How Injuries Make You Old
Imagine you were an actor and you had to portray an old man.
How would you do it?
Chances are, you’d hobble around, bent over, exaggerating the effort required to do anything from getting up from a chair to rolling out of bed. Movement would be slow, pained and deliberate. You might limp, move about stiffly, and be quite weak at various tasks.
Perhaps. Not all older people exhibit these signs, but these are the characteristics one often associates with being old.
Yet would you be surprised that many people in the 30s or 40s or even below, behave just like this? Perhaps not in such an exaggerated fashion, but certainly with some stiffness, pain, and limitation to doing various activities.
That’s what injuries can do to you. They can make you act, move, and feel many years past your true age.
And that’s why, if you want to feel young and be young, you have to take injuries seriously.
The Effects of Injury
(and Why It Makes Us Feel Old)
Many people think of injuries in terms of pain and discomfort, but regard it as a transient thing that will eventually just ‘go away’, even if untreated. There’s more than to it than that.
Here is why injury makes you feel old. I’ll start with the more obvious.
The ability to feel vigorous is tied very strongly to our ability to move. Injury often makes it necessary to reduce ranges of movement and activity. So it makes intuitive sense that losing our ability to move makes us feel less lively, less sprightly, and hence, older.
There’s nothing more frustrating than experiencing the odd twinge or sudden jolt of pain while doing a normal day-to-day activity. You’re now no longer able to do certain movements you used to take for granted before, without some aches and niggling pains, a situation agreeing with our mental concept of ‘getting old’.
The more you ‘learn’ which movements you can no longer do, the more it become second nature not to do it. In time, those movements not used lead to stiff joints and tight muscles from disuse even if the original pain disappears. You now have limited range of motion , much like an older person would.
Now the less obvious.
We move best when our postures are ‘normal’ and give us a solid base for movement. Injury often leads to abnormal postures. Obvious would be an injury to the back. But less obvious would be injuries to the knee, hip, and ankle, in which you adopt lop-sided compensations that affect the position of your spine too. It might be too subtle to see, but it’s there.
The position of your spine also determines the position of your shoulder blades, (hence the upper limbs which attach to it) and your head. Everything is interconnected and if any link in the chain is affected, you can have problems seemingly unrelated to the original site of injury, but still causing abnormal movement, pain, stiffness… You limit your lifestyle accordingly, and feel your ‘age’.
Less Energy, More Fatigue
Each of us has our own pattern of performance for tasks such as walking, lifting, or reaching overhead. When we’re uninjured, our bodies accomplish all this in the most efficient way possible. That means with minimum energy and exertion.
An injury changes that. Because you are forced to compensate because of pain and physical limitation, you change the way you do things. For example you might put more weight on one leg because the other hurts. You might sit slightly more on one butt cheek because of a back injury. That gets really tiring and over time, you feel fatigued and a lot less energetic.
You move with less vim and vigour, and as a matter of fact more like someone “old”.
Ultimately, what’s this mean? You develop a mindset that is protective and guarded. You reduce your activities, amount of spontaneous movement, going outdoors. You become unhappy, feel helpless, and often become full of regrets for that one injury that could have been avoided, if only…
It’s this IF ONLY situation that we want to avoid by remembering three simple don’ts.
3 DON’TS for Managing Injuries
1. Don’t Ignore It!
The BIGGEST mistake anyone can make is to ignore the warning signs of a potential injury.
These days we’re all busy and there’s a tendency to put aside anything that doesn’t seem urgent. Such is the case with warning signs of injury, because we have been conditioned to little cuts and colds getting better, often on their own. We hope that it’s something temporary, and bet that it will just “go away”.
Even worse, some warning signs seem really minor, such as the overuse type of injury which might just start off with minor symptoms: slight numbness in the wrist, some aching in the shoulders, some soreness in the back… all usually easily alleviated… AT FIRST.
However, not investigating potential injury and putting a stop to the cause can lead to full blown injury. With neglect, injuries get worse, not better. And when an injury is ignored long enough and becomes a chronic one, by the time you do seek help, buildup of scar tissue and degeneration of tissues mean that 100% recovery is often not possible.
2. Don’t Disguise It!
The SECOND biggest mistakes people make is working through an actual injury even when they know it’s there. There are a variety of reasons why people might do this: denial, lack of time, worried about cost of treatment, or sometimes, just plain laziness.
Rather than seek the right help, they use hot packs, cold packs, medicated plasters, muscle rubs, pain medication, massage… you name it!
Especially if you are doing the same thing that caused it in the first place, whether running, dancing or typing for hours a day. If an activity caused a little injury, it sure doesn’t make sense that continuing that activity will make that injury better, does it?
I like the commonly cited parallel of driving a car, and then having a red flashing light suddenly come on. Do you throw a cloth over your dashboard so the light doesn’t bother you any more? Of course not! Then why would you do the same with your own body?
3. Don’t Work Through It!
Finally, if hiding it fails, there’s always gritting your teeth and ‘going for it’! Right?
“I have a high pain threshold.” is an oft-repeated proclamation, but to me there are few things worse that signal someone who’s going to get really deep in when it comes to injury.
Let me put it this way. Say I have a cut on my finger, but I’ve numbed the whole area with drugs, so I don’t feel the pain. That’s similar to having that high pain threshold. Now, if I were to rub that wound hard, enlarging it, it is okay because I’m not feeling the pain?
You’re going to say, are you mad? Of course not! The wound would just get worse. Even worse, it would have to get REALLY bad before I am forced to realize that I really need help! By then who knows what damage might have been done already. So why do many of us think to do the same with our other injuries?
So there we have it. We’ve seen how injury isn’t just a simple transient discomfort but something that can effectively make us old, particularly if we choose to take it lightly. We’ve also seen the biggest three mistakes that can pave the way for that to happen.
Next time, we’ll look at how to stay injury free in order to stay pain free and move young!