Music Festival Age Discrimination

When are Aches and Pains Serious?

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.


I agree that if you don't know for sure what's causing the pain and know that it's benign, you should check with a doctor. A case in point: my breast cancer last year that made itself known only by occasional twinges in the same area over a period of months. A mammogram didn't see it (ultrasound finally did), nor could it be felt, even after it was diagnosed and the doctors knew exactly where it was.

Of course pain shouldn't be dismissed just because a person is old, but it is true that many old people will develop conditions common to aging and that may cause pain. These need to be properly diagnosed and appropriately treated or not, as needed. Pain is your body's signal that something is wrong. You owe it to yourself to find the cause.

I had wandering aches and pains without any injury or unusual exertion which could explain them. Then I quit taking statin medications. No more pain!

Agree with all of your suggestions about paying attention to pain as it turns up. I'd suggest a warm-up instead of stretching before an exercise routine. Stretching is important, however, and it's probably most beneficial to do that after exercising. Push-ups must require a special talent, even the girly kind. After 15, I'm usually giving up!

Ah pains. I have had so many and they usually do signal something bad is going on in my body.

I am rather stoic so I usually ignored the pain until it reached a level of a 6. (You know the doctors ask you on a level of 1 to 10, how bad is your pain.) That has been a mistake, so do pay attention to your body and if you have recurring pain get it checked out.

Better to be safe than sorry.

I remember asking my mother a long time ago -- how did it feel to get old-- and she said it was not bad, that each year some new ache was added but because it happened over years you got used to the new ache and went on your way. I am beginning to understand what she meant.

I think pain is different.

And Ronni --- Fifty push-ups--impressive-- I do twenty and think I am a champion.

"I don't mean pain from arthritis, rheumatism, osteoporosis along with other conditions, diseases or injuries. "

Hmm. Well . . . I have arthritis and it does bother me. It's not even rheumatoid, it's osteo-, but it has produced a scoliosis that means my back hurts whenever I stand and walk. I've had both knees replaced (and I strongly encourage you to have them both done at once if it's at all feasible and they both need it), I've had my spine fused from C2 to T2, and a lot of hardware put in, and my range of motion is 30% less as a result. So . . . I don't dismiss arthritis pain, I live with it whenever I'm awake. I take two kinds of pain meds for it. I'm still happy to be here, but the arthritis definitely cuts into my lifestyle. Full disclosure: I could probably improve my subjective experience if I diligently did stretches and exercises, and I confess I have a lot of resistance to that. As long as I can play the piano, I'm still happy to be around.

Kate Gilpin...
As I "thought" I made clear in my post, I was not including diseases and conditions in today's post - only more minor aches and pains that either have no cause or maybe should be looked at more closely. I certainly did not think I "dismissed" anyone's medical problems.

As you point out, I failed.

Good article! Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that we are worth taking care of. And no one but us will take care of us.

I have a new doctor. So far I don't like him. He seems dismissing, unfriendly, uncommunicative. I'm giving him a few months' try-out. I think he's doing the same thing to me, although neither of us has come out and said this to each other.

I no longer know the doctors in this area -- I've been away from this area for more than thirty years -- so I chose to try my cousin's doctor since I have ongoing prescriptions and couldn't take a lot of time to decide upon a physician. I hope this doctor and I will develop a rapport, but, if we do not, I have no compunctions about changing physicians.

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