Feet on Fire

Posted by Kristin Beale in Life After Paralysis on May 21, 2021 # Lifestyle

My feet used to be on fire.

When I was inpatient in the hospital after a Jet Ski accident in 2005, I was diagnosed with a T8 spinal cord injury and loss of feeling/movement below my mid-torso. At the time of my accident, I had no feelings at all coming from my lower body – except for feeling like my feet were on fire.Kristin and her husband

I used to ask my mother, God bless her, to rub my feet until the burning sensation went away. Remember that I still couldn’t feel pressure or sensation from the foot massage, but I watched her rubbing my feet for long enough until my mind would extinguish the fire. In simpler words, the burning feeling would only go away after watching her rub, and rub, and rub my callous-free feet for as long as she could stand it. It was like a game, but not a game either of us wanted to play.

Years later, I learned about a phenomenon that explained my burning feet: peripheral neuropathy. That’s a fancy way of saying: “unexplained sensations you might have after a traumatic diagnosis,” such as my new spinal cord injury. This kind of neuropathy shows up when the brain and central nervous system try to communicate with each other and, because the scar tissue in a spinal cord-injured person blocks the brain’s path around the body, they have trouble talking. People with peripheral neuropathy generally describe their pain as stabbing, tingling, or burning, and I was one of the lucky ones who felt the burn. In my worst times, “incineration” is a better word to use; I couldn’t focus on anything other than the burning from my feet.

Two weeks after I was discharged from the hospital in 2005, I was on an airplane across the country to a place called Project Walk in Carlsbad, CA. My doctors told me that my T8 paralysis means I’ll never feel or move below my injury level again, and Project Walk was my first step toward proving them wrong; I was grabbing my rehabilitation by the ears and trying to reclaim what I lost in my accident. I spent one month at Project Walk, where I worked out for 4 hours a day, 5 days a week for 6 weeks. Project Walk was the start of my journey toward restoring my body to what it was before my accident and, to my surprise, it was the end of my burning feet.

My restoration journey didn’t start and end with working out in the gym. In fact, the idea of working out is boring enough that I wouldn’t have lasted long without incorporating some other stuff in there: I tried acupuncture on a weekly basis for a few years; massage therapy when I could afford it; I gave cranial-sacral a shot; I did a lot of stretching and a lot of yoga; I became intentional about every food and everything I put in my body, my temple; I’ve been involved in adaptive sports since the beginning; and now, 15 years later, I’ll leave no Therapy Stone unturned. And you know what? The mindset really helped me.

This is just my personal journey with neurological discomfort/neuropathy, and it has no guarantees for success in anyone else’s journey. There are countless studies published that credit a healthy lifestyle (diet, exercise, moderation) for helping manage sensations similar to my burning feet and, optimally, regaining control of your body. I’m only telling my story to confirm those findings and share how I put my fire out.

When I started working out and treating my body like a temple, my feet stopped burning. Through tons of intentionality and mindfulness training, I learned to use my mind to stimulate my paralyzed lower body; I regained a list of sensations/movements; and, most importantly, I transferred back into the metaphorical driver’s seat. I can’t attribute my success to any specific habit or lifestyle change because I have no idea what’s working hardest for me, but I can say that keeping my mind open to alternative healing has taken away my discomfort, improved my lifestyle, and kept me in shape for a cure that’s around the corner.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned from my years with paralysis is: nothing about your body, not one thing, has to be permanent. There’s no such thing as “you won’t ever…” or “you’ll never do…” Things might not look like you expected they’d look, and it might not be as easy as you’d hope, but the body is a beautiful and adaptable thing. Stay open-minded and, truly, leave no stone unturned. You never know what kind of progress or, in my case, toe spasms might come out of it.

Kristin Beale is a native of Richmond, Virginia. She is the author of two books, Greater Things and A Million Suns, and a comic book, Date Me. Check them out and read an excerpt at https://kristinbeale.com/. Her comics can be found on Instagram @Greater.Things.Comics.

This project was supported, in part, by grant number 90PRRC0002, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.