Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Overdoing Exercise

About 16 years ago, I was having problems with my knees and having difficulty walking around our home. At that time, I probably weighed less than I do now, but perhaps was having pain due to lack of fitness, age, or early arthritis. As I hobbled around, I complained and my husband in our twenty plus years of marriage said his one and only criticism of my weight. He said that I wouldn't be in pain if I "did something about it."

I was crushed and full of even more self-loathing than usual. I decided to push myself to exercise harder and do better because I was so upset that he disapproved of me. We had an exercise bike that I used despite knee and back pain, and the consequences were pretty disastrous. My back pain, because of the pressure on my spine from using this particular bike, got even worse as did my knees. I undoubtedly did more damage to my body through pushing myself (damage that may still be with me to this day), and my husband felt terrible that he'd said anything at all and contributed to that result. He never said anything to me like that again, which is much to his credit and a testimonial to his patience and compassion.

Since that time, I've tried to know my exercise limits, but every once in awhile, something really bad happens unexpectedly. Yesterday, my husband and I went out for an extended sojourn which included a fair amount of walking. It wasn't fast paced, but I had mildly strained a muscle in my back about 4 or so days ago and we were just out for too long. The muscle pain was one of those things you don't anticipate where you turn your body in some manner that you'd turned it many times before and suddenly there is pain. Since the initial strain, the pain wasn't too bad and tended to come and go. My daily walks of between a half hour and hour didn't aggravate it terribly, though it did get tender in the evenings. The pull is in my middle back and much higher than my usual back pain. I think it actually is related to the redistribution of my weight now based on weight loss so far. Muscles higher up are being effected differently, but also I move so much more that all of them are being tasked more.

Yesterday's ambitious walking and standing, which probably totaled close to two hours or so of time, aggravated this strained back muscle horribly. I was okay until I laid down to go to bed (though it was very sore during the last half hour of walking). Within about 20 minutes, I rolled over and was in agony. I couldn't lie down or move my right arm without incredible pain. I've had very intense pain like that before with my back, but this set off a strange response whereby I got very cold and my teeth started chattering. The pain was truly overwhelming and I decided to sleep on the sofa so that my labored movement and painful utterances didn't disturb my husband's sleep.

Overnight, the muscle mellowed out some. It's still very painful, but I can now move around more normally without soul shattering agony. That being said, I really need to take it easy for awhile and let this muscle heal more thoroughly. I'm thinking that this means doing nothing more than housework today, and keeping my walks down to less than 40 minutes until the pain is completely gone.

This was a case where I had a little problem that got exacerbated by overdoing it, even though what I did was relatively mild exercise. At my age (45), I need to be more careful with listening to my body's signals even when it doesn't seem that the problem is that serious, but the truth is that everyone needs to be careful about pushing themselves too far too fast. In this age of "The Biggest Loser" and slogans like "no pain, no gain", people think that pushing your body hard despite pain is best, but pain is a signal for damage. I'm not talking about discomfort or aching from using muscles, but authentic pain.

One of the things my earlier experience has illustrated is that a lot of people, including caring, loving, and concerned people like my husband, make the mistake of thinking that you would suffer less if you worked harder (i.e., exercised more) to lose weight. They also don't see health issues with invisible symptoms and show disgust or disdain when they see a fat person take the elevator or escalator instead of the stairs. My knees are still fairly wrecked, and while I do my best to get around as much as I can bear, I have a lot of problems with walking up steps.

Yesterday (and today as I'm still in a lot of pain), I was reminded that I can suffer serious consequences because my back is so messed up. People who see me in public don't know that I go home at night after walking just a bit too much and am in so much pain that I get uncontrollable chills as my body can't manage the intensity of what is happening to it. They just see a fat person who they think should move more. My message to them is that some of us are doing the best that we can, and are in no condition to be doing anything more than we are.

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