I work with people who are hurting every day. They find themselves hurting for a wide variety of reasons, but for those who aren't dealing with pain for an obvious reason such as a sports injury or a car accident they always ask me one question. Sometimes they ask day one, sometimes it's a week into their treatment, but inevitably the question is posed, "What caused this to happen?" So we talk about posture, repetitive strains, inactivity, nutrition, the little things that go unnoticed that most likely accumulated to cause their particular type of pain. And then the dreaded response comes,
"I think I'm just getting old."
I've heard this said from patients from who are barely in their 30's, people who are clearly turning to age as an easy excuse for their pain. Aging should be the explanation we turn to once all other possibilities are eliminated. After all our bodies are amazing things, designed to endure and overcome. Pain is our body's way of telling us something is wrong, encouraging us to change our behavior or wrest something that is injured. Nevertheless many men and women find themselves with frequent muscle, nerve, and joint pain with no apparent cause by their 40's, why?
Chiropractors, physical therapists, and personal trainers often compare the human body to a machine. Machines can function optimally or poorly, they can break down and be repaired, they have many intricate components working together to complete a larger task just like the human body. However, there is one crucial thing the human body does that machines cannot: adapt. Our body adapts to meet the needs we place on it. Whether that need is positive or negative our bodies will attempt to respond accordingly. Do you need to live at 10,000ft? Your body will produce more red blood cells in order to adapt to the lack of oxygen. Do you dig ditches for a living? Your hands will form calluses and the muscles in your back and arms will become more developed, even asymmetrically so, to make your job easier. Do you sit at a desk or drive a car all day? The muscles in your hips and low back tighten and form fascial bonds. This change can make sitting for long periods easier but can also cause hip and low back pain.
So if you have muscle, joint, or nerve pain that you've always thought was just you "getting old" what should you do? First ask yourself what you've adapted this part of your body for. If you have shoulder pain for example; have you been using your shoulder for lifting, reaching, and pulling? Or has it been mostly rolled forward typing on a keyboard or doing one singular motion over and over? Second, after you've posed that question if you notice a pattern of disuse or misuse make it your mission to adapt in a healthier way. Challenge yourself to be more active, exercise and strengthen your body in movements that you have neglected, and make sure your diet is one that would enable your body to heal and adapt properly. If you have trouble doing these things or you've tried and it just doesn't seem to be helping your pain then it's time to get help. Bring your problem to an expert, whether that's our office or your trusted medical provider, who can differentiate your pain from any systemic or underlying conditions and take a big picture look at what's going on to cause you pain. Oftentimes it's as simple as getting a skilled set of hands on the painful tissue to find out what's not moving properly.
Age can cause degenerative changes that will cause pain, but with proper habits and treatment pain can be mitigated until very late in life. So if I can leave you with one bit of advice, don't be so quick to blame your pain on old age or to tell yourself you're just getting old. After all there is great power in your words:
As someone thinks within himself, so he is.