A New Beginning Again

Aches and Pains

IMPORTANT UPDATE to Tuesday's post on 2011 health care changes: the provision for Medicare to pay physicians for annual, voluntary, end-of-life counseling has been rescinded. Robert Pear, writing in The New York Times yesterday, explained:

“While administration officials cited procedural reasons for changing the rule, it was clear that political concerns were also a factor.

“The renewed debate over advance care planning threatened to become a distraction to administration officials who were gearing up to defend the health law against attack by the new Republican majority in the House.”

The lunatics win again.

category_bug_journal2.gif All my life, there has been strong cultural pressure against elders talking about their aches and pains. Indeed, this supposed transgression has been fodder for comedians for as long as I can remember.

In my experience, this stereotype that elders dwell on their physical afflictions is undeserved. I've seen only the opposite; hardly any old person I have known or know now mentions them. And with the rise of our youth-centric culture in the past few decades, I suspect some elders are loath to acknowledge aches and pains for fear of appearing old (as if sags and wrinkles are not evidence).

But I think there is value in occasionally talking about these things among ourselves (I doubt young people care – yet) so that we might be able to share our experience and methods of alleviating or, if necessary, find ways to live with these minor maladies.

I'm not talking about the serious pain of disease such as various forms of arthritis, nerve pain from diabetes and others that need to be professionally treated. I mean, instead, those random botherations that appear for no apparent reason and then disappear or, sometimes, remain to be dealt with as best we can.

One of the mini-miracles of getting old for me is that new experiences soon becomes so ordinary that I hardly notice them. It's been a long time since I bounded out of bed in the morning. It's more like a crawl these days, but by the time I've got my robe on I'm upright and moving easily.

I was still working when I first noticed that upon rising after sitting for a length of time, I could not immediately take a step. Not wanting to let my young colleagues think I was becoming decrepit, I learned to stand up at the end of meetings or in restaurants in time for the juices to flow through my legs so I didn't hobble for the first few steps. I don't pay much attention anymore; I've become accustomed to the pause.

Occasionally, especially when I'm chopping onions or doing something in the kitchen that requires a lot of arm or hand strength, a finger joint or two suddenly locks and won't straighten out until I hold my finger out for a few seconds. Once it “unlocks,” the pain stops. What's that about? It's been happening now and then for several years.

For most of my life, I could walk for hours on the sidewalks of New York City. It was easy to do five miles or so at a stretch from my home to – oh, say Central Park on a nice spring day, and back again too.

Nowadays, my feet wear out. It's not that they ache or there is pain; it's that my feet and ankles feel tired and there appears to be no remedy but to walk for shorter stretches of time.

Many years ago, a friend's father who had been in the habit of walking miles a day in New York, had to give up going much farther than the neighborhood deli in his eighties when the padding on his heels had worn thin. I dread the thought of that.

Remember those stitches in younger years usually after strenuous physical activity? Now they occasionally appear suddenly for no reason at all – sitting in a chair or, for example, on my feet cooking in the kitchen. Stretching in the opposite direction can usually alleviate the pain after a few minutes. Where do those come from?

Bending slightly for any period of time longer than five minutes or so produces an ache in my lower back. It goes away when I stand up straight. At Christmas this season, I avoided it by wrapping packages on the kitchen counter which is higher than the dining table and doesn't involve bending. I think that's my ongoing solution now.

Not quite in today's category, but in July, a persistent itch alerted me to a mosquito bite on my knee. No big deal; break out the hydrocortisone cream to keep from going mad with scratching and it will be fine in a day or two.

But this turned out to be like no other mosquito I've met before. I went through most of a small tube of cream until it finally subsided in November. Was it a strange northwestern bug of which I have no knowledge? Or was it age-related slow recovery? There is no way to know.

Look, I'm grateful my maladies are few and minor. But it's still a surprise after decades of no pain without an obvious cause that these things creep in to daily life. And, of course, one wonders what's next.

So far I've been able to accommodate mine without diminishing my life. But that famous embroidered pillow Bette Davis owned is good to keep in mind: Old age ain't for sissies.

Now it's your turn. How have you dealt with the minor aches and pains of age? (Remember – we are not physicians. Please, no amateur diagnoses or drug suggestions for others of us.)

At The Elder Storytelling Place today – Johna Ferguson: Joy of Friendship Through Post Cards


I do Tai Chi and it always makes me feel better. It limbers me up, stretches me, gives me a weight bearing exercise to improve bone structure, and helps tone my flabby muscles.

One of the most aggravating aspects of aging for me has been the need for more recovery time after exercise. An hour in the gym requires a half-hour nap immediately afterward. And god forbid I should work out more than 3 times a week.

Thermacare heat wraps take care of my back spasms, and movement helps all the other stiffness. Use it or lose it seems to be true for me, at least. As long as I wear rubber-soled shoes (the new popularity of them makes me happy) I can walk or stay on my feet nearly all day without pain.

I get a pain in my right thumb that can travel through my wrist and when I start to wear thong type sandals after not for a while I get a shooting pain in my right foot. So that's not too bad for an old lady. Nothing incapacitating, only annoying--I am temporarily abled bodied and I hope it lasts.

I can hardly stand up to get out of bed or after sitting a long time. Partly the knees and partly painful feet. I used to be barefoot at home (socks in the winter.) Not anymore. I've found that well-padded, supportive shoes that go on my feet before I stand up from bed are helping a lot. As for the knee pain, I recently bought an ipod shuffle. I'm trying to get back to regular leg excercises with ankle weights to strengthen the muscles around the knee. Doo Wop blasting makes it a whole lot easier to stick with it.

My feet get extremely cold now and can't find socks warm enough for me.
My scalp psoriasis is so much worse too and nothing seems to alleviate, I've tried all sorts of ointments.
My left leg is nearly always achy, it just comes and goes and often gives up on me coming down a stairs so I use banisters all the time now.
I don't ever talk about such things for the fear of being categorized.
Thanks for the forum, Ronni.

I had a humorous experience relating to this. I was at the funeral in the local church which had brought together many many people who don't see much of each other these days. One of my best friends, who I hadn't seen in well over 10 years and maybe closer to 20, and I got to talking and she asked how I was doing. I said fine. She said no aches and pains? I laughed and said by 67, everybody has aches and pains. That drifted off into her shock at my age as she's 12 or so years younger and maybe she never knew my age.

The thing is I do think by the time we get into old age, we all have aches and pains but just mostly don't think about them because they are fortunately not limiting-- yet anyway. They are just the body telling us it's been around a long while and in some cases hard used!

Regarding your finger pain -- I have the same problem, only multiplied by all my fingers/hands, toes/feet and lower legs. Source of my problem is from rhabdomyolisis, the rapid breakdown (lysis) of skeletal muscle (rhabdomyo)-- that "rare but serious side effect" that they warn you about in very small print in an obscure place on the flyer and in the ads for Lipitor. It has had an almost disabling effect on all my muscles, and according to all medical information I can find, this problem will never improve.
Hope you're not taking Lipitor or any of its ilk to lower your cholesterol!
If you suffer from muscle spasms in your fingers -- what you might call a Charley Horse if you had it in your leg -- you might need more magnesium.

Of all the weird things, in the past few months some of my toenails (no infection) have been tender if pushed against shoes or sheets or if I gently push on them with a finger. I'm wearing wide-width walking shoes around the house to see if that helps.

Have to wear shoes all of the time because it hurts to go barefoot. I'm thin, and thought that was why (skinny feet!), but my sister is the opposite of thin and her feet hurt, too, if she goes barefoot. I guess the padding is going (OW!).

And my right shoulder ... often if I stretch my arm out in a raised position, an area in a muscle or tendon or whatever will hurt like crazy for several seconds, after which the pain abruptly stops as if it had never occurred. Again, weird.

My mystery malady is a sharp shooting pain for no reason. I will be sitting down and a sudden pain feels like someone stabbed me or stuck me with a sharp needle. It is usually in my thigh, but can occur anyplace on my body. Another mystery pain is in my chest on the left side. I have talked to my doctor about it and he rules out heart problems and has no other answer. Again it comes without any rhyme or reason.

One answer I have been given for these unexplained pains is that the insulation around the nerves has worn thin. I guess that's as good an answer as any.

The pains in my thigh, knees and back are with me almost all the time and I can't stand for long periods without a back ache. Lifting something too heavy causes a pain in my right thigh that takes several days to disappear. At least, I know the reason for these pains and I just live with them.

I'm 54. All of this is really just beginning. The hardest part is stiffness upon standing.

P.S. Thank you, Ronni, for letting us "explain not complain" about our aches and pains. It helps to know we're all in the same boat!

My mother, age 94, always says "No" when I ask if she has aches and pains. Maybe she does have them but ignores them to the point where she doesn't remember them.

Oh, one more pain, which I'm having right now. My right ear hurts at times on the outside; I think maybe from my glasses pressing above the ear. (Not an earache as such.)

All of the above & what ticks me off the most is the lack of strength to just open a jar or carry a gallon of milk. And why can't I get on a 3 step ladder without the feeling that I'm going to fall? So I just crank up the stereo to the "oldies" station & dance my fool head off:) Dee

The reason I don't care to discuss personal physical changes with anyone is, once I get started and know that someone is going to just sit there and allow me to continue, I don't know how to stop talking about me since the list seems endless. (Sort of like the opening sentence seen here.)

Has anyone but myself noticed that as we age, not only do we develop spotted skin but that the skin, in general, seems to be getting thinner? It takes very little to tear open a fearsome wound. My little dog's toenails have become terrible weapons that I must be careful of and concerned about constantly.

I have been a hunter and fisherman for most of my life. I gave up hunting for several reasons but I still fish as much as possible. It too has become somewhat of a chore due to failing eyesight and manual dexterity. Tying a hook onto monofilament fishing line requires ten times the effort I once expended doing it. My fingers shake and I can no longer feel the line in my fingers due to nerve damage brought on by diabetes. It feels kind of like trying to tie my shoe strings with boxing gloves on.

The affects of diabetes has altered many aspects of life for me. With loss of feeling in my feet, I find it much more difficult to maintain my balance and have adopted the common waddle-walk demonstrated by large numbers of the elderly I see today. A wide stance is simply more stable in action. I once climbed around on high roofs like a spider monkey. Today I won't get up on one at all. If I can't accomplish a task while standing on a ladder and holding on tightly with one hand, the task will not get done by this old man.

Oh! how I miss my younger days. It is true! Getting old IS NOT for sissies.

Once one has adult onset diabetes and the nerve damage that comes with it, your body will never allow you to forget you have it. What I hate most about it is that even when I'm sitting down, trying to enjoy one of my favorite TV shows, suddenly I will be attacked by bouts of random, jolts of pain, shocks that feels like touching a live electric wire. Or sometimes they feel like nails are being driven between the bones in my feet. There is nothing one can do but grit your teeth and wait it out. That is followed by great breathes of air being forced out as a welcome relief is experienced. My wife hardly looks up from her I-APad anymore. She is all too familiar with my afflictions.

I don't want to stop but I must, for your sakes. Like I said, it's endless.


I've had that toenail pain in the past just as you describe - long enough ago to not associate it with aging.

It went away in time; I don't remember how long.

And I forgot to mention the shoulder pain you write about. That started a month a two ago in my right arm and has spread to my shoulder, and is bad enough that it's difficult and slow-going to pull off a sweater, shirt or nightgown over my head.

Generally, it is my habit for maladies that don't seem to need immediate attention (hardly any), or get in my way much, to wait and see what happens.

Usually they go away on their own. But I've put this shoulder/arm one on a list to ask the doctor about because it's been persistent rather than intermittent for quite awhile.

For lots of reasons, I've had to give up walking and substitute it with swimming. In my 30s and 40s, I walked or ran every day. I find I can get similar cardio benefits in the pool, without pounding my poor feet on the pavement, or aggravating my arthritic hips and knees.

And Dee...

That ladder thing just happened to me a few days ago for the first time.

A smoke alarm battery began dinging at me late one evening and because there is no way to sleep through that, I climbed up a small ladder to replace the battery.

The whole time - very short - I felt a little dizzy. Never happened before.

Ronni, when I used to stay with my Dad in LO, I'd occasionally get a spider bite that itched like crazy for months. It had been in my jeans and when it was forced to share space it bit me and got squashed. The guest room was on the ground floor under some trees. Just a thought; it might not have been a skeeter. I had to take antihistimes along with the lotions.

I do weights and stretches at home, haphazardly, and manage to get to the gym 2-3 times a week. I have assorted aches and pains and a long recovery time for energy expended. My biggest bugaboo? Arthritic feet. I loved to walk, used to do 2-3 miles a day. Now I can't they hurt like crazy. Yesterday in a moment of optimism I did 20 minutes on the treadmill at the gym and have limping ever since. Heat helps and an Arnica salve similar to Bengay but better, a local woman here makes it. Her company is called Midnight Oil Soap, you can find it online and she makes goat soap too, wonderful products if you'll forgive my shameless plug for her.

Anyway, most likely I damaged my feet after 30+ years of wearing high heeled, pointy shoes to work. The last 10 years I belately became the "girl in the sensible shoes." Too late apparently. Now I'm a cautionary tale.

Thanks for that information about Lake Oswego and spiders. I live on the first floor surrounded by trees and other flora, so that bite may have been a spider.

Everyone else...
This is great today. I'm "enjoying" all your aches and pains stories. There is value in knowing that others deal with similar maladies and that we all keep moving forward one way or another.

When one suffers a massive stroke at age at 31, as I did, one gets a premature view of what happens when one gets old so mostly I just adjust and have learned to ask for help if I need it -- but not easily. Mostly, I just ignore the things that things that can be ignored and adjust those that can't.
Creative thinking helps.

Thank you, Ronni, for your comments about my "pains." Good to know that maybe the toenail pain will vanish on its own; sure hope so! So far my shoulder "thing" has remained the same. Good luck with yours.

I am happy to hear you have foot pain too (I am not happy to hear you have foot pain, just that I am not the only person with this problem.). I find it difficult to walk on any hard surface these days. I too once walked for block after block of hard pavement.

In November of 2009 I swiveled to get out of my car and had an intense pain in my lower back. For two weeks I could only sit for 10-15 minutes at a time before having to get up and hobble around for a while. Finally went to a doctor who diagnosed arthritis in my lower spine. The intense pain slowly went away after about a month and a half but have had constant aches and pain ever since.

At 51, I'm bad about going to the doctors and have no idea what my cholesterol levels are. I decided to start taking fish oil but their HUGE size discouraged me and switched to a much smaller Krill oil capsule. Started in August and by October I suddenly noticed one day that I no longer was in any back pain. I still get the occasional twinge now and then but NOTHING compared to the pain I used to be in. Is it just a coincidence? I don't know but I do know that I will continue taking Krill oil!!!

OK, how about vaginal atrophy? The problem's not so bad--your basic general comes-and-goes itchy/scratchy/burning sensation--but geez, can't they call it something else? Being told "You have vaginal atrophy" felt brutal.

Oh well, on the bright side, nobody wants to have sex wit me!

It is good to know that I am not alone. I am in my mid-fifties as well. The most frustrating thing is the eyesight. I hate not being able to read a menu, especially if the light is dim. I often have to ask someone to read things for me if I have forgotten my reading glasses. The morning and standing up pains in the hips, knees and feet make me fear for my future. I don't want a wheelchair, or even knee replacement..but it may be inevitable. Thanks for sharing. We boomers really thought it would never happen to us, but it's true. We are aging after all!

How do I deal with minor aches and pains? With constant whining and complaining that doesn't phase my children and friends in the least.

I had arthritis when I was 20, as well as asthma and migraines. So, I've had a good long apprenticeship for old age, although this spur in my foot is a new development I didn't need.

Regarding Mary Jamison's comment, my GYN called it "senile atrophy"! Bad enough to say "atrophy" but "senile," too? They do need to come up with a kinder, gentler term. (Talk about pain, a pelvic exam really hurts me now.)

Among other complaints, my skin has gotten terribly thin and I bruise too easily especially on my arms and legs at the slightest knock.

I have started using a cream called Vanicream and I think it helps some.

Also my balance just is not what it used to be. Around the house I am ok but I no longer like to go out shopping since I fear falling. I did physical therapy for a few months with balance exercises and that helped some.

My hearing has worsened but I don't want to start with a hearing aid so I just turn up the TV and try to avoid asking others to repeat themselves.

Oh Well. It could be a lot worse.

From top to bottom:
Thinning salt-and-pepper hair, itchy scalp, memory failing, sinus problems, probably rosacea of the face, teeth worsening, chronically stiff neck and headache, constant shoulder pain (mostly on the right side, I think from carrying a heavy purse most of my life), shaking hands (couldn't thread a needle if my life depended on it), no upper-body strength (used to have to lift cases of beer and pop when I worked in a convenience store in a previous life), spinal stenosis in L5-6 causing sciatica resulting in continuous hip and leg and ankle and foot pain.

Aren't you sorry you asked? Sometimes I consider amputation of bottom right side, but it would be my luck to then have phantom pain!

I am almost sixty. I work with my hands a lot, and often they ache terribly the day after I have really given them a workout.

I have some arthritis in both hips, and if I have been doing lots of lifting heavy objects they can really ache.

Also, I have noticed that I bump into things more, so I have ridden my house of unnecessary furniture.

When I am on my walking and weightlifting programs, I do tons better.


To damp down skeleto-muscular pains (shoulder, thumbs, foot, back) I take a [redacted] tablet twice a day, morning and night. I'm surprised that no one has fessed up to hitting the pain with a pill. This really works for me. I know because I went off them for several weeks to see if my "funny blood" pattern would change. It didn't, so I was glad to get back on these cheap, safe, OTC pain killers.

Not painful, but really annoying are the purple blotches that just appear on my arms. Too much sun damage, I guess. The skin tears easily and bleeds like heck due to blood thinners. But, on the plus side, at nearly 75 I just enjoyed a vigorous evening of ping-pong with "young 60's" and I can keep up with this crowd on my bike, as well. I just need more rest. [redacted]

If you move your legs around while you are in bed as you wake
then it gets easier to move about to attend to your am chores.
For the hands just running a little warm water thru your fingers in the kitchen sink warms your heart and takes care of minor pains

When I was in my 50s I had pain in my left hip and leg when I got up from sitting.Could barely walk. Began to have massage therapy twice a month. Pain went away. I will be 75 in April and I still have the massage therapy to stay pain free.
For Mary J. and Suzy R. olive oil is soothing.
Have not found anything for the eyes but at least the failing sight is not painful.

Your finger locking issue is called "trigger finger". I had it in two fingers on each hand. You can get a cortisone (I think) shot to release the locking. That did not work on one hand for me and I had an inpatient surgical procedure to open up that tunnel through which the nerve passes. Worked well for me. That is an easy fix--I found the triggering painful and annoying--no more!

I have all the aches and pains you mentioned, Ronni, and at least one that you don't: SIFTING I'm looking for a sifter that is easy to operate.

Getting up off the ground is a laugh and a half now a day. The contortions I go through must look hilarious to an outsider.

Thank heaven for the camera tripod I can hoist myself up with, when I'm out getting the "low" shots.

As far as the pains in your neck, I think you spoke kindly to them.

I had three back surgeries in my 20s, so back pain is nothing new. The surgery was basically successful, but the doc told me I'd "know I had surgery" when I got older due to scar tissue and nerve damage. He was right. Other than that and occasional tendonitis in my shoulders and knees, I think I'm doing O.K. for 74. When it rains (which it's known to do in the Pacific NW), I experience occasional stiffness.

I can do most of the ordinary things I've always done, although my hand strength and balance aren't what they were 30 years ago. I try to walk 2 miles almost every day and otherwise "keep on movin'".

Oh, Lordy, don't let me start! I have had rheumatoid arthritis since I was 23--54 years ago, so I thought having endured that, cancers, celiac disease, heart rhythm problems and 2 pacemakers, neuropathies, etc., etc., etc. that old age would be a cinch for me--NOT! It just
makes everything hurt more, and slows me down even further, which I hate! I just keep saying it's better than the alternative, although some days I'm not so sure. My antidotes are my passions--writing and photography--and sleep. I love to sleep, and yes, I take sleeping pills, and don't give a hoot if I am addicted. At my age, I deserve to sleep, however I can get it!

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