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Hamstrung by the Hamstrings by Carolyn Donovan

The thing about getting older – and I mean into my forties, not my seventies – is that things start aching. While it’s true that some of my cells may be different, my body is still the same. I still have good parts and bad parts, but the disparity is wider nowadays. The repetitive and incorrectly performed tasks, the (slight) abuse of the body, the bio-mechanical failings, it’s all beginning to show up.

Are you sitting down?

I have been sitting for about 17 years, and now that my office is in my house, I am sitting longer in one, uh, sitting, than I have in the past. In high school you had to go from classroom to classroom, in a “real” office you had to go to meetings and the coffee machine, but here in my office, all my meetings are on the phone, my commute is all of 6 seconds, and everything I need is in reach.

But sitting has begun to wear me out. Until I finally broke down and bought a really good office chair (an Aeron on eBay), I sat in a wobbly, cheap “office chair" that made my legs go numb from the pressure of the edge of the chair against my thighs (it’s not called a “secretary’s chair" because the chair had arms and those chairs don't; apparently secretaries all have excellent posture and know how to sit ergonomically). After sitting down for oh, 12 hours, I’d be worn out. I would be so worn out from sitting that I’d have to lie down.

I learned to do the Hokie-Pokie in this chair...

Go ahead, walk a mile in my shoes

And then there’s the feet. I was diagnosed with flat feet in fourth grade, which didn’t seem like anything back then: I mean (and that’s the fourth grade me), feet are feet. The school doctor told my mother I should wear tie-shoes and get supports. I told my mother I wasn’t wearing ugly shoes. My mother told my father we didn’t have money for special shoes (it was either the special shoes or the newly-needed eyeglasses). And thus a major fashion battle was averted.

Mom, I don't care how cheap they are, I'm not wearin' 'em!

My high-school years coincided with the height of disco, when you needed four colors of eye shadow and three colors of eyeliner just to look normal. We wore dresses with high heels – high, high heels. I once missed the bus on Sunday and walked half a mile in those heels to get the other bus. Ah, young feet, they recover fast.

And the Truth shall set you free

It wasn’t until my (late) 30’s did I realize that something was actually wrong with me, and it came as both a relief and a shock. Wan and I went to London for a long weekend. We toured the Tower of London, and since it's at London Bridge, we decided to walk over the bridge to the other side.

We should've taken a taxicab

I was worn out by the time we got across, and sank wearily onto a bench. Wan was very kind, and was happy to get us Flake cones from the sweets vendor. My knees were aching, my hips hurt, and my feet were on fire. I looked at all the other people flittering about, and had the following conversation with Wan:

“Do these people just brave it out better than me?”

"Brave out what?"

“The pain, the pain you get with walking.”

“It doesn’t hurt to walk, Carolyn.”

“Yes it does, Wan.”

“Only for you.”

Hallelujah! There’s something wrong with me! Oh crap, there’s something wrong with me.

My flat feet caused pronation, which means the weight of my body is not spread across my feet but is borne on the inside, which caused my knees over-extend, which caused my hip bones to slightly turn out, which caused no end of aches and pains. I know this now, but I didn’t really know this then, although if you told me that I would have said “By jove, I think you’ve got it!”

My combination prize is not a washer/dryer

The flat feet and the sitting and the aging were an achy combination. Last week, one of my knees stopped working. I could bend it, but I couldn’t straighten it. I hobbled around like Tiny Tim without his crutch. I was sure it was a bone chip. Just to be on the safe side, I asked my cousin Karen, who’s a physical therapist, to come over and see what she could see.

In a nutshell, my lifestyle has shortened my hamstrings. Hamstrings are attached to the knee, and my hamstrings were pulling at my knee so much they were pulling things out of whack.

Her suggestion? Stretching. She showed me some stretches specifically for lengthening hamstrings. Know what? They worked. Immediately, and with complete success. It was the damndest thing.

Now I've just to find me a good pair of tie shoes...

I suppose I could tie them TO my feet, would that count?


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