Walking through pain

If you’re like me, you hurt almost every day.  Maybe a little, maybe a lot, but somewhere.  I have had in my day:

  • Sprained left ankle (twice)
  • Arthritis in my right knee and hip
  • Hyperextended left knee
  • Pulled groin
  • Bone chip in my left ankle requiring surgery
  • Plantar fascitis
  • Shin splints (I still won’t run because of these)
  • Sesamoiditis in my right big toe

And that’s just my lower body.  Thankfully I have no fractures down there.  The only times I have really been off my feet are when I sprained the ankle twice in 3 months, and then when I had surgery to correct the bone chip they probably caused.  But that doesn’t mean I know they’re there every day.

In fact, I got into biking again as a result of the hip arthritis diagnosis.  I had sprained my ankle on the last day of vacation in September (hey, better than the first!).  It wasn’t too bad, as I had iced and elevated it immediately for the rest of the trip.  When I came back I started a six-week physical therapy session for it.  In November, literally a week or so after fininshing PT, I rolled it again.  ARRRGGGGHHH!  Back to PT for a month or so.  But by the following spring it still wasn’t 100% and I asked to see an orthopaedist.

He spotted the tiny bone chip in the ankle and suggested surgery, but since I was largely ambulatory at the time, and it was the beginning of golf season, I decided to put it off until the fall, when I was likely to be stuck indoors anyway.  Big mistake.  After a summer of playing lots of golf I had favored it for so long (nearly a year) that my right hip was now a mess.

In fairness, I had had some issues with my right hip for decades.  I was a fencer in college and did martial arts afterward.  Fencing, if you’re right-handed, means that you spend a ridiculous amount of time with your right foot pointed forward and your left foot pointed to the side moving backwards and forwards by means of short (or long) lunges.  And I lunged a lot.  Hundreds of times every day for years.  My right quadriceps and hamstrings were huge, while my left hip adductors and abductors were much stronger than my right.

Moving on to martial arts without balancing those muscles out was a mistake.  I did a lot of roundhouse and side kicks with legs that were suited to one, but not the other and hurt it more.  So when the hip doctor told me after the ankle surgery that I had little or no cartilage in my right hip, I was not surprised.  In fact I had a couple of incidents where I could feel my hip socket and femur grind together <shudder> and one where my right hip locked completely while I was riding a bike.  Fortunately I managed not to hurt myself dismounting.

His diagnosis was that I was going to need a hip replacement sooner or later, but that the longer I waited the better – given the rate of improvement of materials, I might get away without needing a second one 20-30 years from now.  He recommended biking and swimming and to avoid walking and especially running.  So that got me on the bike in more earnestness, and led to the point almost two years ago where I decided to sell the car altogether.

I’ve noticed that I’ve grown to avoid his advice on one key point.  If I don’t take a good, long walk (sometimes in the form of a round of golf, but either way) at least twice a week, I feel myself stiffen up.  Biking helps, but walking has a lot more variety of motion that works the little muscles in the shins and ankle as well as different parts of the glutes and thighs.

All of this walking and biking is not without its drawback including that it introduces new kinds of pains, though of a much more manageable kind.  Since I hate taking painkillers, I’ve got an additional set of regimens I try to follow regularly to minimize the effects of all that exercise, which usually manifest as REALLY TIGHT muscles and tendons.

  1. Stretching – I try to stretch for 15 minutes every morning when I get up, and after I am done exercising.  In particular, I make sure I get my calfs, hamstrings, quads, plantar fascia and hip pointers every time I stretch
  2. Weightlifting – I try to lift 2-3 times a week, usually a rotation of core, upper and lower body workouts.  My leg workout particularly tries to target muscles I know I’m going to use heavily just getting around, and smaller, helper muscles that help me avoid injury.  I’ll include isometrics here, as some are the best way to get at those smaller muscles.
  3. Foam roller – You will think this is one of the most masochistic torture devices ever created when you first start, but it is also the best way to get a number of tendons that get particularly tight with walking and biking and avoid even more pain later.  I try to do this every day, but really is more like 2-3 times a week.
  4. Yoga – I had an great-uncle who did this starting in the 1960’s and could still do headstands at 92.  I try to go to a class at least once a week.
  5. Massage – I had the good fortune to marry a massage therapist, so I’ve been familiar with it for decades.  There are a lot of disciplines, some of which may or may not work for you, but I find that if I don’t get about one a month, I get cranky and/or tend to hurt myself.

I’ll do a separate post on my regimes in all of these areas in the near future.  I should emphasize that I am not a trained or certified in any way on any of this stuff.  I would recommend you find a good teacher in all of these areas who is, and to do only things that help you feel better.  But chances are good you are ignoring one or more problem areas that cause you to skip days of exercise because you hurt too much.  Rarely does that make a chronic problem better.  And even if you do do some or all of these, you may find a useful stretch, exercise or practice that you had not thought of.  Caveat emptor.

Does all of this take time, yes.  I spend about 6 hours a week across all of these activities.  And some of them cost money, so are funded by my lack of insurance and gas payments.  Of course, you can try marrying a therapist or instructor, though you may find yourself like the cobbler’s children – shoeless.  ;-).

 

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