance, roughly every 15 to 20 minutes, and ice my foot. This was the only way I could find any relief and get through my shifts.

One last hope

After being referred to more than 10 different doctors, I learned about a new pain management option – a small implantable neuromodulation device known as the Bioness StimRouter. The device is designed to provide pain relief for people that haven’t had luck with other medications or treatment options. The first time I stood up after it was implanted and turned on, I felt no pain. I was standing barefoot in my doctor’s office, something I was unable to do pain-free before. It was like a light bulb turned on and I thought ‘Oh my God, I don’t have pain anymore’ – a feeling I waited 10 years to finally experience. It was incredible.

Before this procedure, the type of shoes I could wear was limited and I mainly lived in orthopedic shoes due to their comfort. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that I’d someday be able to walk around in wedge sandals or heels – completely free of pain. Thanks to the StimRouter I’ve started to overcome limitations that had long been present in my life, and am now participating in activities that previously seemed impossible.

Moving past the pain

When I started my career as a nurse, I never thought I’d be able to work a 12-hour shift without suffering through constant pain. Having such fear and worry about your physical capabilities is terrifying, especially as a young woman with so many working years left in your life. Thankfully, I’m now able to do the job I love free from pain.

For almost 10 years, I tried to keep the pain to myself as each day became harder to bear. I never wanted to burden the people around me. Now, I don’t have to worry anymore. One day, hopefully in the near future, I would love to take ballet classes again, something I never thought would be a possibility.

It may have taken me 10 years to find a solution, but when I did, my life changed for the better. My advice for people who are living in constant pain and haven’t found a treatment option that works for them is to keep searching for a solution. As the nation continues to struggle with the opioid epidemic and pain management crisis, I encourage patients with similar stories to find the best option for their own lives, and to never give up.

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