Category Archives: Aging

Taking Charge of Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is often an annoying part of daily life. But there are ways to manage and reduce its intensity. I learned several useful techniques from physical therapist Sharlene Wing, PT. First, a little background about what contributes to chronic pain:

For some people, misaligned posture can cause imbalance in the back, hips, knees, or ankles.The result is often extra stress on the body structure, causing pain. This makes it hard to find a stable, neutral position that would naturally hold a person upright.If the positions of sitting, standing, or walking, are not well supported, or are out of alignment, this puts more wear and tear on the joint surfaces, as well as on their supporting structures, such as ligaments.

The Gravity of the situation

One big challenge is to deal with the constant pull of gravity, finding positions where we can exercise or do repetitive activities without causing harm.  Besides motion, gravity also causes problems when we are still, as sleeping in bed, or sitting for long periods. “Even when you are still, gravity is still a constant force,” says Sharlene, “causing joint creep, as joints succumb to gravitational pull and become misaligned.” This “joint creep” contributes to stiffness in the morning, or when we stand up after a two-hour movie.

Everyday strategies to reduce chronic pain

Sharlene has several easy and safe exercise suggestions to do at home. I have tried them and have noticed a significant reduction in back and joint pain.

  1. Before getting out of bed, spend about ten minutes stretching your legs out and doing ankle pumps and ankle circles. Gently move hips and knees to get the synovial fluid moving. (This fluid bathes the joints to reduce friction.) If the back feels stiff, one option is to create gentle traction while holding onto the headboard and pulling only as much as is comfortable. If you do this before your feet hit the floor, it gets all the joints ready for weight-bearing. (Sharlene advises caution here if your shoulders are bothersome).
  2. Practice posture on a wall. With the back against the wall, touch the backs of the hands against the wall, arms turned outward to open the shoulders. Try to have the head, buttocks, and calves also touching the wall as much as possible, but not the lower back. Even if you can’t do all of this, says Sharlene, it is a good alignment practice, to lengthen and straighten as much as possible. If anything hurts, cautions Sharlene, don’t do it without consulting with a physical therapist.
  3. Try to be conscious of good posture alignment during day, whether getting in and out of the car, carrying things sitting at a desk, using a computer, or even during a movie. If you slouch, it should only be for short spans of time!

Pain is a warning sign that something is being stressed and should be addressed 

Even though pain is annoying, says Sharlene, we can also think of it as a protective mechanism. “Your body is telling you that something is wrong and you should pay attention,” she says. “Often, for people with chronic pain, the symptom gets heightened, and can become a constant, dull ache,” she says. “it often helps to work with a physical therapist to ‘unlearn’ problematic positions or behavior, strengthen muscles to compensate for overstretched ligaments, and learn new ways of using the body to reduce pain.”


Filed under Aging, Chronic Pain

Are You Ready for Your Closeup? When health interferes with work

The good news about advances in the treatment of chronic illness and pain is that many of us are now living—and working— well into midlife and beyond. But this good news may be tempered with new challenges.  For some, the body’s responses to long-term wear and tear might create obstacles to going to work every day. Such obstacles might include problems with mobility or discomfort with sitting at a computer for long periods. It may even be difficult to find professional—and fashionable! shoes that we can walk comfortably in.

All the World’s a Stage

When we leave home in the morning to go to work, we are entering the world “stage” to perform as employees, says Martin R. Anderson, certified Trager® practitioner and former actor. “The more that we have prepared for our performance, the better we will be.” The gentle Trager Approach of mind/body integration and movement education helps free tight bodies for efficient and effortless function.

“As with any performance, we need ‘rehearsal time,’ says Martin, particularly when dealing with chronic musculoskeletal condition and pain.” Martin suggests incorporating movements such as as stretching, yoga, or tai chi—into your morning routine before leaving for work. This increases circulation of blood and fluids, reducing joint pain. “Focus fully on your bodily sensations, without distraction from radio or TV,” he cautions. “This can be a form of self-hypnosis, reminding yourself to be at ease during the day.” My addition: Try a ten-second cold shower burst to get some instant energy!

When You Need to Make a Change

Even with careful preparation, however, there may come a time when going to your workplace full-time becomes difficult, and you would like to find ways to work that accommodate to your physical constraints. Management consultant Barbara Kivowitz, co-author of In Sickness As In Health, points out that physical pain, mobility problems, or reduced energy can interfere with your confidence in your ability to do a good job. “Even though it is hard to accept the reality of your body and its limitations,” says Barbara, “if you do so early enough, you can work with your manager to make changes in the way you work. Thanks to the Internet, many jobs can be performed remotely.” As a first step, Barbara advises making sure your supervisor appreciates the value of your contributions. “Then, you can initiate conversations where you ask for the help of your supervisor to figure out how you can continue to contribute to the workplace, while accommodating to your physical limitations.” While the Americans With Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, says Barbara, it is best to approach your employer as a partner, solving this problem together. After the changes are put in place, says Barbara, “It is then important to continue the conversation by checking in every few weeks or months, to make sure the system is still working for both you and the workplace.”

Adds Martin: “Feel gratitude about all you are able to accomplish.”

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Filed under Aging, chronic illness, Chronic Pain, Work life

Healing Hands: Physical Therapy for function, mobility, and comfort

I  have discovered a unique, highly effective form of physical therapy that combines the best elements of personal training with muscular therapy. Valerie Ruccia Eagan has developed her own brand of physical therapy that uses hands-on techniques, core- strengthening, and flexibility-building exercises, as well as mind-body energetic work. Her method cuts to the root of physical pain and mobility problems to provide deep and lasting healing.

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Filed under Aging, chronic illness, Chronic Pain, Healing, Marfan Syndrome

Pat Robertson is Dead Wrong

My OpEd in today’s Chicago Tribune:

A person with Alzheimer’s is not “kind of” dead. Not by a long shot. And televangelist Pat Robertson should know better than to speak flippantly from a position of authority on a matter that is complicated, nuanced and deeply personal. Continue reading


Filed under Aging, chronic illness, mental health

She Didn’t Have to Die

A close relative died suddenly last fall. She was a 79-year-old woman who was active, vigorous and full of life. She sold fine jewelry in a large department store, spending all day on her feet presiding over her adoring customers. She was clever, a voracious reader and had a wicked sense of humor. She died in her beautifully decorated apartment surrounded by the books she loved, the artwork and sculpture she had collected on her travels, and the Continue reading


Filed under Aging, chronic illness, Health

Why I Like Tai Chi

The slow, flowing movements look like a dance, but it is what goes on inside the body that makes Tai chi different: During a class recently, I felt as if my body were getting hooked up to a universal “filling station” and being replenished with energy. The result? Better ease of movement, increased flexibility and a sense of peaceful well-being. I do a “short form” almost every morning that takes all of ten minutes, one of the helpful ways I have found to live with Marfan syndrome.

Tai chi originated thousands of years ago as part of the ancient system of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The movements have their origins in martial arts, but are performed slowly, with controlled breathing and an awareness of the flow of energy inside the body. Tai chi has been called “moving meditation.”

Studies have found that Tai chi strengthens the immune system and can help with pain caused by osteoarthritis of the knee. In other research, Tai chi has been found to improve balance and coordination in older people, and reduce falls. It can also help with osteoporisis by  increasing bone density.

All in all, not a bad ten-minute investment of time. Anyone else have Tai chi stories to share?

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Filed under Aging, Chronic Pain, Healing, Health, Marfan Syndrome, Tai Chi, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Aging is Inevitable…Or is It?

We do get older, of course, says Alexa Fleckenstein, M.D., but HOW we age, makes all the difference. Research on centenarians (people who live to be 100) tell us that while genes are important, what you DO with them is even more important. “You can get a bit stiffer and a bit fatter and a bit more stooped and a bit more depressed every day, or you can embark on an exciting journey into old age that makes you glow with health, sparkle with interest and explode with love,” says Dr. Fleckenstein in her book, “Healthy to 100: Aging with vigor and grace.”

Her advice is simple, not more difficult than doing 2-minutes of exercise every day, eating a bit more reasonably, staying involved with friends and community and finding something you love to do. She also gives advice about dealing with common complaints of aging, including chronic pain, digestive problems and joint stiffness.

So forget aabout hours at the gym, expensive spa vacations or face lifts. Take a look at the everyday, simple measures in this little book.

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Filed under Aging, Chronic Pain, Healing, Health