My hiking companion, Brandon, takes a few minutes before we start hiking to stretch his legs and torso. And he does them when we complete our hike.
I wait patiently.
I have a set of stretching exercises that are much more extensive. But I do them at home on the living room floor. There are sixteen different exercises that I have been doing for the past twenty-three years. I used to do them daily. Then after some time did them every other day, And finally settled on once a week as sufficient.
Problem is that about this past year or so I got lax and did them rather hit and miss for some time until about four or five months ago stopped doing them altogether.
Then just a couple of months ago when Brandon and I accompanied US Forest Ranger Paul Schilke on a ten-mile round-trip climb in the Pecos Wilderness I began feeling a stitch in my thigh up near the groin.
I paid little attention to it, though did mention it to Brandon.
The condition worsened somewhat, though I continued my daily hiking — but on shorter, more gentle trails.
The stitch worsened and a couple of weeks later it was so bad I hiked only three miles for that whole week and that was painful.
I figured that it must be due to my neglect in doing my stretching exercises. So I got right back into them.
Obviously I overdid it, for the pain got so severe that I could only hike with a cane and not very far on level ground.
For the next couple of weeks the pain got worse. I tried doing different stretch exercises, making it even worse.
The pain became excruciatingly sharp shooting up and down my back and legs.
I stopped doing the any exercises. In fact, I took all the pain medications I had in my possession — which amounted to the maximum amounts of Tylenol and some pain meds for my diabetic neuropathy.
But that was not enough. It got so bad that I was unable to even lie down or sleep. I spent three nights cat napping sitting up in the living room.
I desperately needed pain relief. I checked myself into the emergency room at the VA hospital.
They gave me a very low dose of oxycontin, enough for five days, and sent me to my primary care provider, who did not have any better solution than to tell me to get rest and gave me an additional five days of the very low dose of oxycontin.
In chatting with a friend who was also suffering back aches, it dawned on me that I had a book about back aches written by a doctor who had been a rock climbing friend long ago. He was famous for having written the definitive book on back aches and had been the doctor who secretly helped JFK with his back problem.
The first thing I noticed in leafing through it, was his cautions to “go slowly.” Among his nine basic ground rules, he urges us to “get in a relaxed state of mind” and “your exercises must be performed slowly” and “never do more than two or three of the same exercises.”
When he explains each exercise he urges slowness.
He gives them with cautions like, “raise head and shoulders off the floor, lower slowly and relax” and “sit up, then lower yourself slowly” and “don’t try to hard” and always with the caveat “It is as important to keep your muscles flexible as it is to keep them strong.”
I’d done everything wrong. No wonder I was suffering so much!
By now though, I was really desperate.
My wife insisted I go to a kinesiologist who had helped her with a couple of muscle problems along the way.
I’d never heard of kinesiology and was dubious. Our town is full of woo woo practitioners.
I discovered though that kinesiologists are really muscle and nerve specialists who primarily aid elite athletes with their muscle functions for peak performance.
So okay off to the kinesiologists.
Amazing how swiftly they gave me relief. However it’s with the proviso to “take it easy and slowly” — in other words acknowledge my age!
At ninety the body adjusts much, much slower than it did at even seventy or eighty.
In just two weeks I have been getting around the house all day without crutches and only low-grade pain.
I am re-introducing my stand-by exercises that I used over the years — but very, very slowly — following my old friend Doctor Hans Kraus’ advice in his standard back-ache book, Cause, Preventiion and Treatment of Back-Ache: Stress and Tension .
It’s not been an altogether smooth recovery. But at my age, it is recovery.
I’m tempted every day to go for a hike. And I have to restrain myself to do what I can around the house and some errands in town, mostly without crutches.
At times i overdo it and suffer the consequences.
The good news is that I will be hiking again. If it takes a longer to rehabilitate, so be it.
I’m writing this as a cautionary note to other geezer hikers.
Take heed. Do whatever stress exercises you ought. And stay with your program.