Dealing with an aging body is a chore to handle. I’m 67 years old now, and despite my diligent efforts, my body is definitely talking to me a lot more than it used to. By and large it is complaining. I liked it better when it just performed as expected, without the repercussion of injury and pain. Now it insistently screams “Lorie, give your old body some respect, treat me with TLC if you want me to function properly. And it plaintively begs “Would you please lighten up on the macho weight workouts?”
I finally heard the pleas and begrudgingly incorporated daily stretching, going to an assisted stretch lab, getting regular massages (I know, no sympathy on that one), and balance training into my busy schedule. I feel like I devote extraordinary amounts of time babying my old carcass just to maintain a semi-healthy body not riddled with aches and pains, muscle tears and pulls. Apparently, this coddling is non-negotiable if I want this somewhat worn-out structure to be pain-free and fairly operational.
As a gerontologist, I know that bodies are at the height of their physical capabilities in order to procreate and then are designed to slowly wear out and wind down. The symptoms of this process include stiffness, tightness, achiness, and a certain amount of pain and injury. When you’re as stubborn as I am about maintaining habits, acceding to these changes feels downright painful.
Even though I’m fond of saying that aging “beats the alternative,” I keep trying desperately to deny reality and pretend I’m still a sexy looking 20-something. But then I get a glimpse in the mirror and receive a stark reminder that I’ve turned into that old lady.
Dealing with an Aging Body: My Pigheadedness
Let me share just two examples of my stubborn pigheadedness. I’ve been lifting weights about five times a week for at least 40 years. When I strength train, I go into macho mode. Perhaps that’s because I learned to build muscle from a former Mr. Universe (but that’s another story.) Nothing makes me happier than sitting down at a weight machine just vacated by a guy and upping the weight-load. I’ve indulged this ridiculous head trip to the point of injury.
Another time I was at the Smith machine and I noticed a buff woman next to me doing squats with a heavily weighted barbell on her shoulder. I decided there was no reason that I couldn’t match her pound for pound. Somehow the fact that she was about half my age and almost twice my weight, failed to register.
On the third squat, I felt a sharp pain in my back. I later discovered that the discs in my back had moved and managed to trap my femoral nerve. It took an entire year and dozens of sessions of physical therapy to regenerate the nerve. In the meantime, standing and walking were excruciatingly painful. My evening walks were pathetic. It was all I could do to gingerly ambulate from one fire hydrant to the next, rest my leg, and then hobble onto the next one.
My Latest Attempt to Deny Aging and Stay in Control
Now I’m in the midst of dealing with the fallout from my latest episode of denial. Apparently decades of overhead shoulder presses have taken a toll on my body. Go figure! On some level, I knew that I’d pay for the repeated cycles of injury, rest, and repair. This pattern should have been a wake-up call that I was pushing my body beyond its limits. But no; I ignored it. I had buff shoulder and arms that made me feel strong so I persisted until the injury phase became my permanent condition.
At that point, my left shoulder couldn’t take the abuse anymore and suddenly I was experiencing pain while doing normal things like lifting my arm overhead trying to take off a dress or shirt. I also noticed a constant dull throbbing emanating from my shoulder that radiated down to my elbow. That got my attention to the point where I called my GP and asked for a physical therapy referral.
The therapist initially suggested an X-ray or an MRI, both of which I rejected out of hand. Google had already told me I had the classic symptoms of a rotator cuff tear and the therapist agreed. So, what was the point of an unnecessary test, especially one that would bring on a claustrophobic panic attack? The clinician gave me an ever-increasing list of exercises designed to improve my range of motion and strength to perform both in his office and at home.
For several months that treatment appeared to be effective and then the progress stalled. My husband kept telling me to give up on PT and try something else, but I persisted for a total of 10 months at which point I mysteriously got worse to the point of experiencing throbbing pain that woke me up in the middle of the night. My solution was to attack that problem with sleep remedies ranging from Blue Ice, to CBD cream, to a topical NSAID, to Tylenol PM, to melatonin. Nothing worked.
I finally got desperate enough to agree to an MRI. I opted for the “open” version and was able to get though it without wriggling out of the machine and bolting from the room. When I got the results, I learned that I had a much different problem that the one the therapist had been trying to treat.
It turns out that I have severe arthritis in my left shoulder. No amount of PT is going to cure that degradation or even calm down the inflamed tendons. So, I went off to the sports medicine physician and got a steroid injection that I never thought I’d agree to because I hate putting any drugs in my body and steroids are seriously powerful. Much to my surprise and relief the first night the pain decreased enough that I regained my ability to sleep.
So, we’ll see how this goes. I now consider this to be a condition that I caused or contributed to with my mulish behavior and that I will have to learn to manage. Repetitive steroid injections are not the solution, so I will try other injection therapies and hope to avoid surgery.
I’d say I got my comeuppance. Maybe it’s time to ease up a bit on this old body and adopt some new patterns that fit my stage in life a bit better. What do you think?