I experienced foot drop in 2018 after the birth of our son, Jasper. After a long and difficult labor, I found that I had no feeling in my left leg from the knee down, and my leg and foot just hung there limply. Initially, no one was able to tell me what was wrong, or if my sensation and function would ever return to normal. I was told I couldn’t carry my baby around, because I was at a high risk for falling due to foot drop.
After being shuffled around to different specialists, none of whom were able to give me an answer about what might be going on, I saw a wonderful neurologist who did a lot of research and finally gave me a diagnosis of peroneal nerve damage, likely caused by pushing too long in the same position during my son’s delivery. He seemed to think my condition would improve, but he had never seen anything like it before and wasn’t able to give me a clear prognosis. While I was happy to finally have a diagnosis, it didn’t help with the fact that I wasn’t able to get around safely and I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to again.
I’ve always been a very active person and a runner. I love training for races and running all distances, from 5k and 10k races to half marathons and marathons. I was excited to use the jogging stroller that we had ordered prior to Jasper’s birth, and it broke my heart to see it sitting unused, in our garage.
My husband knows how important running is to me, and he threw himself into researching a way that I’d be able to start running again, even with a severe foot drop. He came across an orthopedic clinic in our area and made me an appointment. I went to the appointment feeling pretty skeptical. I still had no feeling or movement in my foot – I couldn’t even make my toes twitch in the slightest. The specialist I saw had me try on a few different AFOs, none of which felt great. At the very most, I was hoping to find something that I might be able to use to go to the store or to get in and out of doctor’s appointments. Running wasn’t even something I thought would be a possibility. When the orthotist heard that I had been a runner, he told me that he had one more thing for me to try. He left the room and came back with an Allard ToeOFF® AFO. I tried it on, and I admit that it felt a little weird. But it also felt stable and secure, and comfortable. He told me that people were able to use this brace for running, and I remember thinking “There’s absolutely no way.” But I got the brace, and started using it for small things, like running errands and getting around my house more safely. More important than anything, the brace really reduced my risk of falling and I was finally able to carry our baby (who was now about 3 months old) around safely.
I also started using my brace to go to the gym. I started using the elliptical to build my strength and fitness back up. I also started doing some strength work, supervised by my PT, to build up the muscles I’d need to start running again. I never thought it would happen, but by January (4 months postpartum), I was able to use my Allard AFO to start running. It was so hard at first, but as I stuck with it, it got easier. I signed up for my first race, a 5k, and finished in under 30 minutes. This was not a personal best by any means, but faster than I thought I’d ever run again. I felt a fire inside and immediately signed up for a 10k, which I finished in under 55 minutes. Again, this was not even close to a personal best, but incredible considering the nerve damage I was dealing with. I got really ambitious and thought, why not a marathon? So I signed up for the California International Marathon! I thought I’d complete it by doing a mix of walking and running and when I completed the registration form, the estimated finish time I entered was six hours (my personal best in the marathon is 3:25). I trained all summer and fall using my Allard AFO, and I felt myself getting stronger and faster. I was also regaining a lot of strength in my nerve-damaged leg and was able to start doing some of my training runs without my brace. I began to believe that a sub-4:00 marathon might be possible.
On the day of the marathon, I didn’t wear my brace. It had carried me through so many training runs, but I wanted to see what I could do without it. And it turned out to be a great day for me. I left it all out there on the course, finishing in 3:42. A personal best post-baby and post-nerve damage, and without a doubt, the race I’m most proud of. While I didn’t run the marathon in my brace, I never would have made it to the start line without the support of Allard and the AFO that helped me get my mobility and confidence back.
Today, my nerve damaged leg is about 90% healed. I don’t know if it’ll ever be 100% back to normal, but I’m so happy and proud of the progress I’ve made. We’re expecting our second baby in June, and we have a plan for delivery that we hope will significantly reduce the risk of re-injury.
“I’m so grateful for the folks at Allard and the opportunity my brace gave me to start running again. If it wasn’t for my Allard AFO, I know I wouldn’t have been able to return to the level of activity I’m at now.” -Sarah Schwab