As I was putting in my flowers in the back yard in early May, I was remembering how many patients are on the couch for days after starting their garden in Spring, and oh, the emotional pain of getting sidelined by what could be, and used to be, such a wonderful task. It really brings home the loss of the pre accident/illness “well” self. I ruefully straightened up after being so absorbed in the planting, only to be reminded, through pain and stiffness, of my aging body and that I hadn’t paced myself! I was lucky: only about 30 minutes later my body was recovering from the aching, which resulted from my activities in the garden. Many of you are not so lucky. I wondered if the purchase of anti- inflammatories such as Advil rises in the Spring months, as the better weather beckons us into more active pursuits, except too quickly for the muscle groups weakened by Winter inactivity. Weak muscles make sore joints.
This havoc of body aches and pain is due to muscle groups being used too suddenly and for too long in such tasks, when they are not pre-strengthened in preparation for this assault on their capabilities. I realized that physiotherapy centres could help us all out by offering a pre-gardening special in early April designed to strengthen muscle groups ready for the gardening exercise. We also need to be more mindful of pacing our activities, which is hard to do when we want to get that garden in! At least, if not contra-indicated, taking a pain killer before gardening would help, but also using implements to help: plants can be in raised flower beds to avoid a lot of bending, stores sell kneeling equipment for those who can get down on their knees for a while, some gardening tools can be operated from a standing position. So can friends and relatives who are helping out— in which case, diplomacy in guiding them could do with some practice (Emotional Skills class, anyone?).
Also, if we can do any of the above gardening activities, mindfully being aware of the fact that “we can”, and paying attention to that.
Other Seasonal Activities
The same goes for the aches and pains from starting a seasonal activity in the better weather months, such as increasing walking, or a sport – if you can – and we know, many readers can’t. My husband, who is nearing retirement, is thrilled he got on his sports team for one more season this year, realizing that he may not make the cut each year he gets older. He talks about the aches and pain he feels every year during May, as his muscles strengthen again to take on the new season. He knows what the pain means, so regards it as “good pain”, reminding me again that suffering is affected by what the pain means to us. Also reminding me that when we still have these functions, to savour them in the moment, and not only in retrospect.
The Right Shoes Indoors
In general, a reminder to look after the muscle groups strengthening our backs, hips, and legs in our homes: unsupported feet on hard floors are usually not good for our bodies. Looking in the shoe closet to pick out the shoes that feel most comfortable when we are out and about helps us to choose similar shoes for “in home” use. A lot of pain can be put to rest by wearing such shoes indoors and replacing them when they get worn out—better they get replaced when they should, as it’s much harder to replace parts of our bodies we wear out.
Standing on your feet for long periods of time can put a lot of strain on your feet, legs and spine, and can exacerbate pre-existing pain. To reduce the discomfort that arises from prolonged standing, anti-fatigue mats are certainly worth considering. They are a bit expensive but we heard good things about them from participants of our courses who have back pain. Traditionally, these mats have been recommended by ergonomists looking to make workplace environments less stressful on the body. Now, the market has expanded to include the home environment where we commonly find ourselves standing for long stretches of time to tackle routine tasks like washing dishes, cooking and folding the laundry.
One particular brand of anti-fatigue mat that is becoming widely available is WellnessMat. Its makers claim that it can decrease the impact on the joints of the legs and back, improve circulation, decrease fatigue, as well as improve balance. WellnessMats come in a variety of sizes and styles. The product also comes with a 7 year warranty and is endorsed by many professional chefs including Mario Batali.
For more information, have a look at the website: www.wellnessmat.com.