My sophomore year of high school, I began experiencing painful hamstring spasms related to Chiari Malformation. During these spasms, my left leg would go limp and numb, leaving me unable to walk. Thankfully, I was given a leg brace similar to a knee immobilizer to help me walk during these spasms, and prevent them from affecting me at inconvenient times. Here are my tips for navigating high school with a leg brace- no crutches or other mobility devices used. This post also works well for people dealing with short term injuries such as a torn ACL or knee surgery.
Allow extra time to get to class
This may seem obvious, but it can take a very long time to walk anywhere when one leg is doing all of the work. My teachers frequently let me leave class a few minutes early, and I also let teachers know I might be late because I moved so slowly.
Notify bus drivers
If you ride the bus, let the bus driver know about your leg brace, and they can reserve a seat towards the front of the bus, or help you get on and off the bus as well. Since I was the first bus stop of the day, this was never an issue.
Have something to rest on
I often rested my leg on the top of my rolling backpack or another object in class, and it helped having these items easy to reach. My teachers never made any comments about this, as it was common to have students with sports injuries.
Wear the brace while walking
I didn’t always need my leg brace, only when I would have spasms kick in. However, if I was going somewhere where the spasms could cause injury, I would wear my brace the entire time. This includes marching band events (more on that here), school trips, and similar.
Unless otherwise instructed, don’t wear the brace constantly
If the doctor instructed you to constantly wear your brace, please do, but otherwise, remember to take off the brace every now and then to make sure the leg does not become weaker. I would take off my brace nearly every chance I got so I could rest my legs.
Have alternative sign-out location
Students often had to sign out of the building in another location that was halfway across the school. I requested permission to sign out in a more central location that only took three minutes to walk to, as opposed to ten.
Have someone to help you navigate
My lovely friends often would help me navigate around the school and prevent me from falling down or running into objects. This was especially helpful when switching classes, or going up and down stairs.
Keep a file with the school nurse
I had documentation at my first high school that I used a leg brace in the school nurse’s office. I also let the school nurse know at my second high school, which was helpful when I had to rest from spasms.
Ask for access to staff bathroom
Sometimes, the bathroom can feel like it’s a million miles away, or the stalls are not accessible. Request access to the larger staff bathrooms if needed, and have it on file that it is permitted.
Rock the brace
It’s important to have a sense of humor, and often times I would make jokes about my brace or talk about how it was the most important accessory in an outfit, as it was always the first thing people noticed. It helped me not feel so self conscious about walking like a zombie, wearing ergonomic shoes, and sticking out in general.
So, rock the brace and don’t be ashamed of needing one!