Back in the stone age when I played Pop Warner football as a kid, I remember getting my bell rung. Full speed, helmet to helmet, I’d made a pretty spectacular tackle. Or so they told me, as I had zero memory of it. I staggered off the field and sat dazed on the sideline, trying to remember where I was and what I was supposed to be doing. The coach came over and asked if I was ready to go back in. I answered that I didn’t know. He gave a deep sigh and asked, “well son are you hurt or are you injured?” I have no idea what I said, but eventually someone stuck some smelling salts under my nose, and I went back on the field. Today I’m sure I’d have been diagnosed with a minor concussion and sidelined for a few weeks.
I was never quite sure what was the worst part in that saying – being hurt or being injured? I think being injured is the worse one. I imagine injured is broken bones or torn ligaments. Being hurt means it’s time to pull your big boy pants up and get back after it. Suck it up, buttercup.
When you get older, getting hurt rarely involves anything dramatic. Usually, it’s something stupid like stepping awkwardly off the bottom rung of a ladder, walking into an open cabinet, or slipping on some ice. In my case it was something even more mundane. I bent over. That’s it. I bent over to pick something up off the floor and BAM, it was like someone hit me with a baseball bat in the low back. Sigh.
Now in my defense, I had just come home from the gym and a pretty hard back and squat session. But still, a muscle strain bending over – really? Is this what old age looks like? The worst part was that I was scheduled to do a two-day backcountry motorcycle trip in a few days. Determined not to miss out, I consumed a frightening amount of Ibuprofen, applied non-stop heat, and subjected myself to hours of electrical stimulation using a TENS unit set to cattle prod levels. All of that got me on the bike and I survived. Although, sleeping on the ground with just a thin pad and a sleeping bag is not an ideal recovery plan after a full day of motorcycling. Just saying.
So now what? I went to the trainer when I got back, and after a pretty thorough evaluation, he essentially said that the answer was movement. I needed to move, lift, stretch, and move some more if I want to get better. He said that I wasn’t going to hurt anything or make it worse by continuing my activities… it’s really just up to my pain tolerance as to what I can do.
Crap. What I wanted to hear was to sit on the couch for six weeks and let it heal (and eat nachos. I hear eating nachos cures most anything). I have a hard enough time being motivated to work out as it is – trying to be motivated when everything hurts is a tall order. Pulling on a pair of sweatpants in the morning when I’m super stiff and painful is a comedy routine right now. I’m probably going to send myself headfirst into the back of the closet one of these mornings as I try to fling one leg of the pants around an outstretched foot without bending at the waist. I’m sure it’s not a pretty sight.
But I suppose my old Pop Warner coach was right. I’m merely hurt, not injured. Time for some smelling salts and to put on my big boy pants and get back after it. But I will say… this is my first real taste of what old age pain must be like. I can see why older folks are reluctant to move or workout and take large amounts of pain medication. It’s actually scared me a little bit.
I will not let that be my future.