Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Pain of Spring

I posted on Monday about pruning our storm-damaged flowering plum. On Tuesday I posted about cutting back our fountain grass. Total time spent on those two projects: about four hours. Total hours of back, hip, shoulder, ankle, foot, and “other” pain: about 24 hours.

As I mentioned near the end of the second posting, by the end of the fourth hour “this Ancient Gardener was aching here, there, and just about everywhere.”

Yes, an acetaminophen tablet helped. The pain was gone in about 24 hours, though some stiff muscles remained a few more days.

What’s with the pain of spring these days? It seems to be getting worse. Is spring so much different than it was 30 or 40 years ago, when I worked eight hours a day in the yard and hardly thought about it?

Why more pain now?

Global warming? Hardly.

Are plants growing closer to the ground so I have to bend more? Hardly.

Am I 40 years older now?

Well, yes, that’s likely the reason. I bend easily—but then don’t stand again so quickly. I stoop easily—but sometimes have to use a shovel handle to gain the perpendicular stance I’d like. If Weed A and Weed B are four feet apart, sometimes I find that a crawl between the two is more efficient and less time consuming than standing and walking the two steps.

Ok, age is a factor we all face. As children, we dreamed of being “old”—or at least “older.” In our 20s and 30s age seemed all but irrelevant. In our 40s and 50s we watched our parents age but didn’t take it too seriously ourselves. In our 60s and 70s, well, we graying adults bought back braces and bottles of pain-killing tablets and learned to crawl again, at least from weed to weed.

To state the obvious, age, like weeds, comes naturally. No one is exempt. We exercise regularly. We watch our diets—at least keep an eye on the chocolate-covered almonds. We keep a bottle of acetaminophens in the kitchen cabinet. We try to remember to wear our back braces. We learn to use our hoes more efficiently, rather than bending low to snatch a weed from under a tomato plant. We do the heavy stuff just an hour or so, rather than all day.

And we seriously begin thinking of the time when we should perhaps hire a landscaper to do some of the heavy work. We decide to let the deer take over a stand of viburnum shrubs, rather than our building a fence to protect them.

Age. It’s coming to a body near you—to somebody you know—in fact, to you.

As I’ve started living in my eighth decade, I’m tuning in more to the realism in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. From time to time I use Chapter 3 as a springboard to create paraphrases that speak directly to me:

There is a time for everything:
A time to be born,
And a time to die;
A time to plant,
And a time to mulch;
A time to harvest,
And a time to uproot;
A time for back pain,
And a time for an aspirin or two;
A time to hire out the work,
And supervise from the porch
With peace of mind, muscle, and soul.


  1. Oh, Bob, how I relate to all you said, and love your new take on old biblical words.

    Now, I'm mid-sixth decade, and also try to "ward off" aging by diet, exercise, etc., and have adapted to getting old by the regime you mentioned. Though, actually, it's being out in the yard and garden, my being in the sunshine and fresh air which help so much, and knowing I'm corroborating with God in the refreshing of plants and tending what He grows.

    Okay. I've found ibuprofen works best for muscle aches, as it has a direct effect on reducing inflammation and relaxing smooth muscle. Add to that a deep massage of aching muscles with Myoflex cream, and application of a heating pad, or maybe a soak in a hot tub with Epsom salts (magnesium, another natural relaxant).

    Another thing helping with prevention of painful joints, is doing regular joint flexibility and muscle strengening exercises.A trainer may be needed to find the right ones for you. Plus drinking lots of water, staying well hydrated helps, for all joints are cushioned in a fluid.
    If a joint is "weak" from a former injury, wear a brace which can be purchased at a pharmacy.

    Now, this all comes from personal experience, my background as an RN, and reading a lot.
    Enjoy your spring planting and pruning!

  2. Yes, Ellen and I exercise regularly either here at home or at the fitness room/gym at the community center. We watch our diets (Ellen's better at that than I am)and try to live an overall healthy lifestyle. We're hoping for the best when it comes to age and bones and muscles--and hoping to keep a high quality of life. But with all the good things, still "age" advances on us one day at a time. Yes, despite "age," I plan on enjoying spring planting and pruning! I hope you do too.