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I’ve been thinking about tight shoes.

Mostly wishing I had some.

I sprained my ankle a couple weeks ago. As I was walking through some deep snow, I stepped half on and half off something under the surface, and my ankle rolled sideways.

I made a noise, then said some words. No grandchildren were within earshot, so I’m going with no harm, no foul.

It didn’t feel any better after a week, so I went to the doctor. Turns out there was nothing broken, just some sad ligaments. The doctor gave me a brace that laced up like a boot and had three different straps that wrapped tightly around my ankle in three different directions and, bada-bing, I was functional again.

The last time I sprained my ankle this badly I was still wearing tall lace up work boots. I remember how it felt when I crammed my sore foot into my boot and pulled the laces tight. I’d groan with a combination of pain and relief.

I made a drastic change in style a few years ago. Now I wear slip on work boots, which I pull on with a little bale hook contraption. This change was a big deal. I’ve looked at old pictures and believe I’m the first male member of my family in four generations who strayed away from lace up boots. It’s easier to avoid tracking mud into the house, but I do feel a slight sense of betrayal every time I see them in my closet.

More importantly, they don’t provide nearly the same amount of support for a bad ankle.

We’ve been having a household debate about how long I should wear the brace. My position is that if I keep my ankle locked in place, the muscles will get weak from lack of use over time, and I’ll end up with an ankle weaker than it was in the beginning.

The counter argument is that the doctor gave me the brace for a reason, and I should just wear it.

There’s a metaphor in there of some sort. I’ve been struggling with just what it is. Here’s the thing. Being tightly locked in with little range of motion really helps the pain. And for a while it’s an absolute necessity. If my ankle is free to wobble in every direction, it never gets a chance to heal. Sometimes an ankle, a person, a country needs to be firmly laced and facing in only one direction, particularly after a damaging event.

But not forever. Since I can’t help myself when I find a gap in my education, I’ve been reading articles by physical therapists and other experts. It appears that if you keep a damaged ankle in a brace indefinitely, you do lose range of motion and flexibility, and you run the risk of damaging your knee joint. Speaking of knees, it seems that wearing a knee brace doesn’t have negative long-term effects. Sometimes, being locked onto a straight path is okay.

But not always. My guess is you understand I’m not talking about my injuries anymore. It may be comforting to be tightly laced into a feeling or an ideology, but over the long haul it weakens us so much and makes deeper damage more likely in the end. Over the past few centuries, we’ve seen it happen over and over. A country united by Pearl Harbor ended up with witch hunts looking for Communists in the 50s. A search to bring justice after 9/11 led to two decades of much loss for not much gain. I look around our country today and see so many of us locked tightly into our own tiny groups with no flexibility welcomed or allowed. I understand that's a comfort against the pain, but in the long haul putting up with a little wobble might yield more long-term strength and stability.

Anyway, it’s something to think about.

Copyright 2023 Brent Olson


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