What is the difference between who enjoy their life without injury nor pain and who suffers from injuries and pain as you get older?
Nowadays, Life is about a century-long. Statistics show that a Japanese woman in average lives for 87 years and a man for 81 years (as of 2018). Considering that these numbers include lives lost during childhood, adults can expect even a higher life expectancy.
As the aging population continues to grow in number, society is more curious about healthy ways to age. There are more medical researches on preventative measures for age-related conditions. The trend is the same in my physical therapy field. People want to continue to enjoy sports, hobbies, and traveling without their body aching in pain.
I have seen patients from different age groups with various complaints. Many are suffering from back pain, neck and shoulder pain, or knee pain. What I often see is that they blame it on their age. But is that true? Is pain just a part of the aging process? Does every old person suffer from pain? Can you not be as active as when you were young? Maybe that is what your physician has explained to you, after a course of long examinations with no findings. But is that really the case?
It is true the aging makes your body more vulnerable to injuries and pain. However, age is only a factor and not the absolute cause. In fact, some people never experience pain-related problems in their lives, even when they get old. My oldest client was 96 years old and he was walking around pain-free until he, unfortunately, passed away with pneumonia.
So, what makes the difference? I believe the key is how you listen, understand, and work with your body. Balancing your life around healthy routines like functional exercising is crucial in healthy aging.
As you know, muscles, joints, and anything in the body is made of cells and regulated through metabolism. Metabolism is in charge of cell cycle progression, and its speed depends on each organ. For example, skin cells only take a month to replace themselves. Therefore, cuts and sunburns are healed rather quickly. The body effectively regenerates and manages itself until an injury happens.
There are several ways to injury. One case is when the damage outweighs the body recovery ability. Another case is when small damage is continuously applied, and the recovery process fails to keep up. The third case is when the metabolism and recovery process is slowed down due to blood occlusion, stasis of the tissue, or the lack of exercising.
The two graphs show how I view the damage, recovery, and the accumulation of damage over time. Graph 1 shows a good damage-recovery balance. On the other hand, take a look at graph 2. The recovery ability does not meet the demand, which eventually leads to an injury. Some sources of damage include prolonged standing to cause shoulder, neck, and lower back pain. Too much standing can damage knee joints, while excessive exercising is also harmful. In many cases, pain with aging is the accumulation of damages over decades on top of decreased recovery ability.
Let’s talk about a patient with Achilles tendon rupture for example. Achilles tendon is strong enough to lift a car up if used as a string. However, in his case, a slight jump over a puddle led to a painful rupture. It was his lifestyle and diet which declined his metabolism and recovery ability, weakened collagens, and led to damage accumulation on the tendon over the years. Again, age is only a factor. Some have strong Achilles tendons in their 80s, while a 30-year-old may be in risk of a serious injury.
What should be done to avoid tissue damage with aging? In the next volume, we will discuss different factors contributing to tissue damage. Let’s find out why age-related changes are individually different and how you can manage it.