I am so full of random aches I don’t really know where to start.
Essentially I have significant osteoarthritis in just about every joint. This rather limits the amount of effort I can put into work. The pain is intermittent. They hurt more when it is cold. They hurt more in bad weather. I can rest and do nothing and after a bit, it may stop hurting. If swelling has set in it may take days to regain full mobility.
Much though it sounds nice, a life of rest and vicarious adventure in front of a computer monitor is not a satisfying life. (At least not to me. YMMV.) I must move or I will die.
My muscles, ligaments, and tendons are comparatively fragile. Throwing a tennis ball for the dog can give me tennis elbow for weeks. I have to be extremely careful how I do things. My muscular strength has not decayed as quickly as the resilience of my connective tissues has.
I know my lower back is fried. Often times there is a dull ache that just won’t go away. Occasionally in the past, I’d throw my back out with something as trivial as picking up a shoe. I would then be flat on my back for a day or more and the residual pain would last all week. (Really sucks when this happens on vacation.) Yeah, I know, I should have used my knees. My knees were the first joints to go, starting about 25 years ago.
Interestingly enough, a good fanny pack or the padded waistbelt on a backpack seem to function as a back brace for me.
Many times I’ll end up in pain, unaware of why. Sometimes I can trace it back and it is usually something really stupid like carelessly lifting a dust bunny from the carpet. Sometimes I can find no reason at all. Yet at other times I can dig trenches, move a quarter ton of concrete blocks from point A to point B, and horse around 55 lb bags of dog food with no ill effect. Go figure.
There are mornings, before my Ibuprofen and my Norco kicks in that it is a desperate effort to just button my shirt. Yet I can hike 10 miles as long as the incline doesn’t get too steep. Thank God for cortisone injections!
Acute pain heals and then everything is fine again. Chronic pain is depressing because you know there is no way out. You can adjust mentally and medicate and do physical things to mitigate but at the same time, you realize this has become the background noise of your life. It can only get louder. If you had dreams of hiking the Sierras or backpacking the long trails of our land, you’ve just kicked your bucket list.
I know I can replace my knees. I really have to do that before I get so old it doesn’t heal readily. But it also means I’ll be cut off from hiking for months. There is surgery for the bases of my thumbs but it limits their freedom of movement. There is surgery for my tailor’s bunion. But that also means time off the trails. Hips aren’t bad enough for replacement yet. Not much they can do for my lower back or my neck. Maybe fuse some vertebrae? I dread back surgery. Nothing to do for my small finger joints.
So there I sit. I am amazed at my body’s ability to get used to pain. I suspect that if I were hit with this much pain suddenly, my ability to function at all would be gone. I’d be in bed popping Tylenol and Ibuprofen and whatever opiates I could find just to get to the bathroom and back. Turn up the ache slowly and you don’t notice it.
Back in October, I managed to do something to my left foot on a hike. Stepped on a rock when climbing up and heard my foot go crackle-crunch. It immediately became painful. That side of my foot became swollen. Had X-rays – twice – and went to podiatry. They couldn’t see anything wrong with the foot, figured it was a soft tissue problem and suggested I stay off it for a while. Interestingly enough the foot stopped hurting when I wore my heaviest hiking boots. Doc also diagnosed a Tailor’s bunion on my right foot.
Fast forward 3 months. Left foot still hurts a bit after I use it a lot. Like on any hike over rugged terrain. (Also hurts first thing in the morning, like everything else in my body.) So my MD had another x-ray done. Now they can see there was a stress fracture in that foot but the fracture is almost healed. Podiatrist says another 3 weeks in a medical boot and it should completely good. I figure 3 weeks in a hiking boot will heal it just as well. Podiatrist agreed.
Still need to go in to get a cortisone injection on that bunyon. If that doesn’t calm things down on that foot, maybe have to have a minor surgery. Also just got cortisone in my knees and still need to talk to ortho about getting it in my thumbs again. That bone on bone grinding sound is really irritating but something I’ll have to live with for now.
Let’s see here…. I have diclofenac pills and cream. The pills do a real number on my stomach even if I eat. The cream helps with the smaller joints. The cream is prescription only here but in Europe, it is over the counter and much cheaper. Same stuff. Picked up a bunch of it in Ireland.
Meloxicam doesn’t help much. My “go to” painkiller is Ibuprofen. Has been since basic training, 40 years ago. In the day and evening I take Norco, a combination of Tylenol and 5 mg. hydrocodone. I was taking the Ibuprofen twice a day but I started bruising too easily so I stopped. I have tried knee braces but they don’t seem to help a lot.
I don’t know if cortisone injections weaken the joint. (Orthopedics doesn’t think so.) They hold the pain and inflammation down to a dull ache for a few months. Since I plan on replacing those joints, I’m not sure it matters. People have hiked the AT on artificial knees. I’d love to be able to get back to being able to do a long trail again.
My backpacking first aid kit has a subsection just for my portable pharmacy. It reflects my new reality. Tylenol – check. Ibuprofen – check. Norco – check. Stronger stuff – check. Flexeril – check. Immodium – check. (Probably have a decade worth of Ibuprofen stockpiled.) Yeah, I could live without these. But since they are available, why should I?
I am fortunate. Did you read that? FORTUNATE. I do not have rheumatoid arthritis, which is an autoimmune disease. (Osteoarthritis is just a mechanical issue.) I’ve seen so many people in their 60s who don’t have arthritis but are still basket cases. Fifty to a hundred lbs. overweight. Diabetes. Cancer. Heart disease. Lung disease. So badly out of shape they couldn’t run up a flight of stairs or do a single push-up, pull-up or sit-up. I can still take my dog out for a Saturday afternoon hike farther into the backcountry than most city folk will ever go in their life.
I recommend not getting old. Just stay young and avoid these problems. I really hate my thrift store collagen. It is one of those things you really don’t want to get from the lowest bidder.
I am still blessed with mobility, a home, a strong heart and a good family. I don’t need anything else. (Though, I wouldn’t mind winning the lottery.)