I’m excited to be creating a series of “Audio Postcards” around the important and often misunderstood topic of Aging. Some upcoming titles in the “Adventures in Aging” series will be “The Myth of Inevitable Decrepitude” and “Why I Love My Physical Therapist.” Today’s topic, The Overuse Injury, deals with one unintended aspect of staying active while aging that I recently experienced myself. The photo shows the location where the injury I describe finally occurred: a really cool wreck dive.
Welcome to the first “Adventure!” Enjoy!
Click below to listen to my audio postcard of Adventures In Aging- The Overuse Injury
Here’s the written transcription:
Hi, I’m Dr. Kathryn Collins, emergency and lifestyle medicine physician and author of the book, How Healthy Is Your Doctor?, about self-empowerment in health. Welcome to this installment of my audio postcard series, Adventures in Aging! Today’s topic is The Overuse Injury.
At nearly 67 years old, I should’ve known better than to go stand-up paddle-boarding one day, windsurfing the next, and SCUBA diving twice in the same few-day time period. But the conditions were great, my friends were going, and my mind and heart shouted, Yes!
Unfortunately, my body had other ideas. The ocean current on the final dive was super strong, and I had to flutter kick hard with my powerful diving fins, just to keep up. The next day, my right calf was killing me! and my ankle and foot were swollen up, like I had heart failure or a DVT blood clot or something.
Thankfully, neither of those urgent medical conditions turned out to be present. But I DID have a mild muscle strain in my calf. My physical therapy and orthopedic friends agreed it was most likely an overuse injury, which is “much more common as we age.” Now they tell me!
Actually, I’d seen overuse injuries in my ER practice, mostly as work-related conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome or low back pain. But I hadn’t thought about the fact that, as I age myself, I could develop an overuse injury from doing the same things I’d been doing for years, just because I’m not that young anymore. One of the Adventures of Aging, then, is that as we get older, we become more susceptible to injury, and we take more time to heal.
Why is this? Because as we age, we dry up! A bit like leaves in autumn, if you think about it…This includes our skin, our hair, the lenses in our eyes..and our musculoskeletal system. All that wonderful cushioning that supports our dynamic movement when we’re young—our spinal discs, the lubricating fascia in our muscles and tendons, the menisci and ligaments and fluid-filled capsules supporting our knee and hip joints—are all slowly drying out and becoming thinner, more brittle, less protective and less resilient.
So what’s an active senior to do? First of all, in general, stay active! Moving all your muscles and joints every day keeps your body’s natural lubricating system working, and helps you avoid stiffness, pain…and injury! so you can KEEP moving.
Preventing injury as we age can also be helped by eating an anti-inflammatory diet: more plants and more produce, fewer animal products, and definitely less junk and processed food.
But we also need to start learning our own limits, as I just did, and not let enthusiasm override the body’s signals to let up—to do a little less, or do it less long, or less often.
And when an injury does occur, don’t be in denial. I’d never had a calf problem in my life and was really wanting to wish it away and not take days or weeks to ice, elevate, compress my leg, rest, and add another set of physical therapy exercises to my daily routine. But I’m really glad I accepted my fate, listened to my consultants, and took care of my injury properly.
Last but not least: Appreciate where you are in your own health and aging journey. Every time I start to feel sorry for myself or need to rest more than I used to, I think about my brother, who’s only 2 years older than me, has early-onset Parkinson’s, and has to be in a nursing home. He helps me remember that just being able to walk is an incredible blessing…one I need to cherish every day.
So take a deep breath with me, and celebrate being alive. Aging is something we all get to do, for better or for worse. If we’re fortunate, and if we’re proactive and deliberate with our own health choices, we stand a good chance of being able to age functionally, enjoyably, and well, until the very end.
Thanks for listening! There are more installments to come in my Adventures in Aging audio postcard series; I hope you’ll tune in! Here’s to your own best health!