Diagnosed with my fifth type of tendinitis in nine years, I suspected something other than oops was in play. Meaning, nobody serially injures their biceps tendon, Achilles, outer elbow, thumb and both knee tendons unless they are a high-powered athlete. I am not. Sure, I’m getting older, but it felt suspiciously as though my body were ticking in distress around something, like the hands of a clock. I have a useful nugget, if you can bear with me through a few hundred words.
I began to ask for help. Such a brilliant strategy. So many of us neglect to do this, seduced by our own competence. Just me?
I saw two orthopedists; they like to operate and one told me so outright at 7:30 one morning, saying he was a hand surgeon who spent his days tending to patients who’d done stupid things and persisted in doing stupid things that he could not fix in the operating room. OK then.
I went to PT, but they specialize in specific body areas, and my issues have been systemic. This last time, when my left thumb freaked out and began to “pop” with pain when bent, and my knees started to burn on the treadmill, I went to a physical medicine doctor, got another referral to PT, and insisted on telling her my whole sorry saga. She listened.
But she specialized in the lower body. While it’s nice to be back to squats and leg lifts, and I can feel myself regaining strength, it wasn’t enough.
So I told my friend who used to do PT, and she listened too. She thought it wasn’t my thumb only, or my elbow, but more to do with how I used my rotator cuff. Insight, in bits and pieces. Aha.
Finally, my daughter referred me to a Pilates instructor/kinesiologist. She told me the following, and I’m still reeling,
- Small motor muscles use a completely different part of the brain than gross motor
- If you’re typing or doing other small motor things, take a minute to transition before moving to gross motor
- We tend to prioritize our thoughts over our movements, and we will rely on muscle memory to do repetitive tasks so our brains can keep nattering away. If you’ve been engaged in small motor activities and you don’t pay attention, the small motor muscles may carry a disproportionate degree of your subsequent efforts. Aha. I often pick up a teakettle without even processing the action
- Our nervous system doesn’t mean just neuron to neuron, i.e. thought to muscle, we have “proprioceptors,” described in Wikipedia as: “Proprioceptors can form reflex circuit.s with motor neurons to provide rapid feedback about body and limb position.” These are often known as the sixth sense, i.e. they tell us where our body is, not just what’s around it reflecting light or making noise or whatever.
- Essentially, for me, before picking something up, stepping into a yoga position, or shrugging on a motorcycle jacket (that’s how I injured my biceps tendon, if you can believe it) this means, take a second or two to feel what you’re doing before you do it. Feel your feet on the floor, feel the teapot in your fingers, feel where your arms are.
Then, once you’ve let your senses, including your proprioceptors, tell you what is needed, you can call on your big muscles to pull their weight. Literally.
This is life-altering. I’ve always relied on a) my brain’s ability to build conceptual models quickly and b) my physical capacity to explode, hurry and endure. Thinking about one thing while doing another, as quickly as possible. Conceptual model to brute strength, and back again. Highly rational to strong emotion. And back. Little to nothing in between.
It’s natural to use what we’re good at, but our strengths may fray. It’s time in later life, and a luxury, to give the rest of our being a place in the meadow. In the sun even.
Have a beautiful weekend, peaceful or thrilling, you decide. If you have hints, I’m always listening.