Long-time TGB reader Jean Gogolin emailed recently with this query:
”I have a good friend who's 75 and has been practicing yoga for years. The other day she was complaining to her yoga teacher about her various aches and pains - she takes very good care of herself and practices diligently - and the instructor responded, 'How did you expect to feel in your mid-70s?' “That response would make me furious,” wrote Jean. “What do you think?”
My first thought? Get a new yoga instructor - and that's not a joke. Pain of any kind is a message from our bodies: “Hey, pay attention here,” it is saying. “This might be a problem.” Or it might not be, but it cannot be dismissed based on age.
Jean's note is a good excuse to talk about these aches and pains that accompany growing old. I don't mean pain from arthritis, rheumatism, osteoporosis along with other conditions, diseases or injuries. I mean the odd pain, usually temporary, that wasn't around in younger years, is often transient and has no explanation.
In my case, a variety of pains come and go but I still have two that I complained about seven years ago in a post about minor aches and pains of age:
”Every few weeks or so, a stabbing pain attacks the second toe of my left foot. I mean, horrendous, teeth-grinding, wanna-scream pain. It is intermittent – each stab doesn't last long – but it repeats every few minutes for an hour or so and then disappears until next time, maybe a month or two. What's that about?
“And here's a strange one: once in awhile, one of my earlobes aches horribly, although not for long.”
Those two weird pains have been going on for years so I'm going to continue to assume there is nothing important about them, they won't kill me.
Getting back to Jean's friend, a lot of pains – especially following exercise, sports or yoga, for example – are explainable by overuse of muscles. It happens even to long-time active people.
For nearly four years, I have stuck with a daily 45-minute fitness workout that involves exercises for flexibility, strength, balance and endurance. I skip the weights on alternate days.
When, these past several months, I was not sleeping enough, I couldn't do it – not every day and when I managed to get started, I couldn't last for more than the lightest flexibility and balance training, and I wasn't doing them to capacity.
For awhile, I did not connect the difficulty with lack of sleep. Now that I'm back to full daily routines, I am making up for a lot of lost ground and that has caused a some muscle aches.
And endurance? Where I easily did 50 pushups before (the girly kind on my knees), I couldn't get past 20 when I restarted the full routine and now, three weeks later, I'm still only up to 30 and I ache most days from the strength work.
It took me a long time to build up to those 50 pushups and number of reps of other exercises so it will take awhile to get back there and it is obvious why my muscles hurt. No worries.
My point in relating this personal experience is that in assessing pain, we need to listen to our bodies and I mean that especially when nothing hurts at the moment so that when something does hurt one day, we have a comparison.
Here are some common-sense things to keep in mind:
• When you feel pain while exercising, stop or slow down. If later, it still aches, cool it down with ice packs wrapped in a towel for a few minutes several times a day. If muscles are still sore two days later, switch to heat to help healing.
• I know recent research tells us that stretching before exercising doesn't help. I don't buy that but even if it's true, stretching can't hurt and it helps maintain flexibility.
• Experts say that muscle soreness tends to be symmetrical and unless you're pushing yourself too hard, should go away in a few days.
• If an ache is not symmetrical and does not get better with a week of rest, it should be checked out by a physician.
• If pain wakes you in the night or doesn't go away within a week, see your physician.
• Of course, a swollen joint or the inability to bend or straighten a joint is an alert. There may be an injury and you should see a doctor.
When I was researching that blog post seven years ago about aches and pains of age, there was hardly any useful information online and even at the best health and medical websites, that hasn't changed much. Those items above are the best I could glean and they have worked well for me.
As to Jean's friend's yoga instructor, she or he should know better. It is wrong to dismiss pain out of hand based on age. Maybe in this case it is only a sore muscle or two but that instructor doesn't know that without asking some questions.
This is yet another case of stereotyping old people: “She's 75, of course she hurts.”
No. Old people are not expected or required to suffer pain just because they are old and an instructor of any kind of physical activity who is indifferent to a client's pain because she is old is not just ageist, she or he is negligent.