There’s a popular children’s song meant to inspire kids to exercise. It’s called Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes. If you’ve ever had children, grandchildren, step-children or just spent time with little kids, you’re undoubtedly familiar with it.
Lately, I’ve been thinking that they should create a grown-up version of that song, one that captures that time of life when you become acutely aware that your body is slowing down.
You know that phase, “After a lifetime of perfect vision, you’re suddenly wearing glasses.” Long after your own children have long graduated orthodontia, your dentist has informed you that you, too, need braces again!
Aches in New Places
In my case, I had already been battling piriformis syndrome for years. Piriformis syndrome, for those not in the know, is, quite literally, a “pain in the ass.” It comes about due to over-use of the piriformis muscle, which connects the base of your spine to your hip.
In many people, the piriformis also surrounds the sciatic nerve that runs up and down your leg. So, when strained, you might feel pain anywhere from your bum right down to your toes. Ouch.
I could handle that. I’d been doing stretches to help manage that pain for a while now. But then, around the turn of the new year, a few new pains emerged to complement my ongoing sore hip.
First, I had surgery on my vocal cords and lost my voice completely. Since January, I have been working with assorted speech and physio-therapists to retrain myself how to speak and breathe.
Next, my eyes started stinging. It also felt like there was something inside them all the time. A few weeks later, I was diagnosed with blepharitis.
My husband has had this condition for years. I wasn’t sympathetic and used to mock him for endlessly telling anyone who would listen about his “dry eyes.” Now that person doing the endless complaining is me. (“It’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye.” Sorry, couldn’t resist…)
And then, finally, my jaw started to ache whenever I chewed anything (TMJ). The diagnosis for that condition was stress. I briefly consulted with a dental psychologist – yes, that’s a profession! – who basically told me that I needed to relax.
“Yup! Working on that,” I told her. Grrrr.
Do We All Turn into Our Mothers?
All these conditions are likely to remain with me, to some degree or another, for the rest of my time on earth. And I know that I’m not alone. 70% of those who experience chronic pain are women. It is also said that women perceive pain more intensely than men do.
To manage these assorted medical problems without ending up back in the hospital, I now spend a good 45 minutes a day stretching, putting a warm cloth on my eyes, doing vocal warm-ups and practicing my breathing.
I have this theory that by the time we hit middle age, we all end up turning into our mothers. When I was a kid, it seemed like my mother was forever lying on the bedroom floor ‘wogging’ her back. I used to think that was nuts. Now I do it all the time.
At first, I was really frustrated that I was losing so much of my day to a ‘non-essential’ activity. Over time, I’ve tried to change the framing of my ablutions. I try to view this ‘lost’ time as time gained: I’m listening to more podcasts. Stretching also makes me feel stronger.
A New Exercise Jingle
All of which is to say that if you soon hear a jingle aimed at us middle-aged folk that goes something like this: “Throat, jaw, hip and eyes. Hip and eyes! Throat, jaw, hip and eyes…,” you’ll know who penned it.
Come to think of it, I think I better trademark that now.
What are your middle-aged ailments? By all means, feel free to moan in the comments below.