Saturday, December 06, 2008

Old Man Pains

For most of my life, I've generally tried to live in a reasonably healthy way. (Note the generous use of modifiers in that sentence.)

When I enlisted in the U.S. Army at age 26, it was the beginning of a fairly consistent pattern of exercise, diet, and other behaviors aimed at taking care of my body and allowing me to lead an active lifestyle. Running has always been an activity I've enjoyed -- it helps to relieve stress, gives me more energy, and makes me feel more healthy in general.

I continued with my good exercise and dietary habits for several years after my time in the military ended. However, I got away from those good habits for a couple of years when we moved here to Tennessee. First, there were a few months of house hunting; then several months of renovation on the house we bought. I got into the habit of eating out a lot, and simply didn't have make time to fit exercise into my schedule.

Eventually we got settled in and began making home-cooked meals again. But it took me over a year and a half to try and start back into an exercise routine. The first time I started running, I had to stop after a couple of weeks, because I was having a lot of pain in my knees -- something I had rarely experienced previously as a runner.

In January 2008, I decided to give it another try -- this time taking into account that my body would need to be introduced to exercise gradually. I needed to lose a little weight, but mostly I just needed to ease my body back into a workout routine slowly, so that it would adapt without rebelling. I started with brisk walks, push ups, and the rowing machine. Within two months I was running again, and this time with no pain. Throughout the year I gradually went longer distances in shorter time. I was feeling good, and looked forward to my runs.

Then about a month ago, I returned from a run and noticed considerable soreness along the outside of my right leg, from my knee to my ankle. As a runner, you learn that various aches and pains come and go, but this one seemed a little worse than usual. The next time I ran, the pain built as I was heading out, and was bad enough that I had to walk the final mile or so back. I'm pretty sure I didn't do anything unusual, like turn an ankle or land awkwardly during a run.

So I tried resting for a week, then started up again -- but the pain returned. I've been through this pattern a couple of times now. My wife says (mostly joking) that I'm just having "old man pains". You know, the "not as young as you used to be" thing. Yeah, yeah, like I want to hear that.

I think it's actually tendinitis. Most of the pain is in the deep tissue just above my ankle, but at times the twinge shoots all the way up to my knee. Apparently you're supposed to avoid the activity that caused the tendinitis for three to six weeks, ice the affected area, and take NSAIDs when the pain flares up.

Three to six weeks sounds like a long time to me. That's long enough for my metabolism and cardiopulmonary conditioning to really suffer. That's long enough for the currently-healthy muscles in my legs to begin to atrophy. And worst of all, that's long enough for me to get away from the habit of exercise that has once again become a part of my life. I think that's the part that scares me the most.


  1. But if you keep pushing it, you could end up doing real damage and never be able to run again. And FYI, 'tendinitis' sounds WAY cooler than 'bursitis', which is what Les has been diagnosed in her hip. Tendinitis sez, "Hey, I'm a cool, in-shape runner who pushed himself too hard." Bursitis is like, "Hey, I'm an old person." :o)

  2. Jim - You're right, of course. I don't want to push it, and have actually taken the good advice to heart and laid off the running (and brisk walking too, since it uses the same muscles/tendons).

    This would actually be a pretty good time to acquire the rest of my home gym (I need a bench and some free weights) and start working on my upper body a bit.

    Besides, it's not like I'm training for a marathon or anything. I just fear how easy it is to slip back into unhealthy habits. As I get older, it seems a little harder each time to make the needed course correction when that happens.