My performance in bed

I woke about 20 minutes before my alarm this morning. There’s no point trying to get back to sleep in that situation – I’ll just lie there thinking “my alarm is about to go off“, until it does. So I got up, and was pleased to note that the weather bureau had been overly pessimistic (80% chance of rain, they had predicted) and in fact the rain radar was pretty clear. Because of my hamstring tendon problem I’m not walking much these days, but I was up early so I decided to walk slowly as far as I could go along the route of the Night Ride bus and get on the bus at a stop further along the route than the stop where I normally catch it. After I’d been walking about 30 minutes the algorithm in my Polar activity tracking watch clearly decided that I was not going back to bed, and it vibrated and flashed this message

I guess I knew it was less sleep than preferred, but the device did also give more data about the continuity of my sleep. Only five disturbances:

And the heart rate variations during that time:

Just before midnight I got up to go to the toilet, but this didn’t seem too disruptive to my sleep and my heart rate continued its slowing trajectory to reach the lowest level in the day (55) just before I got up. That’s the good thing about being really tired – my ‘sleep time’ is nearly always efficient.

I’ve only recently started wearing this Polar device, which monitors heart rate as well as movements. The thought has occurred to me that if my heart trouble worsens and I have a fatal heart attack, my Polar device might record the last moments of my life. I’d like to see that!

 

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Belinda says ‘jump’, I ask ‘how high’?

Months ago my daughter told me how much she enjoyed listening to Brad Beer’s podcast, The Physical Performance Show.  I listened to a couple of episodes, but I guess I wasn’t sufficiently performance oriented at the time to keep it up. I mostly chose classical music instead to accompany my running. Actually, I haven’t been doing much running at all, largely due to sustaining a couple of vertebral osteoporotic fractures in late 2016.  I was surprised that I had osteoporosis. After all, I’d been active my whole life  and consumed a lot of calcium when I was younger.  Anyway,  now I am a vegan I thought I’d better start calcium and vitamin D supplements, and hope that maybe that would help restore my vertebral bone strength. I also decided to put on some weight (I heard once that obesity offers the best protection against bone loss).

When I started to become more active and begin running again this year, my proximal hamstring tendinopathy returned and I had to do stair climbing as my mode of exercise. To relieve the boredom of going up and down 11 flights of stairs, I listen to podcasts. My daughter, who knows about my osteoporosis (and is probably sick of hearing about my health woes), told me that her old friend Brad Beer had recently  hosted a podcast episode featuring bone scientist Professor Belinda Beck. Not expecting too much, I decided to see what Professor Beck had to say on the topic.

Wow! I was really surprised at what a good interviewee she is. For me, anyway, she pitched her message at just the right level.  She obviously has great expertise, but also a wonderful ability to summarise the current research literature on bone health to a message relevant to Physical Performance Show listeners. Interestingly for me, she spoke about how a chronic energy deficit (e.g. from  running a lot and not eating enough to make up the energy loss) can lead to osteoporosis in even the most active person. I think this has been my problem.

Right at the end of the show, as I climbed the building for the last time, Brad Beer asked Prof Beck to follow his usual practice and set a challenge to listeners. In one sentence, what should listeners do to implement her research findings in their daily lives? “Take the stairs!” said Professor Belinda Beck, as I climbed up the last flight up to level 13! “Yes!“, I gloated, “I’m doing that right now.” But Belinda followed up “And when you’re going down stairs, jump, landing on both feet.

OK, Belinda, I’m up for it. Not sure how high I should be jumping, but I decided to jump down the last two stairs of every flight from now on. Not just in my morning half hour of stair climbing exercise, but every time I go down every set of stairs I encounter. Starting now.

stair-jump

 

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One step forwards, two steps back

Back in November 2015 I was doing a lot of running and I developed a painful condition affecting the connecting point between my left hamstrings and my pelvis: Proximal Hamstring Tendinopathy (PHT). I had to stop running altogether (and even stop walking any distance) and it took around 9 months until I could start running again (June 2016). Unfortunately, it wasn’t long after I started running that I sustained osteoporotic fractures of two vertebrae, then found I had cancer, and a heart condition. Eventually, after surgery then recovery, I got back to doing some running, but then had another lower hamstring injury and knee problems that forced me back to walking and even catching the bus. While walking I re-developed left hip pain. I thought this was ‘just’ arthritis, but I now believe it’s the PHT back again.

The only exercise I can do which doesn’t seem to exacerbate the PHT is stair-climbing. So I catch the Night Ride bus to work, then spend half an hour walking up and down the stairs between level 2 and level 13.

The most depressing aspect of this health reversal is that the PHT re-developed when I was doing not much exercise at all. My mother is in a wheelchair due to joint and muscle issues – I wonder what my future holds.

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Not giving up – yet

The arthritis in my left hip joint has stopped me from doing any running for the past 4 weeks.  I have no idea why it chose October 2017 to get significantly worse.

Yesterday, when I was walking to work, I tripped, and although I thought nothing of it at the time, it was apparent in the evening that I had traumatized my big toe – perhaps the metacaro-phalangeal joint?

Looks very bruised so there’s obviously been bleeding internally somewhere, but it’s not painful.

Despite not doing any running for the past month, my arthritis symptoms have shown very little improvement. Today I decided, however, that I was not prepared to give up running quite yet. I decided to run the last 1 km of my pre-breakfast walk, finishing along The Goods Line:

So far, (now 5 hours later) neither my toe nor my hip are complaining too much. Maybe I’ll try the same thing tomorrow?

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Romantic vision, dead

Back in autumn I had a vision, sparked by memories from my childhood. I recalled that my parents used to grow sweet peas and we’d often have a vase of sweet peas in the house during spring. I have have retained a great fondness for them since that time. I had the idea that I would re-create that fond memory and grow a batch of sweet peas myself. I imagined a vase of brightly coloured sweet peas on my mother’s old dining table, which now lives at our place.

I also remembered that my mother used to have a kitchen garden, where she always had a good crop of mint, chives and perhaps parsley. If a recipe called for mint we’d just pick what we needed from the garden, rather than paying $2 for a bunch of mint from the greengrocer and throwing 3/4 of it away.

So I set up a chicken wire trellis and planted the sweet pea seeds, and I bought a nice healthy pot of mint and planted it outside the back door.

I now realise that project was doomed from the start. It’s now well into spring and this is what the thirteen sweet pea seeds have become:


Pathetic, isn’t it? And the once-healthy mint has been eaten and doesn’t look like it will provide enough leaf for my dinner plate for a long time, if ever. I suspect that my mother’s garden productivity was actually due to lots of continuous work, done quietly by my father.

So I ripped out the sweet peas and mint and tore down the chicken wire trellis, so I wouldn’t be constantly reminded of my foolishness.

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The varieties of degeneration

I ran the whole 10 km distance to work on Monday. It felt OK. The knee pain I thought might be osteoarthritis, or could be coming from the medial meniscus, was under control with paracetamol and didn’t seem to be worsened by the run. I’m now regretting that run.

Today I caught the Night Ride bus to the north end of town and walked the remaining distance down to Rat City in the south end of Sydney.

I am now quite convinced that my knee pain is not osteoarthritis (which may benefit from activity, and even pushing through the pain), but is actually a damaged, degenerated meniscus – with an initial period of rest being perhaps the best treatment approach at this stage. My right knee is OK, but the left is quite sore with only a moderate level of use, and is even sore at rest sometimes.

More significantly, on Monday afternoon the slight intermittent heel pain I had felt over the weekend, turned into a consistent troubling pain, which seems to originate from the point of attachment of the fibres of the Achilles tendon. I have had Achilles tendon troubles in the past and I am very wary of doing anything that might exacerbate the condition.

So between  the left knee and the right Achilles I really need to keep my activity to a low level to allow some recovery and (hopefully) healing and pain reduction to occur. I will try keeping up small amounts of gentle walking, but I think I’ll be using the Night Ride bus quite a lot in the next few weeks.

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Going the whole distance

I saw my GP, Dr M, yesterday – for a new annual referral to my cancer doctor and a renewal of the prescription for the drug I hope will prevent a heart attack. As I was leaving, I mentioned that my knees had become quite painful recently, “Osteoarthritis I suppose“. Dr M said that if it is osteoarthritis, I need to try to maintain strength, mobility and activity as long as possible, because prosthetic knee joints will only last about 15 years.

That was an optimistic statement from one perspective. The suggestion is that my cancer and heart disease might hold off long enough for me to wear out a pair of prosthetic knees.

Later that day my knees were very sore, to the point where I felt a little reluctant to walk the dog that evening. I did take him out for his usual walk, however, and when I got home I examined my offending knees. It turned out that each knee had a particular palpable tender spot, and there was a remarkable similarity between left and right. The sore spot was right on the tibio-femoral joint line.

[my painful knees]

Maybe the pain is coming from the medial meniscus or medial collateral ligament? I wondered whether Bruce (the dog) is the cause of this problem. This knee pain has only become significant in the past few weeks since I have begun walking with him. And he does tend to force me to twist my knee as I follow his random meanderings and his strong pull.

So with this causation theory in mind, and Dr M’s warnings ringing in my ears, I dosed myself with lots of paracetamol and decided to make the most of this morning’s dog-free trip to work. For the first time in nearly a year, I ran the whole 10 km to work. Straight lines, no twisting. It felt OK.

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