It’s Because I’m Getting Old

Tweet: It hurts because I’m getting old!

I have been a movement professional for over 15 years. In that time, I’ve had the pleasure to help hundreds of wonderful people move better and feel better, reach their fitness and health goals, and create positive change in their lives. I work with an incredibly diverse clientele of athletes and nonathletes, moms and dads, runners, cyclists, Yogis, and much more. I have worked with kids as young as 8 and as old as 94.

Over the years of working, there is something that I’ve noticed. The younger clients (roughly under 35) tend to blame their pain issues on specific traumatic injuries, e.g. sports injury or car accidents. When it comes to my over-35 clients, however, the most common reason given for why they are in pain is:

older lady crow pose. it's because i'm getting old“It’s because I’m getting old!”

Each time I hear this statement–and unfortunately I hear it a lot–I cringe. Why does it make me cringe? Because it is a perpetuated myth that pain and movement dysfunction are simply caused by the aging process and we have no control over it. I have news for you: this myth is total BS. What’s worse, buying into it limits a person from proactively exploring the body’s ability for full, healthy, pain-free movement–regardless of age.

It’s not that age isn’t the primary factor in pain; age does play a role. But not in the way you think. Age plays a role because the older we get the more time we’ve had to practice poor, restricted, unhealthy, and eventually painful movement patterns. I call this The Movement Equation: Time x Repetition = Improvement. I will explain this in more detail in a bit.

Why we hurt
Yoga stretch. it's because i'm getting old.The majority of chronic pain and injury in our culture is due to how we move. The body has an immense range of healthy movement potential such as squatting, lunging, crawling, climbing, jumping, and so much more. If you do not move to your fullest potential on a regular basis you slowly lose the ability to move fully into it. I call this the
shrinking movement box.

For example, can you do any of the following: squat with your butt to the floor, reach behind and touch the base of your opposite shoulder blade evenly with both hands, reach overhead while rotating your trunk. If you cannot perform these functional movements without pain or restriction, you’ve lost some of your functional movement potential.

Woman checking shoulder mobility. it's because i'm getting old.Losing functional movement means you are slowly being wrapped tighter and tigher into an ever shrinking movement box. Eventually, when you must move outside the box — e.g. bending over, lifting something over your head, or reaching and turning backwards, you experience pain and/or injury. The injury results because your body no longer feels safe moving outside of the box. Exacerbating the problem, many people who experience this kind of pain, due to the fear of making thing worse, move even less–thus shrinking the box that much more.

Due to this reaction, once your movement box begins shrinking it will continue to shrink. This brings me back to the movement equation.

The Movement Equation: time x repetition = improvement
In this equation, Time is how many days, months, or years you’ve been moving in either good or poor movement patterns; repetition is literally the number of times you perform a movement pattern during the entire specified time period; and as you know, whatever you practice leads to improvement— in this equation, improvement is not necessarily a positive or negative thing. e.g. healthy practice (moving fully into your potential) improves healthy movement, and unhealthy practice (moving within an ever-shrinking box) improves unhealthy and restrictive movement.

X-Ray of person hunched in front of computer. it's because i'm getting old.The time portion of the equation is where your age comes into play. The fact is that most of us have been moving poorly for years. Each year as we age, we move less and less. This translates into more and more time spent experiencing less and less healthy movement. Now multiply this effect by 10, 20, 30, or more years: the older you get practicing poor movement, the more hardwired that poor movement has become. And with that hardwiring comes higher incidences of pain. In the movement equation, practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes permanence. Is that box starting to feel a little uncomfortable?

The good news is that in this case “permanent” is only until you make the decision to change your movement patterns. In other words, you can use the movement equation in your favor– regardless of how old you are. If you introduce quality pain-free movement and practice it daily, over time you will experience greater and greater quality, pain-free movement in your life.

Now…are you ready to change how you move?
Great! The first step to is to change your mindset–this is arguably the most important step.
This is from a previous post It Hurts When I Run:

“The path to quality, pain-free movement begins by changing your mindset around how you move. It begins with a simple understanding:

If I am in pain, then the way I have been moving is hurting me. If I want to feel better, I must change the way that I move. To do this, I must change.”

This change begins by no longer buying into the self-limiting beliefs that your pain is caused by your age. It is not. The pain is caused by your movement choices.

With a new mindset to re-establish your health and vitality, it is time to work on restoring pain-free movement. This part can also be quite challenging. In our culture, we are not taught healthy, restorative movement-based exercise. So knowing where to start is incredibly difficult.

With my clients, I begin by slowly integrating healthy pain-free movement. Each day, slowly explore your full movement potential. If it hurts, then move to the limit of your pain-free range–no further!–then expand into fuller ranges over days, weeks, and months. As Scott Sonnon, one of my favorite movement practitioners, often says, “Move to the tension, not through the tension.” For help restoring movement, I highly recommend you check out his IntuFlow DVD Series. I love this program because it focuses on joint by joint, full body, integrated movement. I’ve been utilizing it for myself and clients as a daily practice. It moves slowly into your healthy pain-free limits, slowly expanding into greater movement over time. I can’t think of anyone who would not benefit from it.

Seek help from a movement professional
baby-squatRemember, the pain you experience daily has developed over years and years. Pain-free movement will not be restored overnight. It will take time and it is important that you grant yourself the patience to re-learn healthy movement patterns. The help of a movement professional who can assess, treat, and provide a corrective exercise protocol can rapidly speed up the process. I often see significant shifts in a client’s movement quality and pain reduction within a few sessions. I send them home with corrective exercises which provides daily repetition to further reinforces these positive changes into powerful life changing improvement.

If you have questions about a specific movement issue, I invite you to join The Injury Corner on Facebook, and post it there. For help finding a movement professional in your area let me know. I will do my best to connect you to the best health care team available.

The above link to the Scott Sonnon DVD is an Amazon affiliate link. I have chosen to support it because I believe in its value.

I would love to hear from you. Please share your experience of pain, injury, and The Movement Equation in the comments below.

Tweet: It hurts because I’m getting old!

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11 Replies to “It’s Because I’m Getting Old”

  1. Great article Jesse. I hear the “It’s my age” thing quite a lot too. Some people have even been given this ‘diagnosis’ by the doctor. I really like your idea of movement choices, what a good way of expressing the relationship between movement and chronic pain. Fabulous photo too.

    1. Hi Linda,

      Thanks for the comment. No, I am unable to accept insurance. However, you may be able to get reimbursed by your insurance company, depending upon your coverage.

      Jesse James

  2. You are a fine writer, sir. Very interesting article, and I like the direction you are going. I catch myself dancing to the music in commercials now (can you think of a better use for commercials?!) and incorporating a number of the movements from the IntuFlow. It’s fun and silly and feels good. Thanks for all you do for the health and happiness of so many, sweetheart.

  3. Jesse, really enjoyed this article. For the most part, you are right. Lots of chronic pain can be traced to incorrect movement. However people can have messed up backs, shoulders( in the age of the MRI) etc and be asymptomatic. Pain and chronic pain is much more complicated than movement. Although movement is part of the puzzle. But it;s not the only piece.

    1. Thanks for the comments Shane. I agree that movement is not the only piece of the puzzle. However, it is a huge piece and the biggest that we have any control over. We cannot change our past, but we can change how we respond to and move to our present, which will affect powerful change for our future.

      Jesse James

  4. You are so right. I teach various classes to many different aged people. I love encouraging my elder, (60-90 yr. olds) that moving properly and moving in general is the fountain of youth. Great article. I couldn’t have said it any plainer.

  5. Someone once said, “Age is a state of mind.” Over the years I have had the pleasure of working with people who believed chronological age had nothing to do with reality. These people remained physically active well into what is normally considered the declining years of the human lifespan. When I speak of active, I am referring to something much more than a daily walk or keeping up with daily activities. At age 96, Willard went on three major hunting trips that year. This consisted of being in the wilderness with a backpack, tent, and motivation. For anyone who has been hiking in northwestern Colorado you know this was not an easy task. Tim was told on three separate occasions he would never do physical labor again due to body damage occurred in accidents. He took the words of an old country doctor to heart, “The body was made to be used, it will tell you when to stop.” Over the course of the next several decades he farmed nearly 1,200 acres. Sold out to start an outfitting business, 15 years in mountains doing guided hunts. From there he “retired” to running heavy equipment, until he developed cancer. During cancer treatment he started a handyman/landscaping business (sole employee). Today he is cancer free, over 65, and difficult to keep up with! The ladies have the same staying power. Carol at age 70 could be mistaken for 35 and is more flexible than most teenagers. Thelma at age 88 still does all her own housekeeping, shopping, personal care, yard work, and wears out the great-grandkids after dinner on Sundays (yes she cooks the dinner alone)! My list could go on for pages. The common thread is each of these people move. Physical activity is the norm. Each has a positive, outgoing attitude and is up for any challenge. From a medical perspective, chronic illness is minimal. For those with chronic conditions, it is correlated to a time in their life they were less physically active or injured. The exception is cancer that was correlated to environmental exposure. These people work the human body, like it is meant to be utilized. Most importantly, they are reaping the benefits of health in their “golden” years. Aging has nothing to do with physical status. Mindset on the other hand has the ability to literally stop the declining process. The powers of the mind/body connection have been extensively proven. Aging from this perspective is just another part of the adventure of life.

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