Category Archives: Health

Fixing my hip

This column started many years ago when I published a local weekly newspaper and has been dwindling in frequency since my “retirement” from the news business five years ago. As I look back over recent years, I see that many of the articles deal with some of the health challenges I have faced. This is another of those.

Since I am now 62, some of this is not unexpected, due to the poor care I took of my body over the years. In 2009, I had a stent placed in my heart and in late 2011 I had a ruptured achilles tendon repaired, which led to many complications (both physical and mental) when the surgical wound did not heal properly.

I write about these things because I have found that the Internet has been of great value to me when dealing with my own health issues. If my experience can be of help to anyone facing similar issues then in a small way I am paying back.

Doctors are great when you get to the point of needing surgery, but I have not found them so good at diagnosing and treating a problem before it gets acute. My hip is a case in point. I started to have pain on the right side of my right hip well over two years ago. I mainly felt the pain at night when I slept on that side, which I am wont to do.

After googling around my first thought was that I had bursitis, an inflammation of the bursa. After a couple of steroid shots failed to improve the situation I had a hip X-ray to check for arthritis. When the doctor saw the films he asked me if my left hip hurt as well. When I told him “no”  he said, “that’s funny because the arthritis is worse on the left side.”

He then prescribed a course of Naproxen, a stronger version of the OTC drug Aleve to “calm the inflammation down.” The drug did relieve my pain, however, after about 6 months I started experiencing sharp pains in my stomach, even though I was following directions to only take it with food.

At first I didn’t know what was wrong with me and even feared it might be a recurrence of heart problems. I even took for the first time some of the nitroglycerine they had given me when I had my stent placed. When the nitro had no noticeable affect, I concluded it must be something else.

Stopping the pills cleared up the stomach problem within a week, but then the hip pain returned with a vengeance! This past Fall it began to be a real problem. I began to spend more time on the couch avoiding normal activities because of the pain. It got so bad that I spent one entire weekend on the couch doing nothing, nothing but googling that is.

A statement I found online that most people who have hip pain have underdeveloped butts got me to thinking. I am one of those who suffers from the heartbreak of smallbuttitis. I am a person that really should wear suspenders at all times, since there is really nothing there to hang a belt on.

I think the problem is at least partly genetic since some of my daughters have complained about me passing down this defective gene. When looking in the mirror I also noticed that I had let my posture get out of whack and was leaning forward when I walked instead of standing upright. In other words I was walking just like the Old Farmer that I am.

The real culprit, however, turned out to be another pain that I have been suffering from even longer than the hip– a pain on the inside of my right thigh in the adductor magnus muscle. The pain was pretty much chronic although it varied in severity from mild to strong.

I had mentioned this pain to an assortment of doctors, therapists and chiropractors but no one ever made the connection between that and the hip pain, or suggested how to fix it. Finally I ran across a video showing me a simple procedure to loosen up that major muscle. Essentially it involves doing a very deep massage on the muscle by balancing all your weight on that muscle by rolling on a medicine ball.

When I first tried this, the pain was so great that I could barely stand it. It also surprised me that the most painful part of the muscle was down near the knee, well below where I was feeling most of the pain.

After a few weeks of working that muscle, the pain in both the adductor and in my hip began to ease. I then began a regular weight training program, concentrating on increasing the strength of my lower body, particularly my long neglected glutes.

After six weeks of almost daily weight work, while paying attention to improved walking posture, and accomplishing some weight loss, my hip (and adductor) pain has been greatly reduced. I am not totally pain free yet, but I have come far enough that I know I am finally on the right track.

Disclaimer: Everybody’s situation is different and your hip pain may be caused by totally different mechanics. In most cases, however, it wouldn’t hurt to take a close look at your posture, other seemingly unrelated muscle pains and consider overall strength training, especially if you are getting up in years. After a certain age, the body starts to lose muscle tissue unless you make a major effort to maintain it! Being unable to walk and perform routine daily tasks without pain is a major problem and doesn’t do much for your mental health either. Good luck!

My Winter Horribilis

On Dec. 2, I ruptured my Achilles tendon while playing tennis. At the time, and still to this day, I considered it a lucky break.  That may seem strange but I had been in pretty much constant pain since last July due to a series of partial tears. (See previous post “Every 30 years” on the subject).

Almost from the day the cast came off on Jan.15, I have had excellent function of my Achilles and have been able to walk pain free, thank God! The other results of my surgery were not so good. The biggest problem was that the surgical wound had not healed properly and I was left with a silver dollar sized hole in the back of my leg.

Gross out warning: If you have a weak stomach you might want to skip this paragraph! Still here? The hole was quite deep, right down to the tendon. In fact you could see one of the sutures that had been placed to tie the tendon back together. There is not a lot of flesh in that part of your body. Just a thin layer of skin and then the tendon. Apparently not much blood circulation either, because it is a notoriously slow healing area.

A week later my doctor got his first look at the hole and wanted to put me back in a cast, but I refused. A month rolling around on a knee walker had been more than enough, plus I was afraid that it would get infected inside the cast and I wouldn’t be able to see what was going on or treat it.

He relented and sent me to a specialist to see if i needed a skin transplant. Fortunately that wasn’t necessary and luckily I also avoided infection of the wound. The healing process, however was to drag on at a glacial pace for two more months.

During that time I was basically immobile. Although I had a special boot I could wear that would ease the pressure on the wound, any step I took outside the boot would tug on the wound and re-open it. Consequently I spent most of the time from Jan. 15 -March 15 laying on a couch watching TV and browsing the Internet.

That might not sound so bad, but for a normally active person like me, it was torture! I have to confess that it started to effect my mental state. Only now that I have been able to get back outside and start my spring farm chores do I realize how kooky I had been! I became obsessed with the national political situation and read blogs constantly and studied each new poll.

I became irritable at everything. Fox News was too liberal for me and I had to mute all the opinions of the increasing number of people I didn’t agree with. I listened to conservative talk radio from early morning to all hours of the night.

I barked at a bank teller and told off an insurance office receptionist. I berated my loving girlfriend, who changed my dressing twice a day, and fought to the death of our relationship over her lack of desire to continue participating in my farm dreams.

Adding to my injuries, I believe I was mishandled while under the general anesthesia. Shortly after I got out of the hospital I realized that I had somehow acquired severe tennis elbow in my right arm and a rotator cuff injury to my right shoulder, injuries I had not had pre-op. While there is no way to prove it, it seems obvious that someone must have yanked on my right arm when they turned me over after the operation.

Two cortisone shots and 3 months later I still have to wear an elbow brace to work, although my shoulder seems almost back to normal. For the first couple months, however, I was in extreme pain whenever I tried to use my right arm or tried to roll over in bed.

So it hasn’t been a great winter. The only bright spots are that I decided to go on a diet on Jan. 1 and have lost over 20 pounds and I am now walking pain free for the first time in 9 months and can officially start re-hab tomorrow– and, not so happily, for the first time in 35 years I am truly single again!  But that’s the subject of a future column.

Every 30 years!

It’s been over a year since I penned a post on this blog, but it looks like I may have more time for it this winter. Next week I will be having surgery to repair a ruptured left achilles tendon and the usual recovery is at least 6 weeks in a cast.

Its been over 30 years since I ruptured my right achilles and went through this drill before, but I can remember it like it was yesterday. I have never felt such pain as I did on that day in 1980 when I went down on the SUNY Geneseo squash court wondering who had shot me– and I hope I never do again!

By comparison, the pain from the pop on the tennis court Saturday morning was mild. Of course the first rupture was sudden and unexpected, the more recent one has been coming for almost 5 months.

I first injured my achilles on the tennis court in July. I really don’t even remember how I did it, except that by the end of a match I was quite sore. I tried to stay off it for a few weeks, but having a tennis club in my back yard and having the annual club championships running through August made that hard.

In August I was playing in the finals of our grass court doubles tournament when at a crucial moment of a tightly contested match I ran for a lob over my partner’s head. The pain came back with gusto and I had to retire from the match with the score tied 4-all in the 3rd set.

Again I stayed off the court for a few more weeks and actually seemed to be recovering. I played once a week or so in October, and then just to be safe, I decided to take the last three weeks of our Fall outdoor League off, to rest the leg up for the Winter indoor tennis season which was due to start Dec. 1.

Ironically, while avoiding the tennis court I tripped on a branch while working in the woods one day and fell hard. I pulled the tendon so hard that I at first thought it had to have ruptured. After a few minutes I got to my feet and was able to walk, but the tendon was never the same.

I knew I was really not ready to play tennis Saturday and so arranged for a sub to play for me. However, at 8 pm Friday night I got a fateful e-mail that one of our group had torn his calf muscle playing racquetball and could not play in the morning. With the match scheduled for 7:30 am in the city, I was out of time to find a sub and out of  options, so I decided to chance one for the team.

To protect myself I watched a couple of online videos on how to tape an achilles. Basically, the preferred method is to run a piece of stretchable tape down the back side of the leg anchored between the top of the achilles and the middle of the bottom of the foot.This elastic tape is pulled fairly tight to limit the range of motion of the achilles so it does not overstretch. (This may have been the only smart thing I did all weekend!)

Thus prepared I was ready to do battle. The first set went off without incident. In the middle of a fabulous comeback in the 2nd set ( that saw us come from down 1-5 to win the set 7-5) I received one final warning when I felt somehing give in my leg.

I almost quit then, but after walking it off for a few minutes I figured I could continue the comeback. A few points into the 3rd set, after about 75 minutes of tennis, I again tried to run for a lob and felt the classic sensation that someone had hit me in the back of the leg with a racquet.

I quickly realized that no one was close enough to do that and since nothing had fallen off the ceiling to hit me, I concluded that the tendon was gone. I limped off the court and had to be helped to my car with a broom stick for a crutch.

The rest of Saturday was spent on the couch with my leg elevated and covered with ice packs as I drugged myself with liberal doses of ibuprofen and Tylenol. Although the pain was moderate it was tolerable and I actually slept fairly well Saturday night. Amazingly, by Sunday morning I was able to walk with little pain so long as I didn’t try to push off on the bad leg.

A trip to my orthopedic surgeon Monday afternoon confirmed my diagnosis. I was actually happy to hear that he thought I should have the surgery since my biggest fear was that it might only be a partial tear and I would only be offered a cast. After four plus months of struggling with ever-worsening problems with this tendon I knew from my reading that surgery was my best chance to get back on my beloved courts quickly and at full strength.

My doctor commented on how narrow the gap in the broken tendon was and I think that was because the tape job probably limited the force of the explosion when the tendon gave way. It may also have limited the pain.

All and all, however, if I add up all the pain that tendon gave me over the last five months, I guess the total pain was about equal to what I felt in one intense burst 30 years ago!

I know I probably should have just stopped playing tennis for the season back in July when I had the first injury, but that’s asking a lot. Now the doctor says no tennis for 6 months. At least it’s coming at the right time of year, and  that should get me back on the court around the middle of June –just in time to tune up for next year’s club championships!

After the series of injuries that I had over the past few months, and especially after my fall in the woods, I kind of feel that the tendon was probably beyond natural healing anyway. The achilles is notorious for slow healing because it has a very stingy natural blood supply.

Going through the pain of the operation and the rehab is going to be a drag, but I am encouraged by the thought that by next summer I will be back on the court playing better than ever! And in the meantime, there’s always reading, watching old movies and blogging–and in the spring, croquet.

I guess I can be thankful this only happens every 30 years and my next rupture is not scheduled until 2041, when I will be 90!


57 varieties of trouble!

Yesterday was my 58th birthday and I was never so glad to say goodbye to a year in my life. Oh sure, lots of good things happened to me this past year, but my old body seemed to have 57 varieties of trouble.

It was shortly after my 57th birthday last year that I began to notice pain in my hip. I went to my chiropractor, my orthopedist, two physical therapists, my family doctor and even had x-rays and no one could figure out what was the matter with me except possibly some arthritis. I was told that someday I would probably need to have a hip replacement, but until then I would just have to learn to live with the pain!

Things went from bad to worse when I began construction of my new tennis court in April. It had been 15 years since I had done much heavy labor and my body was in no way ready for it. I began to have incredible pain in my knee, IT band and the quadriceps of my right leg.

It got so bad that I could barely stand up for more than a minute without excruciating pain and my legs hurt so much at night that I couldn’t sleep. Then in July I tore the cartilage in my left knee in my last-ever tennis match on a hard court. (Although I didn’t know that until I finally had an MRI 4 months later.)

Fortunately, as chronicled in some previous columns, I was able to find temporary relief of my pain through trigger point massage and eventually permanent prevention of it through the addition of Vitamin B-12 supplements to my diet. It also turned our that the cartilage tear does not require surgery and, with the help of my bicycle, my left knee is almost back to its pre-injury state. Still, 57 will long be remembered by me as the year my body hit the wall.

As I turn the corner to start my 58th year, however, I am filled with optimism. In addition to playing indoor tennis twice a week, I have returned to the basketball court after a 7 month absence. On one of my first days back, one competitor even commented that I was playing at “mid-season form!”

The biggest problem with physical disabilities is that they can prey on the mind. You begin to wonder if you will ever recover the normal use of your body or whether this is as good as it gets. I know that old age is not for sissies, but at least now, I also know that I have a few more years before I’m ready for the scrap heap.

It’s all up from here!