Fit by Fifty: A Litany of Injuries

Young woman in white leotard holding green weights at shoulder height.

This is definitely not me!

Things are not going according to plan. My goal is to be Fit and Fab by Fifty but the more I try to get fit, the more I injure myself.

Fit by Fifty: A Litany of Injuries

In the last few months I have torn the rotator cuff in my right shoulder and put my lower back into a spasm for three weeks after attending a Pilates class.

A trip to South Africa to attend my father’s funeral left me with sternocostal joint inflammation and a pectoral muscle spasm that will not go away. And, an attempt to get fit by running and following the NHS Couch to 5K podcast has left me with a tear of my medial gastrocnemius (one of the muscles in my left calf) which left me hobbling about for a while and is taking a very long time to heal.

My physiotherapist has certainly got his work cut out for him. Initially his advice to me was simply, ‘Angie, don’t move.’

Sound advice, certainly, but unfortunately not very practical. After all, I am the kind of person who, apart from my various ‘sports’ injuries, is most likely to cause damage to myself while fast asleep. I am not joking.

Terrible things have happened to me in the middle of the night and in the morning I’ve been confronted by sprained fingers and toes, a neck that refuses to move, back spasms, migraines, and muscle spasms in places that shouldn’t even have muscles.

Bad Advice from the NHS Couch to 5K Podcast

Logo for the NHS Couch to 5K podcast.The injury I am most upset about is the medial gastrocnemius tear from running. Before it happened I was a great fan of the NHS C25K podcast and was really enjoying learning to run.

I loved the physicality of it, having to lift my entire body weight off the ground, the sense of speed compared to walking, panting for breath, sweating, and afterwards the sheer exhilaration and flow of energy.

The last time I attempted running as part of my Fit by Fifty plan I ended up with groin strain as a result of trying to do too much too soon. So this time I thought I was going about it the right way by repeating each week of the C25K podcast twice so that I could build up extra slowly and not injure myself.

Unfortunately, in the Week 2 podcast, Laura, who narrates the podcast, came up with the following advice: ‘When you’re running make sure your heel hits the ground first, not the ball or side of your foot. This will considerably reduce the chance of picking up an injury.’

No, Laura, no! You’ve got it all wrong.

I did think that was a bit odd at the time as the bit of research I’d done on running advised against heel strikes and said it was better to land mid-foot.

However, I thought that if this was an NHS podcast, Laura must know what she’s talking about, and so I made sure to land on my heel. Big mistake.

Heel Strike and Medial Gastrocnemius Tear

By the end of that run/walk session my calf muscle was very painful. Running was out of the question for three weeks while I rested it. The next time I ran, I decided to do all I could to avoid landing on my heels. Instead I aimed to land ball of foot first. Big mistake number two.

According to my physiotherapist, that is the worst thing I could have done. My medial gastrocnemius would have been pulled one way, was not properly rehabilitated, and suddenly I was forcing it to move in the opposite direction.

I have since learned that when running, the best thing to do is not to think about where your foot is landing. Everyone is different and has a different innate style, so you should just do what comes naturally. The minute you start trying to change it, is when injuries happen.

By the end of that run my medial gastrocnemius was well and truly torn and my running ‘career’ was over.

Since then, every time I mention wanting to get back into running to my physiotherapist he tells me it’s a ‘bad idea’ and the worst thing I could possibly do. His mantra is ‘running is a sport’, in other words it’s not something to be taken lightly.

Fit by Fifty Exercise Programme

When he asked me what being Fit by Fifty entailed, I said I wanted to be able to run five kilometres, or three miles, three times a week. His reply was, ‘No, no, no.’

While some people seem to be built to run and have no problems, my physiotherapist spends a lot of his time treating people with running injuries. He said that running has a detrimental effect on the body, especially a body like mine, and I’m likely to have lots of injuries. I’m better off cycling.

An ideal exercise/fitness programme for me would involve:

  • Gym workout 2x a week that includes 5-10 minutes running on the treadmill. Every now and then I can increase it to 30 minutes.
  • A Yoga or Pilates class 1x a week to build core strength
  • A 5km run on a Sunday. Run no more than once a week.

So, where does that leave me as far as trying to be Fit by Fifty is concerned? Well, not very fit for a start. I seem to have spent a large part of the last few months doing mostly rehabilitation exercises for my rotator cuff and now my calf. I am now the proud owner of Thera-Bands in every colour of the rainbow.

Rolfing

Recently, I started a course of Rolfing sessions. Rolfing is a form of bodywork and movement training that reorganizes the connective tissues, called fasciae. Fasciae surround the muscles, binding some groups of muscles together and allowing others to slide smoothly over each other.

Over time the fasciae can become tight and pull the muscles out of alignment. Through a form of really deep and sometimes painful tissue massage, Rolfing releases the fasciae and this helps to realign and balance the whole body. The aim is to help people have better posture, fewer aches and pains, greater flexibility, more energy and greater ease in their bodies.

It sounds like just the thing I need at the moment for all my aches and pains and I’m excited about experiencing the Rolfing process. I’ll write more about it in a future post.

Learning to Listen to my Body

If I am going to be Fit by Fifty (and there’s just over a year to go), I clearly need a different approach. Perhaps my view on what it means to be Fit by Fifty needs to change for a start. While I would love to be able to run, it seems it’s not for me. So, it’s back to walking and doing gentle forms of exercise.

If nothing else, the past few months have been an exercise in learning to listen to my body. It seems that once again I’ve become deaf to its screams of pain and agony. Instead I’ve persisted in doing what my mind thinks is right for it and then been angry with the resulting injuries.

With the Rolfing and my new approach to being Fit by Fifty, I am hoping that I can realign and balance my body and put the Fab back into being Fit and Fab by Fifty.

If you’ve experienced anything similar on your journey towards fitness and/or your fifties I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment in the box below.

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