On being ... sensible shoes

By Ingrid Sapona

I’ve been having shoulder troubles since February. I don’t know exactly what caused it, but I know it happened in a fitness class. Early on, I took it easy for a number of weeks and tried the usual remedies: ice, heat, ibuprofen, etc. Eventually I went to a sports medicine clinic about it.

I felt a bit self-conscious because I figured the clinic was probably used to real athletes and their injuries, not recreationally active middle-aged women who don’t even know how they hurt themselves. But the doctor reassured me I was right to look after the shoulder sooner rather than later, as shoulders can freeze, which is much harder to deal with. After assessing my problem, the doctor prescribed physio and suggested massage therapy.

As I was leaving, the doctor noticed me heave my purse onto my shoulder. She commented about the size of the purse and I explained that it’s handy because files fit in it. After a loud, “hmmm”, she said, “you might want to switch to a backpack-type purse -- they’re much better for you.” No way, I thought -- I’ve never liked that look. Backpack purses were “in” awhile back and it seemed you couldn’t find anything BUT them, but I just didn’t like the look. I thanked the doctor and went to reception to book the physio.

I’ve had physio for back and knee problems and I’ve always had terrific results from it. When I’m in physio, I dutifully do all the assigned exercises. But, as I confessed to the physiotherapist, sometimes I’m a bit lazy on the stretching front.

The progress through physio has been slow and frustrating. Every couple weeks I’ve been given new or different stretches and strengthening exercises -- but for a long time the ache continued. At one point the physiotherapist suggested I keep a diary to determine whether my activities, like yanking on lines during sailing races, might be aggravating it.

Though the physiotherapist didn’t say anything about it, I figured my huge purse probably was not helping. So, at some point I decided to lightened my load. I ditched the monster purse in favour of a handbag that was pretty much only big enough for a wallet, cell phone, and glasses case. Switching to a small purse may not sound like a big deal, but all my friends and family commented on the change. I also tried carrying it on the other shoulder, but I couldn’t. I’ve been carrying it on the same shoulder all my life -- it’d be easier to adjust to writing with my other hand.

Having already made the change in purse, and having become a model stretcher, when racing season finally ended, I was hoping the shoulder pain would disappear. But it didn’t. Instead, one day I woke with a sharp stabbing pain that was far worse than the original problem. So back to the doctor I went. She said that different muscles were probably stepping in to compensate and now those muscles were fatigued, causing new or different pain.

The doctor explained that, despite my recent efforts, my muscles are tight from years of not enough stretching and my posture isn’t great. Though I knew I have tight muscles, I was surprised when she mentioned my posture. Not planning on auditioning for the role of the Hunchback, I asked what she meant. Turns out my shoulders are uneven. Guess which one is making its way toward my ear? Yup -- the one I’ve always carried my purse on -- the one that’s been giving me problems.

Needless-to-say, I left the doctor’s office disheartened. I think we all know that bad habits come home to roost at some point, but knowing that in your head is one thing -- physical manifestations (like shoulder pain) are quite another. For the next few days, every time I went to put my purse on my shoulder, I thought twice and chose to carry it instead.

Then one day I was talking with a friend about a foot problem she’s having that just won’t seem to go away. When I asked her if the pain has caused her to make any changes, she said it has: apparently she’s stopped working out because of it. But, she continued, it hasn’t stopped her from wearing heals to the office. I told her that I had long ago made the switch to sensible shoes. She shook her head as she said she’s just not ready for that. My friend’s footwear decision sure seemed silly to me -- but then, who was I to talk?

The very next day I went shopping. Unfortunately, the current trend is for big purses. (So big they make my purse the doctor commented on look like a wallet!) But, by the end of the day I found what I was looking for: the purse equivalent of sensible shoes -- a smallish (tasteful) leather backpack.

© 2010 Ingrid Sapona


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