Lessons from The Trials and Tribulations of Chronic Pain and Aging

Growing up, the main tenant of my moral code was to always do the best and try to win. This meant throwing myself into my endeavors and chipping away at whatever obstacles stood in my way, relentlessly. As I was obsessed by athletics as a child and teenager, this quite literally meant I would throw my body around playing contact sports, like basketball and soccer.

At age 28, I’ve split my chin open twice, I’ve dislocated my thumb (requiring surgery to fix), I’ve broken my wrist, and I’ve torn my ACL and meniscus (also requiring surgery and subsequent physical therapy). I would sacrifice my own body in the effort to assist my team, whether that was in a rebound or a header against players significantly taller and larger than me or diving on the hard court or ground. I was known as the scrappiest of players and I took great pride in that. My health and safety didn’t matter in those moments because I didn’t like to lose.

What I wished I had realized then was that in behaving as such, I’ve done some damage to my body that may or may not ever go away fully. I get stiffness and soreness in the areas I’ve mentioned above that required surgery, especially in colder weather. More notably though, is the chronic neck pain I’ve battled with in the last three to four years.

I can’t remember what started it, but I believe I was lifting heavy weights without the supervision of a trainer. I wanted to compete with the boys at the gym, because again, I don’t like to lose. That made sense to me then, but that mindset proved dangerous and detrimental because it kicked off a string of neck strains that often got so bad, it required heavy painkillers and muscle relaxers to break the cycle of looking like Igor from “Young Frankenstein”.

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Realizing this was not the treatment route I wanted to rely on, I sought physical therapy at Athletico, which was helpful. This lasted four or five months and I was able to move forward from there. Since then, I’ve had one strain that occurred a month ago and I was able to spot it coming on and treated it initially with consistent heat wraps, stretching and total rest. I mean, no working out for a few days, then slowly introducing the recumbent bike and StairMaster at a very slow speed. No weights…still.

Here’s the pattern I’m noticing. I feel healthy, get overzealous and want to train relentlessly, then I injure myself. At 28, I’m actually pretty dismayed at the relative ease I can get injured and how stiff my body, and especially my neck, feels when I get up in the morning sometimes. I think this is the reality of aging I need to accept, but I do really feel that my haphazard and sacrificial treatment of my body as a teenage athlete and reckless young adult are to blame.

I’m now trying to evolve my mindset that trying my best now doesn’t allow for rigorous exercise anymore. What’s healthiest for me is to accept that low impact cardio exercise, strength training with proper form and light weights as well as lots of stretching will be the best means of staying fit. I guess it’s good that I wear my pants really high up anyway.

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