Aging and Pain: Is it really just a matter of time?
"I'm in pain, but I must just be getting older." "I probably just have to get used to it."
"Isn’t my body just worse because of aging?"
I hear these statements from patients of every age. Even lanky 19-year-old Justin says things like, “I must be getting older, I just can’t play basketball the way I used to.”
When we are physically limited, we always feel older.
When we can't run around, jump, play, or just move around in our daily lives like we're used to, we don't feel as free and autonomous.
While it's true that our bodies aren't as smooth-skinned or spry as we get older, pain is more a matter of time than age.
Things slow down with age, sure, but that’s because we accumulate so much over the years: a gazillion memories, gunk in our gut, ideas about what this or that means, commercials for attorney Frank Azar, and also postural patterns (think subtle shifts or twists).
Time spent in certain patterns accumulates pressure in unnatural places. Like the inside of your right knee. Or the front part of your intervertebral discs. Or a nerve in your neck.
It's this pressure, accumulated over time, that creates pain, wear and tear, and frustration. Not age.
It's like having 500 gold bricks in the passenger seat area of your car. Over time, the right front wheel will get more worn down than the other, non-gold-brick-weighted wheels. This passenger front wheel may be fine for miles and miles, until it isn't. Over time, it gets more worn out. And maybe the rest of your car now has some alignment problems too from the subtle weight shift. Or a worn-out seat. Or peepers wondering what the heck is with this weirdo rich guy with all the gold.
Like your car, your body is dealing with pressures from gravity, and the weight of your body itself. Tension in muscles can pull the structure of the skeleton out of alignment, putting more pressure on the right side, for instance, which affects the whole biomechanical chain.
Unlike your car, for which you can replace a wheel or change out a back seat without anesthesia, you can't so easily replace your leg or cut out your muscle without disrupting a lot of other systems and spending months recovering before you can put some miles on it again.
Pressures in our bodies accumulate over time. But, because it's a matter of time, and not a permanent age thing, they can also change back, or change for the better.
Unlike your car, your body's really great at healing, if we know what to do to help it.
Plenty of research studies show that strength training combats sarcopenia (the loss of muscle mass) and osteoporosis (the loss of bone mineral density), no matter what your age.
And I've seen loads of people who think they will have to live with pain, but then, with help, get better.
Like Tanya, who came in after having neck pain for years. She told me she just thought she had to get used to it, and she had. She got so used to it, in fact, she was amazed to find out- after coming to see me for her hip, and once mentioning off-handedly that her neck had been a long-term problem- that it could change. And it did. After a handful of treatments and new self-care techniques, she doesn't have neck pain any more.
We changed her body's patterns.
Or like Stacie, who had a low-level sensation down her upper leg (ie. sciatica) which wasn't keeping her from running or Orange Theory classes, but was a nuisance and something she didn't want to make worse. She suspected something more could be done, but had seen a lot of people already for help and it was better but still there. After working together, she is pain free and forgetting that she had this nuisance at all.
The problem I see most often in the clinic, is patients thinking they have a problem due to aging, when they really have a problem due to time. Due to pressures. Due to patterns.
Their body has spent time in a tension pattern, which has created small amounts of pressure over time that to lead to pain.
But there’s great news: Just like you can change your long-held belief that you are worthless based on what Sarah Rabinowitz said to you in the 6th grade, you can also change your body’s patterns. Both are so freeing.
You can restore function, release muscle and joint tension, improve your posture, and even your sports performance if that’s what you’re into. No matter what your age.
I can't say you'll get 500 gold bricks out of it, but you'll save yourself a lot of energy, frustration, and, well, time by unpressuring your body and preventing further problems.
Plus, that way you can run around, shoot hoops, jump out of bed, or load gold bricks into and out of your car as much as you want.
If you’re more of a glass half empty type, here's another way to look at it.
You may not be able to reverse actual damage that has been done, like say with spine compression or knee osteoarthritis. But you can at least keep the problem from getting worse by taking pressure off and improving the patterns.
By letting the pressures continue to accumulate you'll create more wear and tear, leading to bigger problems, like knee pain leading to a "bone on bone" knee joint, or back pain leading to "degenerative disc disease".
By taking the pressure off and restoring your body's natural patterning, even to a small degree, you keep those issues from getting worse, may prevent ever needing things like surgery or medications, and may even have less pain, or no pain at all.
Don't get used to pain. It's your body's signal that a problem needs solving. It's not there because you're old, it's there because you've accumulated pressure in your back, knees, hips, neck, or elbow over time.
What if all you need to do is take the pressure off?
It'll be like cashing in hundreds of gold bricks or discovering a fountain of youth.
No longer limited by pain or immobility, you feel younger, richer, like you've been given more ability, more freedom, more time.
What do you think? Have you been limiting yourself by thinking it's "just age"?
Tell me in the comments below.