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Friday, April 23, 2010

Peace with your Pain

Post provided by Barbara Bergin, MD

I’ve been an orthopedic surgeon in Austin for 23 years and as my practice and I have aged I have come to believe in a different set of rules and expectations for both me and my patients than I had when I first hung up my shingle. Here’s the bottom line: humans weren’t meant to last as long as we do. As an organism we just weren’t put together to stay around for 80 years. The average age of death for Americans is over 80.

Look at the archeological record. No one is finding fossils of old cavemen and cavewomen. Women died in childbirth. If a man sprained his ankle he was dinner for a bigger predator! People died when they were 20. We see these documentaries on octogenarians who run the Boston marathon or some little group of Japanese mountain people who look like they’re 40 when they’re 100, and we think we should be able to be like that. But what they don’t show you are the 10,000 people who tried to train for the Boston marathon and couldn’t because of stress fractures, iliotibial band syndrome and degenerative meniscus tears.

So, what’s my point here? Do I just not want to see any patients? No, I love to see patients. It’s what I do! But the point is…we’re hunter-gatherers, and were made to last about 20 years.
I find myself giving this lecture over and over to my many patients who suffer from degenerative disorders of their bones and joints, as well as those patients who suffer from repetitive strain disorders.

No cave man/woman ever lived long enough to suffer from greater trochanteric bursitis, shoulder rotator cuff impingement syndrome, plantar fasciitis or degenerative meniscus tears.
If it’s frustrating for me to treat some of these conditions, it is certainly frustrating for my patients to have them. I’ve personally experienced many of these repetitive strain conditions. Frankly we have to learn to have a certain level of peace with them. We have to look at pain from a different perspective. We’re lucky to have lived long enough to experience these conditions. If we are fortunate enough to be treated and saved from a heart attack, we may live long enough to experience some other disease. It could be a rotator cuff tear. It could be cancer.
Sometimes my patients ask, “Why am I having these problems? My grandparents and my parents didn’t have them!” There are several reasons for this:

-We may not inherit the same set of genes each of our parents had. Just as your eyes or your hair might not look exactly like either of your parents, your muscles, tendons and joints may not be the same either.

-We live differently than our parents and grandparents. As a whole, we are more active than our parents were. We started playing organized sports at a younger age. We do some crazy, harmful exercises our parents didn’t even think to do. We continued playing sports late into life. As a whole we are larger and heavier than our ancestors. And we live longer so unfortunately, we have longer to suffer!

-Our expectations are different than our forefather’s were. Our grandparents did not have an expectation of being treated and “cured” of their aches and pains. So why complain? Why go to the doctor? Everyone tells us that we can be cured. There is treatment. And there is! But because of that, we have an expectation of wellness and therefore we complain.

You will most certainly be able to think of a situation which contradicts my analysis. My parents are both in great shape and they’re out tango dancing without an ache or pain. Well, in my most educated opinion…that’s just good luck…for me and for them!

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