Pain in the Neck

Remember when we were kids, how fearless we were? How we would swing on the monkey bars until our hands would burn? How we’d fall over chasing down a basketball, scrape our knees, wipe the blood off, and keep running? Remember climbing trees? Falling off the slide? Bouncing your sister off the trampoline (sorry Mum)? I think you know you’re officially old when you start to hurt yourself in ridiculous ways.

Take myself for example, last year I hurt myself sitting down. Just when I couldn’t feel any older, there I was, sitting with my head turned at a charity event, listening intently to the inspirational speakers for around half an hour, when my food arrived, and I turned quickly to look at the plate in front of me, and just like that, my neck was now stuck. I said to my friend sitting next to me, the pain was like a knife, the headache soon followed, I knew exactly what I’d done, I’d sprained my neck… sitting down. To make matters worse, after two weeks of headaches and regular treatments, just as it was finally starting to improve I got swooped in the back of a head by a magpie while walking along the Altona Esplanade… True story.

Now I was no stranger to a sprained neck, I had sprained it once before, doing a head stand in yoga seven years ago, a little bit different to just sitting down right? And I distinctly remember the last time I sprained it I was fully recovered after two weeks, but this time around it took around six weeks (no thanks to the magpie) and I still get some pain and stiffness 12 weeks later. So I guess the question is, why do we hurt ourselves easier as we get older? And why does it take longer to recover? The answer unfortunately isn’t simple. Like everything in the body, it’s complex and connected, but I’ll try break it down.

Ageing Cells

the ability for our tissues to repair as we age is decreased. This is evident on the outside in the way our skin appears and the way our hair turns grey. The tissues you can’t see go through this process as well, and repair following injury is slower. This is a normal part of aging (unfortunately) but basically means that all the tissues in our body need more time than they did when we were younger to repair. So expect longer healing times, you’re not 16.

Exercise (or lack there of)

We are nooooo where near as active as we used to be. And that’s not just specific for old farts like me, that goes for our increasingly sedentary society sitting on our behinds doing work, watching TV, playing video games. Sitting for any more than 20 minutes is detrimental to your body because of the compression gravity caused on your spine. Sitting puts high demand on your postural muscles, overworking them and causing strains over time. Exercising has also been shown to slow the ageing process, so even more reason to get moving.

Nutrition

Nutrition plays a HUGE role in our healing capabilities. If you’re not eating right, don’t expect quick healing times. Things like smoking, alcohol and sugar can all have a negative effect on your healing. Your body needs to be fuelled with a variety of colourful nutritious foods that promote tissue repair. If you feel your diet or nutrition is lacking and it could use a revamp, speak to a professional, a Naturopath is a great start.

Stress

if you a highly stressed, don’t expect a healing miracle. Stress triggers the release of the hormone cortisol, which can amplify your pain response and limit your healing capacity. Try to reduce your stress, meditation apps like Smiling Mind are fantastic for beginners. Remember, life is too short to be stressed.

So what can we do about this? Is it inevitable that as we aging and pain are a package deal? No way! Don’t accept that fate, do something about it! Don’t expect things will just go away, because the reality is they won’t. First thing to do, consult a professional about your pain, start pushing your body in the right direction. Secondly, follow their advice, they’re not giving you stretches and exercises to do just for a laugh, they give you these to empower you, to make YOU the master of your own pain, and if you’re seeing someone who doesn’t give you anything to practice at home, it’s probably time to find someone who will.

Ageing is a beautiful part of life, if you are fortunate enough to age it means you have gained wisdom and knowledge with the experience. So use what you have learned. Expect that silly injuries may occur, and expect that the healing time will be longer than it was when you were a teenager. You only get one body, so move it, exercise it, fuel it with good nutritious food, care for it, love it and invest in it.

Dr. Ashton Wilson, Osteopath
ALPHA Sports Medicine & Osteopathy

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