When it comes to exercise, baby boomers can feel damned if they do, damned if they don’t. Yes, we’re supposed to stay active, but as the body wears out, it’s all too easy to go overboard. Medical professionals have even coined the term boomeritis to describe the aches and pains afflicting those who are 55 going on 25—that is, who overestimate what they can accomplish on the dance floor, open road, or basketball court.
In 2009, the National Institutes of Health issued a comprehensive online handout on sports injuries. Though it covers all age groups, some of the advice is critical to boomers. For example, after a hard workout and more-than-usual pain, you may want to know whether to head for the doctor—or, as usual, just your medicine cabinet or TENS machine.
The problem, for those of us who love to exercise, is—well, we love to exercise, doing that particular sport, type of training, or dance. We have a hard time cutting back or cutting out. I hated to quit my flamenco dance classes, but I came to think they’d caused or aggravated my hip bursitis and low back pain. (Also, I was discouraged by the teacher’s comment that it takes 25 years to learn flamenco—so I’d be 80 by the time I was ready for the spotlight.) Now I take dance that’s slightly easier on my hips.
Another way to lessen discomfort is cross-training. But even activities that are supposed to prevent injury, like yoga and Pilates, can produce pain when they’re overdone or done incorrectly. (Check out the New York Times’s incendiary 2012 “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body.”)
Strenuous sports and training regimens are definitely associated with specific kinds of injury and discomfort. Running can result in hip bursitis and “runner’s knee”. Biking can produce lower back pain and hamstring strains. You can develop shoulder pain in a myriad of ways: swimming and weightlifting as well as playing volleyball, baseball, and racquet sports. The Sports Injury Clinic website offers a user-friendly self-assessment tool, plus information at an accessible but detailed level. Who knew, for example, that there are four types of bursa surrounding the hips, just waiting to be inflamed?
I suppose I could take my husband’s advice: if it hurts, don’t do it. That recommendation is pretty standard among health professionals, who often advise RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) for pain management. These techniques can be annoying, however—especially ice treatments, especially in Chicago in the winter. It’s hard to get cozy on the couch with a bag of frozen peas on your hip.
Personally, I’ve come to accept that a side effect of my workouts is some degree of pain. When it’s a little worse, instead of a little better, I just reach for the ibuprofen or my TENS machine.