Stop Calling Me Old: Getting Older Doesn’t Mean You’ll Get a Pulled Muscle

Stop calling me old. Really stop it. Just because I’m getting older and have more years of experience doesn’t mean my body needs to hurt more. It doesn’t mean that it needs to get worse.

In today’s new post, I talk about why age is just a number.

Yes, some things degenerate. I’ve got wrinkles. As I get older, some things aren’t going to work as well. But, just because I get older doesn’t mean things have to hurt. You see, I’ve got wrinkles on my face, which means I’ve got wrinkles on the inside too. But, just because I have wrinkles doesn’t mean that I can’t play hard, work hard, move well and feel great.  Now that I’m 45, I know what my body needs better than I did when I was in my twenties and early thirties. Back then, I just wanted to push my body as hard as I could. I used to race bicycles. I was a semi-pro cyclist, and went as hard as I could. The goal was to push my body as hard as I could, and it didn’t always work as well as it could. If I knew then what I know now, maybe I could have been on the next level, but I raced bikes and I didn’t do drugs, so I felt that I had to push my body hard.

Here at LeBauer Physical Therapy, we help people who want to be active and healthy, and do that without unnecessary medications, injections and surgery. Sometimes because we’re getting older, we think, “I need to hurt more”.  In fact, I saw a question posted a few weeks ago and it said, “Should I just get used to the idea of pulled back and neck muscles at my age?”

It’s a very common question because as we get older, we have more life experiences. Just because we get older doesn’t mean we have to hurt more, or that muscles will be pulled more. Here’s the thing, I feel better now than did 20 years ago. Not because I’m not pushing myself, in fact, I exercise three to five days a week. What I’m pushing is my movement quality, not my movement quantity. I also had other physical therapists help me identify where my body doesn’t move efficiently, where it doesn’t move well.

For example, 8-10 years ago, when I did pull ups, my shoulders would pop, click, and hurt, and if I did too many reps, my neck would get stiff. Now I know how to move, and how to correct the movements that are causing my neck and shoulder problems. In my case, I had a mid-back problem and a little bit of a shoulder mobility problem. I know what I need to work on to be able work out harder and push myself harder than I used to and I feel better in my body. So, just because we’re getting old doesn’t mean we have to hurt and, conversely, we should not expect a life free of pain. Pain isn’t bad. It’s what’s our understanding of pain. Most people think pain means: bad, danger. We think pain means we need to go get something fixed, but we can’t have a healthy body and not have pain.

Pain is feedback from our body that we need to pay attention to something. It might be telling us that, “Hey Aaron, you’re about to put your hand on the burner. Don’t touch it.” It might say, “Hey, you’ve just sprained your ankle, stay off of it for a few days.” Pain could also say, “Hey, you’re not moving well so your knee is going to hurt”, but it’s not a knee problem, it’s a hip problem. But how do we find that out? Well, here at LeBauer Physical Therapy, we not only look at where your pain is, we look at the whole body, because sometimes is it joint above or below, or even further away, that is causing your problem.

I once had a patient who had hip pain when she tried to deadlift over 300 pounds, but it wasn’t her hip that was the problem. It was her upper back, because as she would try to dead lift up, she wasn’t extending, which asked her hip to work harder. She was hurting in a place that was strong and overworking. She just had another area that didn’t know how to move anymore.  I don’t know why it happened; it could have been an injury, tightness, a protective mechanism. So, we got her upper back moving and then she was deadlifting 350 pounds, that’s a lot of weight!

I also have people who come in, and they have knee pain with running or knee pain with walking up and down stairs, but it’s not their knee that’s the problem. Even if they do have arthritis on an X-ray, the problem is that their hips or ankles are not moving, so now their knee has to do more work.

The muscles around the knee have to do more work to stabilize and where do they attach? They attach at your knee, but really it’s a muscle that’s trying to stabilize your hip, but it pulls at your knee and your knee hurts. You go in to see primary care specialist surgeon, someone else, and they don’t look at the whole body. They look where the pain is and they say, “Oh, you’ve got a knee problem. Let’s rest it. Let’s give you some medicine that’s injected. See if that works. You know what? You got Arthritis on the x-ray. We should replace it or do it a scope.” What’s really the problem? It’s up in their hip, their hips are unstable or their ankle doesn’t move because they sprained it a lot when they were younger. Not enough people are looking at the whole body.

The reason why I feel better at 45 than I did at 35 is because I know where I need to move. I know what I need to do during, before, and after my workouts in my mobility sessions to help my body feel better because I focus on quality of movement in the movement patterns that I don’t do very well. How can you find this out for yourself? Well, you could go to YouTube and just try a bunch of different exercises and see what works. It’s like the shotgun approach, and sometimes it doesn’t work and people think, “Oh, physical therapy doesn’t work.” Well of course it didn’t, because it wasn’t customized for your body. You could also listen to your friends’ advice, and see what they are doing, and try what they’re doing, which may or may not work, because their body probably moves differently than yours.

The third option would be coming to see us, or see a physical therapist like us, who can look at your whole body, and watch you move. Our goal is help you understand: is it a mobility or stiffness problem, or is it an instability or motor control problem? Let me explain what those two things are. Mobility means you can’t move it and I can’t move it. Instability means you can’t move it, but I can move it, which means your brain is no longer allowing you to move through that range of motion either to protect you or it protected you for so long that it forgot how to do it.

We can teach you how to control your body, and move it through its available range of motion, and it won’t feel tight anymore. For instance, a majority of people who have tight hamstrings will spend all day rolling them. They’ll do a 20 minute warm up on rolling their hamstrings, stretching their hamstrings, and focus a lot on yoga with no results. But when I can take them out of gravity, they can touch their toes, meaning it is not a mobility problem, it is a stability problem. So, they need to learn a new quality movement, aka engaging their core while they bend down to be able to touch their toes easily.

And then there are other people, who have a mobility problem, but how are you going to know that and work on it unless someone else can do it for you? Even myself as a doctor of physical therapy, can’t always do it myself. I have to have one of our other physical therapists here, or a clinical instructor look at me and go, “Oh, you know what’s wrong with your ankle? It’s not moving well.” And I thought, “Huh, that’s why my left knee was hurting a few years ago when I was doing this certain workout.” So, if you want us to help you figure out how do you what you love and feel better the older you get,  and you want us to help you figure out what you should actually be doing before and after your workouts, contact us. All you need to do is call us and say, “I’d love to get a total body diagnostic exam.”

This is a free exam that we offer and at the end of the exam we’ll know exactly what’s wrong, exactly what you need to do and what’s your time financial and effort investment is going to be to get you to where you want to go. But I can’t help you get there if I don’t know you have a problem. You may have tried things over and over again and someone said, “Well, you’re just old, you’re just going to have to accept it.” Don’t accept that answer because you can move better. The older you get, you can feel better. You sometimes have to work a little harder at it, or reframe your expectations about what your body should be doing.

If you want to speak to someone about it because you’re frustrated and not making any progress, send me a message and I’m happy to chat with you, and get one of our back pain and movement specialists to speak with you as well. Move well, move often and keep on moving.

About The Author

Aaron LeBauer

Dr. Aaron LeBauer is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and Licensed Massage and Bodywork Therapist. He owns LeBauer Physical Therapy, LLC, with his wife Andra, in Greensboro, N.C. He has been helping active people stay fit, active and healthy without medications, injections or surgery since 1999. He earned his Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from Elon University in 2008. Dr. LeBauer graduated from Duke University in 1996 with a B.A. in History and moved to San Francisco where he studied Massage Therapy and Health Education at the National Holistic Institute. He has specialized in Myofascial Release since 2000 and is an Instructor with the John F. Barnes MFR Seminars. A native of Greensboro, Dr. LeBauer returned in 2005 to continue the third generation of LeBauers as health care professionals in Greensboro. Dr. LeBauer helps weekend warriors, high level athletes, desk jockeys, students, children and anyone with pain, stiffness return to the activities the love without expensive imaging, pain medications, injections or surgery. He specializes in treating people with chronic conditions, pain and injuries which have not responded to traditional treatments and therapies with the goal of helping patients have less pain, move better and feel wonderful in their bodies. Dr. LeBauer also helps other physical therapists start and grow successful cash-based physical therapy practices. He has developed an online training course that describes in detail how to start a small private practice, along with his marketing secrets and strategy. He is currently available for recorded telephone and video coaching sessions, email support, on-site visits and speaking engagements. Contact him for more information, rates and services.. Dr. LeBauer enjoys riding one of his vintage Vespa and Lambretta scooters or his bicycle to work. He has raced bicycles since high school and as a category 1 amateur throughout the United States. He was based out of Northern California and North Carolina and spent a very memorable summer racing in Belgium, France and the Netherlands. He enjoys working in his garden and has an edible landscape including pears, apples, scuppernogs (native muscadine grapes), raspberries, blueberries, figs, various seasonal vegetables and shiitake mushrooms. He has two beautiful daughters and an amazing wife.

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