These observations are offered for the benefit of anyone of bus-pass age who is getting annoying aches and pains and is attributing them to ‘age’ or the onset of arthritis….
A year or so ago my right hip was starting to become troublesome if I walked too much. Oh rats, I thought, replacement hip is obviously in the pipe line. Then my right knee started to become troublesome too – so troublesome that I could not squat and even bending was uncomfortable. So I took myself off to our wonderful local osteopath* – although to be honest, he is not really an osteopath in the ‘push-pull-click-crunch’ sense but a cross between an osteopath and an Alexander teacher. I am sure that has a name, but I do not know what it is.
‘I fear my hip is getting arthritic’ was my opener. He made no comment but stood me up before him and gently pushed and pulled at my stance.
‘Nothing wrong with your hip – but you are sitting wrongly at your computer.’ Eh?……
I use a mouse, a keyboard and a screen. I am right handed so the mouse was on the right. The comfortable position was to lean my left elbow on the desk and operate the the mouse with my right hand. But by doing so I was leaning my whole body to the left, thus putting a strain on my right hip which fed down into my right knee. They had put up with it for a number of years, but not being as flexible/tolerant as they used to be (since they too started drawing their pension) they were now complaining.
Solution? Move the mouse to the left of the keyboard. That meant that I could no longer lean on my left elbow thus annoying my right hip. And sure enough, over the next couple of months, both right knee and right hip stopped complaining and went back to doing their jobs quite peacefully and effectively.
But a few months ago I noticed that my left hip had started to complain and complain quite vociferously. Then, Goddammit, then my left knee started up. At which point I realised that, now that I was using the mouse on the left of my keyboard I was leaning on my right elbow and using the mouse with my left hand….. so had merely reversed the problem.
Solution on this occasion – and I worked this one out for myself – sit straight and do not lean on any elbows at all!!! And, like slow magic, over the next few weeks the left hip and the left knee stopped complaining and are now back to full functionality.
And finally……. Along with the dodgy left hip and knee I had had, for several months, had a really stiff neck. (I honestly did not look quite such wreck as I sound.) I had asked the osteopath about it but I think he was focused on the hip; I asked my good acupuncturist friend Barbara Hezelgrave about it and she duly needled it; I increased the number of useful rotating exercises that I did. But nothing seems to make any difference.
Then, about three weeks ago I was trudging around Hampstead Heath with the webmaster when he accused me of slouching – not standing straight and poking my head forward. I bridled – as one does – but realised that he had a point and that it was a long while since I had put that excellent Victorian deportment rule into practice – ‘draw yourself up throughout the ears and down through the eyes’.
Could, I wondered, this be the cause of my stiff neck? That I had been poking my head forward like a chicken instead of holding it upright ‘like as what I oughta’? So, since then I have been consciously ‘drawing myself up through the ears’ on any and every occasion – while walking round the heath, while drinking coffee, while sitting bolt upright, elbow-lean-free, at my desk. And, sure enough, although the neck is still not totally free, it is enormously less stiff and more flexible than it was a few weeks ago. So it would appear that its problems were also down to mal-usage as opposed to anything more organic.
And the point of this wandering tale?
As the body ages it becomes less flexible and therefore less accommodating. But that does not mean that it is falling apart or that it will not work perfectly efficiently. It just that, as with an old car or an old sewing machine, you have to be sure to use it properly and not abuse it.
So my advice to anyone who is creaking at the joints? Before visiting the doctor for non-steroidal anti-inflammatories or a referral to an arthritis consultant, try an Alexander teacher – or the lovely Ernest Keeling if you happen to live in north London. There may be nothing wrong with you other than the fact that you are sitting or walking crooked and, having put up with it for years, your body has finally decided to complain!
*Ernest Keeling – London NW3 – 020 7435 1740
13th August. John Scott suggests that, should my Alexander posture improving no long prove equal to the job, I might wish to take some hyaluronate sodium quoting this piece of research which suggests that it works a treat for dodgy arthritic knees!