How a Toe Injury Gave Dr. Travis Stork Arthritis

Mornings are hard for Travis Stork, MD, the charismatic former host of The Doctors television talk show. He wakes up with pain and stiffness in his toes, knees, hips and spine, so it can take a while to get moving and navigate the stairs in his Nashville home, he says. Dr. Stork is known for sharing medical advice with television viewers and has authored several health books, but the 48-year-old physician admits he wasn’t always as careful about his own health.

From Injury to OA
Years ago, he jammed or hyperextended a toe, and his body still reminds him of it.

“When I was in my 20s, just before starting medical school, I sustained a turf-toe injury playing basketball,” he says. “Rather than seeing a doctor, I continued playing sports that exacerbated my injury, and as a result I developed bone-on-bone arthritis in both of my big toe joints.”

He finally consulted his doctor, who sent him to an orthopedist. Yet after corrective surgeries on both of his toes failed to provide relief, he reluctantly acknowledged that living with pain and stiffness might be his new normal.

As a result of his painful feet, he started having back problems, too. “Since it hurt to put weight on my foot, I altered the way I walk, and that put more pressure on my knees, hips and spine,” Dr. Stork says. “I subsequently had surgery on my neck and spine. Three years ago, after my spine surgery, I decided to begin looking at ways to proactively minimize my chronic pain and maximize my joint function,” he says.

Relief Without Surgery
In 2015, Dr. Stork met with a physical therapist to help him correct his gait and to improve the muscle strength and mobility in his feet. He also was fitted with custom orthotic shoe inserts to take pressure off of his damaged toe joints and keep his feet aligned.

A board-certified emergency medicine physician, Dr. Stork hopes that sharing his own experiences will help others prevent or learn to manage pain.

“I had my first surgery at the age of 25, but in retrospect that should have been a last resort,” he says. “I wish that I had consulted with an orthopedist right after my injury so I could have learned about nonsurgical alternatives to reduce my pain and inflammation.”

Dr. Stork readily shares his experiences with chronic pain and physical therapy now as a reminder to himself and a lesson to others: “I’m not sure why I waited and let the pain get as bad as it did,” he says. “After meeting with [the physical therapist] and learning exercises I could practice at home, I noticed a significant decrease in pain.”

He still has some joint pain and stiffness, especially when he sits for too long or works out too much, but he keeps it from progressing through self-care strategies that include a healthy diet, non-drug therapies and exercise.

Increasing his strength and flexibility has been more important than ever since he and his wife, Parris, welcomed their first baby in June. “I want to keep my arthritis in check so that I’m able to play with my son,” Dr. Stork says.

Dr. Stork has a regimen to keep pain at bay – and to stay healthy overall. “I’m not someone who likes to take a lot of anti-inflammatory medication, so for me, making lifestyle changes is the best course to minimize the impact of arthritis.”

Maintain physical activity. Dr. Stork begins each morning with a 20- to 30-minute ride on his stationary recumbent bike and he does physical therapy exercises to strengthen joint-supporting muscles. “I use resistance bands when I’m on the bike and keep them in every room of my house,” he says. “They provide a great workout that puts less stress on the joints.”

Consider alternatives. He uses a zero-gravity chair, which helps reduce pressure on the spine and increase blood circulation. “I like to relax in my zero-gravity chair at the end of a busy day and have found it relaxes me and helps to reduce any back pain I might be experiencing,” he says. Plus, “I have an acupressure mat at home that I lie on for 10 to 15 minutes before bedtime to relieve tension and soreness in my back.”

Invest in good shoes. Wearing inappropriate shoes exacerbated Dr. Stork’s poor body mechanics as well as his pain. “I developed an [unnatural] gait to avoid pain when walking, and that weakened my other muscles and joints,” he says.

“Wearing shoes that are cramped or poorly made can add to your joint pain,” Dr. Stork says. “A good pair of wide toe-box shoes allows me to stay active without experiencing pain.”

Eat healthfully. Some foods, including certain fruits, vegetables and tree nuts, have been shown to ease inflammation that leads to arthritis pain and to help strengthen bones, Dr. Stork says.

“I now eat more of a healthy, plant-forward diet that focuses on anti-inflammatory foods,” he says. “I get protein from beans, and instead of eating meat on a regular basis I eat fish and save meat for celebrations.”

“Maintaining a healthy diet also helps to maintain a healthy gut microbiome,”

Dr. Stork says. “An imbalance in the gut microbiome is associated with inflammatory diseases, including arthritis,” he says. “I also work to maintain a healthy weight in order to put less stress on my joints,” he says.

After 12 years of commuting to Los Angeles to host The Doctors, Dr. Stork has stepped down to focus on family and other projects. In addition to his podcast, The Travis Stork Show, his new book, Reset Your Diet, Reset Your Life: Lose Weight and Revitalize Your Health, will come out in December. Other projects also are in the works. To learn more, follow him on Instagram, @travisstorkmd. —LINDA CHILDERS

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