I don’t always win!

I get told many of my audience see me as an inspiration. This is a lovely compliment and I really appreciate it. The recognition actually helps keep me motivated to keep doing movement as medicine to manage my own medical condition/(s).

Having said that, not everything goes according to plan. I think it is appropriate I share the dippy things I do as well as the things that go well!

Today was a dippy day. I had a plan for the day. Around 10 am have two sets of bloods done. For the curious among you, one set was for thyroid function as I recently started Thyroxine. Some years ago I swallowed radioactive iodine and as a consequence, sooner or later I was going to go hypoactive. I was lucky, I got a few years before that happened! The time has come. The second test was to meet the PBS regulatory requirements for the authority necessary to continue a biologic treatment for my psoriatic arthritis.

At 10:30 I had a GP appointment scheduled. Then my plan was off to the gym for weights. Saturday was weights, Sunday was swimming, yesterday (Monday) was an active rest day (walked 4 kms and hit goal of 7,500 steps). So back to weights today. Then I realised that was not a great plan as I was having blood tests – and that means no lifting heavy things afterwards. Hmmmm. OK, compromise, I’ll do just lower body stuff, I thought to myself. Yes, if you are wondering, I wear a mask when doing weights.

Warmed up on the treadmill. Did leg press, leg extensions, back extensions, hamstring curls, single leg push back. Couldn’t do the seated row, of course, or get on the rowing machine. Did not feel as if I’d done enough and wasn’t keen on getting back on the treadmill. Stationary bike? Nuh, not today. The elliptical machines were standing there looking rather unloved so I decided, not having been on an elliptical machine for WELL OVER 10 YEARS (and I was never a fan of them in the first place), I decided I’d just do five minutes to “top up” my workout.

At the 1 minute 30 second mark (this is me we are talking about, I time EVERYTHING for pacing purposes) my quads were telling me they were not at all impressed with this sudden change to their routine. At this point I thought, “OK, three minutes will do this time”.

At two minutes I hit the stop button. Of course, what has happened NOW is I have decided I must pace up on the elliptical machine, haven’t I? I have no desire to become an Olympic candidate by any means, I’ll be happy with five minutes!

After my recent experience with the screwing of 48 screws with a manual screwdriver, where I subsequently needed to resort to Prednisolone (brief, one day only needed – phew) and a wrist brace, I wasn’t about to overdo the elliptical machine (after a more than 10 year sabbatical). I’d learnt my lesson. Now, why I never applied the pacing logic to screwing things, I have no idea. I know better: excitement at building stuff overrode my thought processes! It happens! But really, *rolls eyes at self* I know full well my wrists are involved in my psoriatic arthritis. I have a special mouse, for that very reason!

I also fitted in my second ‘flu vaccine for the year – one of the joys of being immunosuppressed. Just thought I should finish on a positive note!

Never forget to pace.

I Have Retired. Should You?

I’ve been very quiet on Limberation because I’ve been extremely busy. I’ve retired and moved. BIG life change it is too!

My plan was to keep working until I was 70. My body has been saying, “Maybe not”. Not that I am in constant pain, I’m not. And I want to stay that way. Regular readers will have noticed my articles about energy use and pacing. Two very important aspects to managing my condition and retaining my mobility, function and independence.

By April of this year I had reached the point where I was seriously considering how long I could keep working. It seemed I didn’t have enough energy to work AND exercise enough: #MovementIsMedicine. Of course, simply getting older plays a part in this as well and there is not a lot I can do about the passage of time.

When my name came up on the right list for retirement housing (yes, I had been planning ahead, I was on waiting lists) I made the decision. Retirement was the way to go. The decision involved a lot of work though – energy I really was struggling to find. Writing was definitely put on the backburner. Working through phasing me out of my position in a job I love. Organising the actual move – and the move date got moved twice, just to complicate matters. The move also meant downsizing and that was work. I am typing this on my dining table, not my very large corner desk with a return on each side that I used to have! Packing took more energy. To top it off I got a temperature that hung around for six weeks and towards the end of that six weeks, a tooth infection. The temperature involved a lot of blood tests, some CT scans and several doctors visits. More energy needed. We now think the temperature and the tooth were connected, but initially I didn’t have any tooth pain, therefore we didn’t realise.

It wasn’t just me either. My brother-in-law was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer, my nephew needed stents and my daughter and her husband got Covid-19. There was an attempted identity theft/fraud on an account of mine which had to be sorted as well – I caught it as it was happening, so no losses. Everything was happening at once.

Back to why I retired. I used to be able to walk before work, walk at lunch time and walk after work. I was struggling to find the energy to get dressed before work, let alone walk before work. This wasn’t good for the management of my psoriatic arthritis. I wasn’t being consistent in my exercise either. My weight training had dropped to once a week – I was not happy about that. As a result I was experiencing an increasing number of minor flares and I didn’t want any major flares! I had already cut my working hours from 30 hours per week to 24 hours per week, but the days I worked I was still struggling to do the movement I need, therefore I was losing the consistency.

It seemed if I did the exercise and physical therapy I need to do, I was too tired to work, and if I worked, I was too tired to maintain my exercise regime. Maintaining my health as best as I possibly can is critical to quality of life. I love working, but it reached the point where I could no longer have my cake and eat it too.

Should those of us with chronic conditions make this decision earlier if we can? It is a huge decision. There are the financial implications of course. There may be housing implications as well. The age pension age keeps getting further and further away……. The disability pension (for younger patients) is almost unattainable these days. Women around my age may not have a lot of super (if any) due to the particular decades we worked through, there was no paid maternity leave for many of us and so on.

Yet more and more of the population live with chronic conditions of some sort. We have to make hard decisions about how we manage our lives. I became eligible for the age pension the year before I finally bit the bullet and retired. I am still working as a casual for my employer but minimal hours.

I believe I have made the right decision for my health. Without health, other aspects of our life may suffer: relationships, work, mental health to name just three. Do we try to “keep going” too long, or longer than we should? I’m thinking not just of now, but in ten years time. I want to give myself the best chance of minimising deterioration NOW so I can maintain quality of life in my seventies and eighties. We need to look ahead, not just at tomorrow or next week. Our modern medications, as fantastic as they are, don’t solve everything.

What am I going to do with all this “spare” time? Naturally, I’ve set myself some physical goals: swimming, weight training, walking goals. I will pace up to those goals. Find more unusual flowers!

I will write more. I will get back to my parking permit project. I will finish unpacking, cull my shoe collection.

Paint my nails! Of course!

This first week of full retirement has been psychologically challenging. I hadn’t had time to really prepare myself for the change of lifestyle and then there it was, happening. My advice would be if you can plan ahead, do so.

So that is it. I am retired. A different phase of life.

Bring it on!

(Mostly) No Pain is FANTASTIC!

A few of my recent articles have been quite serious, so it is time to celebrate progress! After starting my new medication on January 14, 2022 I am happy to report I’m functional again! Friday I started Week 7 of my new medication and I very pleased with progress. Let’s hope it keeps working!

Readers may recall my list of painful bits from I Sat in My Care and I Cried. It was a pretty long list.

What was painful?

  • Shoulders
  • Ankles
  • All Toes
  • Left hip
  • Elbows
  • Wrists
  • Most fingers
  • Hands
  • Knees (yes, even the operated knee felt swollen, but not painful, the right was painful)
  • Neck
  • TMJ (jaw joint)
  • Left Achilles Tendon
  • I also had some plantar fasciitis

Today I can happily report all of that list has resolved except the shoulders and the plantar fasciitis. While I was on Prednisolone and the new medication together, the shoulders and the plantar fasciitis were barely noticeable, but as I tapered off the Prednisolone both reappeared. The plantar fasciitis is minor, only noticeable when I first get out of bed in the morning and hopefully will continue to improve the longer I am on the new medication.

The shoulders I am not so sure about. At my age and with prior injuries, I suspect the root cause of the shoulders may not be psoriatic arthritis (although it is undoubtedly not helping). The right shoulder is the worst of the two and that is the shoulder that has in the past suffered a torn rotator cuff. I’m doing lots of remedial exercises which will hopefully improve the situation (I’ll admit to letting those lapse while I was battling everything else). It is time to focus.

Other than that it is great to be able to do all these things again, pain free:

  • Fasten my bra (shoulders are at least allowing that)
  • Hold my full coffee cup in one hand (wrists)
  • Get out of bed without mobility aids (crutches or walking stick)
  • Sit down and stand up without immense difficulty (quads & glutes weren’t firing)
  • Be able to clench my fists (no, I’m not planning on using my fists!)
  • Turn taps on and off without pain (fingers & wrists)
  • WALK!!!!! (mainly ankles, although right knee & left hip had spasmodically interrupted)

That is not an exhaustive list, of course, but hopefully sufficiently illustrative! Functionally, I am almost back to (my version of) normal. I’ve been to the gym and done some hydrotherapy.

The only downside seems to be lethargy. I am quite tired. This may be temporary and may be due to my body adjusting to the new medication, the (tapered) cessation of Prednisolone and quite simply normal life things such as work-related stress. In order to give my body the best chance I have negotiated with my employer to drop my working hours to 24 hours per week. Initially this is for a temporary period of six months and then we will reassess.

The tiredness could possibly be my thyroid firing back up, although based on my last ultrasound we doubt that. Even so, that fact I do have an unhealthy thyroid cannot be overlooked. I’m due for monitoring checks again in April. I was, I gather, a little unusual as a radioactive iodine recipient. Many patients’ thyroid function becomes hypoactive after the treatment but mine never (not yet anyway) did. Both hypoactive (underactive) and hyperactive (overactive) thyroid conditions can result in tiredness/lethargy. Mine, theoretically, could go either way!

I am very concerned about the lack of strength training I have done over recent months as retaining muscle strength really is very important with this and many other arthritic conditions. However, I can’t rush back, I need to pace up again. That is part of the reason for reducing my working hours.

The shoulders, particularly the right one, may be being exacerbated by typing and mouse use. This is something that will also be reduced by reducing my working hours. Of course my bank account is NOT going to like less income, but that is simply a fact of life for those of us with chronic conditions: we have to make our bodies a higher priority than our finances, otherwise we end up with no finances at all as we lose the ability to work.

Overall, pretty darn happy! Of course, there are no guarantees. I’ll just enjoy the improvements while I have them! This gives me space to concentrate on rehabilitating the grumpy shoulders. I’m seeing my myotherapist regularly at the moment to assist.

Concurrent objective is to rid myself of the weight gain from the Prednisolone – there’s always something!

If you are interested in the fascia of the body, this is a great video! This is related to my seeking myotherapy treatment at the moment. More on this another day.

I’m Not Lazy

Neither are YOU lazy. The title above is stolen, with permission, from a social media contact’s tweet.

We’re not lazy, nor are we responsible for other people’s expectations of what THEY think we should or shouldn’t be able to do. Sidenote: often those expectations are based on our appearance. Refer to You Look So Healthy! for more on that.

There are four other articles you may like to browse as background material to this article:

One of the challenges we face is helping people understand the whole energy availability thing many of us struggle with. In the conversation related to the above tweet, J told me she had mowed the lawns, done the edging, walked the dog and cooked dinner. J has the same disease I do, psoriatic arthritis (PsA). While I don’t know or understand the specific expressions of many other chronic conditions, this is one I do understand. J couldn’t see me, but if she could have, my eyes nearly popped out of their sockets.

Other conditions can be very similar, but I will stick with the disease I know for illustrative purposes today.

On a great note, for PsA management, J had certainly been moving. Movement is Medicine! However, J had probably used up more spoons or internal battery than she had available. All that in one day would cost her later, as she well knows from experience.

Society conditions us, well before we get sick, as we are growing up: doing our share, work ethic, earn our way. We then place expectations on ourselves. We don’t want to be sick, we don’t want to let others down by not doing our bit. In the first few years, of course, in the back of our minds we think it is temporary. To understand a bit more on that, you may like to read Will Society Adapt? When? How? Even we ourselves have to adapt to our new normal.

PsA is a very odd disease. At its worst for me, I can wake up in the morning with painful feet, ankles, knees, wrists, fingers; maybe even throw shoulders and neck in on a particularly bad day. I may have to use crutches to get around first thing in the morning. I’ll be unable to turn a tap on. Can’t lift the electric jug, struggle to open the coffee jar. Put on a bra? Are you kidding? Pull on tracksuit pants? Yeah, right. That sort of thing. About 11:30 am I’ll be fine. Virtually pain free. My body will have de-solidified. I’ll head out for a walk, go to the gym and do a weight training session. Sadly 160 kg leg presses aren’t happening any more, but maybe again one day…….. I am a completely different physical specimen at 4 pm than I am at 7 am. I saw my Plan B GP on Tuesday (Plan A was away), who hadn’t seen me for probably a year. She said “You look great!” This was 6:30 pm. I said to her, “You didn’t see me at 7 am!”

This can be VERY difficult for our friends, colleagues and family to understand. You need rest but you also need to go to the gym? That doesn’t make sense! Actually it does make sense and the reasons why are discussed in more detail in the above linked articles, so I won’t repeat myself.

We know, we can see it in their eyes. The doubt. The lack of comprehension of the situation.

We know people think we are just being lazy (at best) or hypochondriacs (at worst). J is right, it is VERY exhausting to be constantly explaining it to people, yet we know if we don’t explain it, if we don’t share the knowledge, social understanding and acceptance will never happen. We use analogies: spoons, internal batteries, even daisy petals. Over time our nearest and dearest do start to understand. If they want to.

If we live by the rules of pacing our activities and energy consumption, many of us can achieve a fantastic very nice quality of life, given our disease. The problem is, to OTHER people our rules can make us look lazy in their eyes – or at least that is how we can feel.

I work six hours a day. I have just entered my eighth year of having PsA, so I’ve had time and practice to build my personal pacing skills. Even so, I still feel guilty some days that I’m not “doing my fair share” at work. I have to lecture myself along the lines of this is what I MUST do or I won’t be able to work at all. I did try full-time for a while in 2019/2020 – it was WAY too much. Recently, we had a systems issue at work. That day I worked ten hours – I was petrified I was going to crash before we solved the problem. Thankfully, I didn’t, but those feelings and fears are what we live with every day. We don’t need to feel others are judging us because we MUST do less than they do in order to regain and retain quality of life and independence.

No, we do not have to vacuum the whole house in one day. A room a day would do!

No, we do not have to mow the whole lawn in one day. J, are you listening?

Spreading out those sort of tasks DOES NOT mean we are lazy. It means we are protecting our bodies, our internal battery and our quality of life.

Today I was going to go grocery shopping. But today is also weight training day. The grocery shopping can wait until tomorrow. Both on the same day would mean I wouldn’t be able to do what I have planned for tomorrow. Grocery shopping will fit with my plans for tomorrow as the overall intensity tomorrow is less.

We are not lazy. I am not lazy. Don’t let yourself be guilted into doing things that break your pacing rules, whatever they may be for you. The goal is to balance activity and energy so you achieve consistency in your state of health.

Personal Energy Use

Early in my chronic illness life, I wrote an introductory article, Pacing for Beginners. More recently, I wrote about Pacing THRU, Pacing UP, Pacing DOWN.

Pacing, balancing my life, has become even more critical since starting a full-time job. The earlier articles talk about the spoon theory and the battery analogy. Today I’m going to stick with the battery analogy as we all understand what happens when our mobile phone battery dies. That’s it. The screen is dead. You can’t make a call. The only option you have is to recharge the battery.

I find energy difficult to write about. I can’t quantify it like I can quantify calories or steps or weights. Energy seems elusive, hard to pin down. Even though I am using the battery analogy, I don’t have a charge meter on my arm. I can’t tell how much battery I have left at any given point in time. So if it seems like I’m pondering as I write, it is because I am pondering as I write.

Many of us with chronic conditions are a bit like a mobile phone. The battery has a limited capacity. I’ve written about fatigue/lethargy before too, in When was the Last Time You Yawned? Working full-time hours again, I have had to revisit my condition management plan to ensure I avoid the dreaded Boom/Bust Cycle. So far, I’ve managed, although my weight training has taken a bit of a back step, sadly.

The difference between me and my phone is if my phone goes flat, I can plug it into power, turn it on and make a call. If my battery goes flat, that is it. Coffee is not going to help. A sugar hit is not going to help. In fact, either might make the situation worse. Imagine if that phone battery could actually go negative and had to be charged back up to zero before use, even when connected to power. THAT is how we can be (not how we can feel, how we can BE) if we are not careful, if we break the rules.

While I was working part-time, I had everything worked out beautifully for me. I got the exercise I needed, the sleep I needed, I did my job well. I never let myself get a flat battery.

While I was not working in the early part of 2020 my plan was to pace up my exercise to build physical resilience in readiness for a new job. With the success of my new treatment, I could do this. There were some interruptions! A knee put me in hospital, then Covid-19 lockdowns followed by a total knee replacement meant things were a bit stop-start, but I was way ahead of where I had been at, say, the end of 2016.

Working full-time has changed how I can arrange my time and also shone a light on the fact the boom/bust cycle is still very much a risk. There have been times at the end of the work day where I quite simply feel my brain shut down. It goes from 90 miles an hour to a dead stop. Nothing I can do about it. The battery is dead. It isn’t just about physical activity, this battery also runs our brain.

It is challenging for people who have no prior experience of these sorts of conditions to understand what happens. After all, many of us, myself included, LOOK fine! It took my daughter some time to come to grips with it, but she now asks “Do you have enough spoons, Mum?” when suggesting something.

I’ve become better at declining social invitations – no, not on an evening before a work day, or no, not two events on one day.

Every activity we do uses battery power. Showering, drying our hair, driving, working, exercising, cooking. In my experience some things use more battery power depending on the time of day: driving is a classic example. Driving for one hour in the morning is not nearly as tiring as driving for one hour in the evening after a day at work. It is almost as if once the battery gets low, it depletes faster. We have to be aware of all these things. I don’t want to cause a fatal car accident because I lose concentration because I haven’t paid heed to my battery level. Look at the pace column of my walks in the image above. the first walk of the day is the fastest, the last is the slowest. This is a constant pattern.

Early in my journey, I would have been unable to do a weight training session and grocery shopping on the same day. That would have used way too much of my battery. Even now, I shower in the evenings. Why? Because I can do it at a slower pace in the evenings and I am not using up vital battery life I need for the work day.

A good night’s sleep should recharge us, you say? We wish that were true. In many cases it is true – unless we have drained too much – then we end up in that negative charge scenario. Not good. However, disrupted sleep is often a symptom experienced by those with chronic conditions. Imagine trying to charge your flat phone, but the charger plug keeps falling out of the phone overnight. In the morning your phone battery is still at only 50%. That can be us.

Strength can fluctuate as well. I happily did 32 kilogram chest press sets one day with every intention of increasing next visit. Next visit I struggled with 25 kilograms. Why? No idea. By no idea, I mean no rational “healthy” explanation. Just that day my body said, “No, not today”.

Endurance is linked to our battery too. Some days I can walk two kilometres easily in one walk – other days I have to stick to three separate one kilometre walks. I’ll feel exactly the same at the start of any walk – then sometimes the body just says, “No, not today”. Part of this is linked to my not having the time available at the moment to consistently Pace UP. Between work and weather I have been limited to grabbing my walks in a somewhat patchy manner which breaks all the rules of pacing. Consistency is key. I’m not getting consistency. I suspect similar applies to the weights.

It is very hard to explain to people what this whole energy thing is like. How we constantly have to be aware of how much battery we’ve used. Healthy people would not, for example, think of having a shower as using energy, or should I say using any great amount of energy. I can assure you, many of the chronic illness community will attest to having to rest after a shower.

In my last article I raved, quite rightly, about the medication I am on. I also stated it hadn’t completely solved the energy/lethargy/fatigue aspect, or the “brain fog”. Despite my writing about energy today, these aspects are still much improved from where I was three years ago. To give some sense of measurement, three years ago I was working 24 hours a week and Saturday morning would always be a recovery morning – I’d do nothing until at least noon. Now I am working 38 or more hours a week and I’m actively doing something by 10 am on Saturdays. I might be at the gym, grocery shopping, doing laundry: I’m active. So a major improvement. And some quantification, which makes me happy!

However, I’ve had to cut my second weight session a week because the energy required to drive to the gym, do weights, drive back and then shower is more than I can manage at the end of a work day. I rarely write any more because usually by the end of the work day my brain has said, “No, not today”. I started this article on December 31, it is now January 16 and I still feel this is very scrappy writing. On the other hand it is a very scrappy topic: as I said I can’t quantify it very well. My thoughts about it come and go: after all, we learn, over time, to live with it. It becomes our new normal. At the same time we recognise that our healthy friends, family and co-workers can be baffled by something they have no experience of and it is not visible.

When I wake up in the morning, assuming I haven’t overdone it the day before, I feel perfectly “normal” just as I did before I became a chronic condition patient. The main difference is at the end of the day I will NOT feel as I did at the end of a day back then. Furthermore, depending how much “charge” I use during the day, I could hit that flat battery state earlier in the day. Other patients will not be as fortunate as I am, I am aware of that. So readers, just because I say I can do something, DO NOT, please do not, assume your mother, father, sibling, friend or co-worker can. They may be “better” or “worse” that I. I am simply n=1 – I’m not a study, I’m just one example trying to explain what it can be like!

As I write, at the beginning of 2021, I am very concerned for the long haul Covid-19 patients, many of whom cite fatigue as an ongoing issue. While the studies of this phenomenon may shed scientific light on ME/CFS, we will also have more chronic patients. My thoughts on society and chronic conditions are expressed in Society and Chronic Health Conditions. As communities, we have challenges ahead.

Are You Moving Less While Working From Home?

Working from home is with many of us, perhaps for longer that we may have initially envisaged. It is very important for all of us, but most especially those with arthritic and other chronic conditions where movement is beneficial, to ensure we don’t fall into the trap of becoming more sedentary! Most of us working from home are sedentary enough already, bound to our desks and laptops as we tend to be.

The good aspect is we now have the opportunity to put the commuting time to better use – we just have to make sure that IS what we do!

I am now balancing being back in an accounting role with my medical need to keep movement levels up plus the continuation of post-surgery knee rehabilitation exercises. What have I learnt already? I let my rehab exercises slip a couple of days, I ate at my desk twice and one morning I sat for WAY too long without getting up! Not good. For some inexplicable reason I found myself drinking more coffee and less water, so I’m being more aware of that now.

My daily physical activity commitments currently are:

  • 40 to 45 minutes of formal walking
  • achieve a total of 7,500 steps a day (limited due to post-surgery)
  • 40 minutes of rehab exercises

Swimming and weight training aren’t in the list as the gyms and pools are still closed in Melbourne due to Covid-19.

There is the need to avoid that dreaded boom/bust cycle and pace all of the above accordingly with working hours. These are not necessarily considerations for people without underlying health conditions: even so, worth bearing in mind!

Although the rehab routine is not tiring, the walking can be; especially if one has worked all day. Fatigue IS a symptom many of us live with. Mine is now minimal (thank you risankizumab), but I remember the days when I suffered quite badly from the fatigue. So rest time is important, it has to be part of the routine we establish.

I’m still at the stage of developing a daily routine. Finding what works for me. For a WFH day, I eat breakfast, walk for 25 minutes, then get ready for work (do my hair, pop on the lippy etc – all those video meetings!). Watch out for those back-to-back meeting days! The sitting time can easily extend to three hours. If you don’t have a sit/stand desk (mine is arriving soon!) this can be a trap. Watch your calendar: suggest different times for meetings if you have too many one after the other. Remember to take regular breaks from your desk.

Make sure to take a lunch break. This is important: move your body, stretch, sit in a different chair, break the mental exertion too. Do not eat at your desk.

I’m still working out the best time to do my rehab routine. If I do it in the morning, I need to get up earlier. If I do it after work, I’m becoming fatigued and I still have another 15 to 20 minutes walking to do. I’m thinking lunchtime might actually work best and will try that this coming week. The second walk is important because the one thing we lose while WFH is incidental exercise. No campus to walk around, no walking to and from the car park or tram stop. Those activities all add to our step count for the day. But we do have that extra time from the commute we no longer do, as mentioned earlier. It is finding the right balance.

Catching up on activity on the weekend is usually not an option for those with chronic conditions. Catching up just initiates a boom/bust event and none of us need that. So consistency is our friend. It is finding the right routine for each individual that is critical. What works, what doesn’t work?

Consistency is our friend

Weather can also throw all our plans completely out the window. I walk in the rain and in the cold – I can’t manage the heat. The heat intolerance that came with the hyperactive thyroid does seem to be finally abating: I found it much less troublesome last summer. I hope that persists! For others, the cold could be an issue. Weather is not related to WFH specifically, but working does mean we have less flexibility to juggle our physical activities around the weather.

Walking in the Rain

On days I physically go into the office (few and far between) I know I will get more incidental steps walking around the campus, to and from the car park, etc, therefore I don’t worry about a second formal walk on those days as long as I hit the 7,500 step count.

It is important to keep moving, get outdoors (mask up!) and not become glued to our desk and laptop. And on that note, I am now going to move, because it is Saturday and writing this is enough sitting for today!

Tiger Pacing

Pacing THRU, Pacing UP, Pacing DOWN

Pacing is very important in the management of chronic conditions, including chronic pain management.

A year ago today I wrote Pacing for Beginners, an article that essentially talked about pacing UP, In other articles, such as Beat the Boom Bust Cycle, I have referred to pacing, in the context of pacing THRU. What’s the difference? Isn’t pacing, pacing? Well, not really.

We need to understand the difference so we don’t get stuck doing one, when in fact the other or both may be more beneficial for our long-term condition management. We risk pacing DOWN.

Pacing THRU

Many chronic condition patients suffer fatigue. The degree will vary from day to day, the severity will be different for each patient. Natalie van Scheltinga has a very good description in Fatigue In Chronic Illness Explained, using “The Battery Analogy”. Some people find this analogy works better for their situation that the oft-cited Spoon Theory. Both are good illustrations of how the fatigue can affect one’s daily life.

We are all different. Both these images below are daisies, yet one has WAY more petals than the other. Think of each petal as a unit of energy. We could make this really complex and compare the size of each unit of energy, but let’s not delve that deeply today. Most chronic illness patients have a certain number of petals they can use per day. Increasing the number of petals, if possible, is a good thing.

White Daisy

Pacing THRU is about getting through the day with the energy we have. Yes, we DO have to be careful not to go overboard. Even now, as healthy as I now am, I am still technically “sick”. I know that a two hour commute to work would not be something I could do on a regular basis. On the days I do my strength workouts, the strength workout is the only major “task” I do that day. I am playing around with my routine currently, more on that later.

Pacing UP

Pacing up is used in clinical pain management settings. It is, of course, also used in sports, personal training and a host of other activities. I paced UP, over a four year period, from 5-minute walks several times a day to whole body strength work-outs and swimming. No-one runs a marathon without building up to it.

Pacing UP is not just about being able to walk further than yesterday or regaining the ability to sweep the floor. It is also about energy levels. As we improve our physical endurance and strength and reduce or eliminate our pain, we sleep better, energy levels improve, functionality improves. Our overall quality of life improves.

It should be noted pacing UP does not always involve movement. For example, if sitting causes pain, pacing UP may be used to extend the body’s tolerance to sitting. For the purpose of this discussion today, I am referring to movement.

Pacing DOWN

If we only pace THRU and don’t have a strategy in place to pace UP, we run the risk of pacing DOWN. When we pace DOWN we run all the de-conditioning risks I repeat regularly (some may say I repeat ad nauseam). We will get sicker, likely experience more pain, lose more functionality.

de-conditioning

Our quality of life will deteriorate, we risk losing our independence, our freedom and possibly our financial stability. Pacing DOWN is not good. As with pacing UP, pacing DOWN happens gradually. We may not even really notice it: until the day we realise we can’t do something we used to be able to do easily or we notice our pain has increased. Yes, for some this will be because of disease progression – for many others it will be the result of inadvertently pacing DOWN.

We are a little delicate, like the dandelion seed head. Remember as children blowing them? It doesn’t take a lot to blow us away either. Yet we are also stronger than we realise. Bring that strength to the fore, use it.

Dandelion

Pacing THRU and UP

It is a recipe. A lot of THRU and a little bit of UP to start. Mix gently and simmer over a low heat.

Most chronic illness patients will need to do both. Initially, more THRU than UP. The plan should be to reach a point where UP become easier and THRU becomes less of a concern. DOWN? Avoided totally.

Practical example from my own experience. For some time my routine has been two strength workouts a week, one  swimming session and daily walking. I’ve been pacing UP within those sessions; increasing weights, increasing swim set metres. This is where balancing UP and THRU comes into play. I have a target number of steps for the day, at the moment 7,500. When I am in the gym, I still clock up steps. When I am in the pool, I don’t, even though 1,000 metre swim is considered roughly 4,000 steps. So, if I were to increase my total swim use of energy, should I still aim for my 7,500 steps? I’d have paced UP my swimming, but I would NOT have paced THRU my day and run the risk of draining myself and paying for it the next day. Then I would possibly actually drop my activity level the following day, which is not to my long-term benefit. Sure, one day here or there is not a massive issue, but if a pattern develops, it becomes a problem as it can lead to pacing DOWN. Yes, my ultimate aim is to have both: increased swimming distance AND my steps target. I have to balance getting there.

The appropriate balance needs to be carefully planned out for each person, depending on their particular situation, conditions and degree of condition progression. Sometimes we can feel discouraged. Giving up, giving in, is not an option.

SMART Goal Setting

It is important to set goals to measure progress when pacing UP. Please click through to Make 2018 YOUR Year for SMART Goals, where I outline how and when to use goal setting to assist you. I know 2018 is drawing to a close, but the strategy remains the same!

I am looking at new goals for myself for 2019. That’s why I am playing around with my routine. When I moved from one strength session a week to two a week, I needed to be careful to not overdo any particular day. I increased my total for the week, but each individual session is less that my original single weekly session. If I increase my swimming, how much do I adjust my step target on those days? What will work for my body? So I’m trialing options at the moment. I’ve reached a stage of improvement where I can do that.

This article is of a general nature and does not constitute specific exercise advice for any individual person. For patients with particularly complex or advanced conditions, this may not be appropriate. If in doubt, seek professional guidance.

Contact me for a confidential chat as a starting point to pacing UP.

Main image “Pacing Tiger” Heather Ruth Rose/Shutterstock.com

Further Reading:

4 Resilient Ways to Cope With Chronic Pain – Huffington Post

Doctors and Exercise – Limberation.com

leg press

Change Your Exercises for Safety

The target audience for this article is those who are already gym literate. You know how to do a dumbbell bench press and load the leg press. Your technique has always been good and you’ve never hurt yourself in the gym. You are trying to pick up where you left off, but now you have the complication of our new partner, our chronic illness, or some degenerative change making things a little different.

Here are some personal practical examples to illustrate you can change what you are used to doing and still achieve your goals. No, not your old goals – your NEW goals! The ones you have now for regaining or retaining your quality of life!

Dumbbell Bench Press

As previously mentioned, I have a few problems in my lumbar spine: a bulging disc, a herniated disc and some very grumpy facet joints. I have always preferred free weights. I knew something I was doing in the gym was irritating my back, but I wasn’t 100% sure which exercise. I suspected it was the dumbbell bench press – not the actual exercise, but getting off the bench at the end of a set. Every time I finished a set, I felt a definite sharp twinge (that may be an understatement there) in my lumbar spine and I would suffer varying degrees of discomfort in the following days.

I stared at the chest press machine and decided I was going to have to give that a try.

The action of getting off the machine is not subjecting my back to any undue stress.

It works. No aggravation of my back as I step out of the seat. No, I’m not happy about giving up my free weights, but I’d rather adapt my exercises than not do them at all.

Much easier than getting off the bench!

In February I will under go Radiofrequency Facet Joint Denervation which will hopefully help: in the meantime I have adapted. If the RFJD works, then I’ll have time to work on building the muscles supporting the spine in readiness for when the RFJD wears off.

Edit March 2018: I avoided the above-mentioned denervation! Exercise rules!!

Loading the Leg Press

Those weights for the leg press have two handles – use them! I realised lifting and carrying a 20 kilogram weight one-handed was not something I should do any more. By the time I’d loaded six of these onto the machine, plus the top-up weights, I was feeling it. Then there is putting the weights away at the end. You DO put the weights away, don’t you? Yes, I knew you did! Using two hands feels a bit awkward at first, but better to use two hands than stop doing the leg press altogether. 

Some readers may have no difficulty with a mere 20 kilograms, I realise that. Some of us more mature souls, or those starting back slowly may be very wise to take things gently initially! Pace up!

Leg Curl

Prone (face down) leg curl is another exercise my back doesn’t like. Luckily my gym has a seated leg curl machine. I’ve found I can do my leg curls with no issues at all in a seated position. No, it doesn’t look as tough, but I no longer care about looking tough, I care about staying limber and strong-ish.

Leg Curl

General Tips

Remember to PACE! While you might be an old hand in the gym, are you new to the concept of pacing for medical reasons?

Make sure you adjust the seat heights (or anything else that needs adjusting) for your particular height. While we may all have been a little cavalier about such details in the past, it pays to be picky about such details now. I usually find tall people have been on everything just before me and I have to adjust every single thing! Your body will thank you.

I don’t recommend lifting to failure, unless you are well and truly on a path to remission or lucky enough to be in remission. I do, now (“now” being until my iron vanished into thin air), lift to failure, but it is something I’ve built back up to and I certainly don’t make a habit of it – besides “failure” is a lot less now than it used to be! Russian Volume Training is probably not a great idea for us either. We’ll end up in the Boom/Bust cycle again, if not with pain, with fatigue.

Slow and steady should be our mantra for the moment. All is not lost though: I know a young man who was diagnosed with reactive arthritis. Told he would not play professional sport again, he became a hypertrophy competitor, fitness professional and was one of our teachers. He is a pretty buff guy.

I hope this may give you some ideas. If you would like assistance, contact me.

Be careful and safe!

I’m done for the day!

 

Pacing For Beginners

Pacing in the context of managing our pain relates to our rate of activity or our performance progress. In this article I am using walking (that’s why the feet!) as an illustration, but the same logic can be applied to sitting, standing, resistance (weight) training or whatever activity it is that we are having trouble doing to the level we want to. The activity might be sweeping the kitchen floor, or sitting long enough to fly interstate. Walking is just the example here.

As I have shared previously, when I was first started on this journey, I walked five minutes at a time, four times a day. Five minutes was how long I could manage before I experienced pain. Slowly, by pacing, we can build up.

Please be aware pacing is only one component of condition management, it is not THE solution. This is a general introduction only, each person requires specific planning tailored to their circumstances.

Warning: Maths Ahead

Let’s assume for the maths that like I could, you can walk five minutes before you experience discomfort. It is very important to know your starting point. Smartphones have easy calculators: the keystrokes for the below example are 5 + 4 = 9 / 2 = 4.5 * .8 = 3.6.

The important point here is just because you CAN do 5 minutes, that is NOT the starting point.

    1. Take that five minutes as your Test 1 measurement.
    2. After a suitable rest, do a second Test. The Test 2 result might be four minutes.
    3. Add 5 + 4 = 9. To find the average of your two trials: 9/2 = 4.5 minutes.
    4. Now you need your baseline, your official starting point. This is 80% of your average. 4.5 * 0.8 = 3.6 minutes, or 3 minutes 36 seconds.
    5. Increase at a rate of 10% from your baseline. 3.6 * 1.1 = 3.96 minutes. Let’s just call it 4 minutes!

Each day (or week depending on the type of activity) you increase by 10%. JUST 10%. On your calculator that is “current time” * 1.1 = “new time”.

10% a day increase is reasonable at a 5 minute walk, but for longer durations and other activities, the increase should be spread over a week.

Putting Pacing into Practice

How does this work in practice? I did some timings on a stroll the other day. It took me 217 steps and 1 minute 48 seconds to walk from one tram stop to the next.

What is a tram, you ask? I’m glad you asked! This is a Melbourne tram. Terrific mode of city transport.

If you don’t have trams in your area, do you have an alternative?

Why was I doing the timings? Because we can use local infrastructure to our advantage. After a while you will get very bored with your backyard or walking around the same block. Tram lines are fantastic because we can walk, hop on a tram for a rest, get off further down the line preferably within one or two metres of a nice cafe, finish our rest over a nice coffee and then repeat the exercise back.

As we build up, we can use the distance between trams stops as stepping stones. Looking at my 1 minute 48 second walk between stops cited above, that is way more than a 10% increase from a 4 minute baseline. That would be closer to 50%, WAY too much. But later on it will be possible. You are not stuck on 4 minutes for long! As you build up you can walk just past a tram stop then back and still catch a tram to reward yourself with coffee. Over time you will be reaching the next tram stop.

A little reconnaissance may be necessary. This is the tram stop I was passing. In the middle of a busy main road, there are lots of steps up from the pavement, an over-bridge and then more steps down. This may not be ideal for those pacing up slowly! This is one of the tram stops you might want to zoom straight past – as a passenger!

Of course there are many alternatives: drive to a favourite park or beach, then walk. I don’t suggest the shopping centre, as it could take 20 minutes to walk from the car park to your store of choice!

The Rules

Rule #1: stick to the times. DO NOT be tempted to do more than you should, despite how great you might feel right that minute. You risk undoing all your hard work to date if you do that.

Rule #2: do it every day. Even if you don’t feel the best today, do your allotted time. Every day. Note this is for these small starting activites. I would NOT do a leg press every day!

Rule #3: Wear appropriate footwear. If it is sitting you are working on, ensure you have an appropriate chair.

Other Thoughts

I also apply pacing strategies to manage the fatigue, along the lines of how much I do on any given day. I’ve mentioned before I don’t do grocery shopping on days I do a strength workout. I don’t do strength workouts the days I work eight hours in the office. We work out rules for our individual circumstances.

Christine Miserandino (lupus and fibromyalgia) has written The Spoon Theory which is a great way to visualise the energy/fatigue situation. I found it very early on in my journey and it certainly helped me adjust to my new life. I do have many more spoons these days than I used to, but that didn’t happen overnight.