On Sunday, I rode the Hains Point 100, the final event ride of the year (for me anyway) in DC. The ride is 30 laps of a 3.3-mile circuit in East Potomac Park, down to Hains Point and back. It’s about as flat a course as you can find. Serious riders form fast-moving pelotons. We mere mortals ride a few laps, socialize, munch goodies, and hang out at the raffle. (I won a gift certificate to a taco place a mile from my physical therapist. The burrito gods are on my side.)
I had no intention of riding anything close to 100 miles. It was pretty cold, in the 30s for much of the time I would be riding. The Mule and I took it easy, rolling along, mostly at 12 miles per hour, but, occasionally cranking it up to 20. My legs were holding up just fine. Until about 28 miles into the ride, that is. The ache in my left leg, formerly only present when I was walking, appeared. I managed to ride another 9 1/2 miles with plenty of rest stops but I was really not a happy camper.
Fortunately, I made an appointment with my orthopedist on Monday. I felt fine when I woke up. Oh, great. What will I tell the doctor? I decided to do some stocking shopping before my appointment. I lasted 50 feet before my leg started aching again.
I limped a few blocks to and from a store and my left calf, groin, outer thigh, and butt cheek were having a contest to see which one could make me drop a salvo of F-bombs. (The calf won.)
At the doctor’s office, I explained my woes to the doctor. He nodded and smiled. When I told him about hurting after 50 feet of walking his eyebrows went up. Forttunately, this was obviously a no-brainer to him.
He examined my legs and back. He was impressed. “Push. Pull. Resist. You’re strong,” he remarked. Funny, what 30,000 miles in three years can do.
Then he checked my back for flexibility. I acquitted myself well for an 85-year-old. I did however manage to touch the floor from a standing position without bending my legs. I took about 15 second for my back to relax though. “I’ll only be a minute.”
The diagnosis was stenosis.The passages through the vertebrae in my lower back are narrowing as I age. The nerves emanating from my lower spinal cord are being compressed. Lucky me, I’m old. The good news is that I haven’t incurred appreciable muscle weakness in my legs. (And you thought I was nuts to ride so much, didn’t you?)
The treatment plan is pretty simple. I am on a nine-day declining does of prednisone, a steroid that will almost certainly calm the nerves down. (I was on a seven-day course prior to my back surgery. It worked well. It wore off just as I was being wheeled into pre-op.)
The doctor gave instructions to my physical therapy team to change my PT regime. He agreed that the gentle yoga exercises I have been doing would be helpful.
When I arrived home, I looked up PT-for-stenosis videos. As it turns out, most of the exercises are already part of the yoga/PT routine I discontinued last year.
The plan is to follow this exercise regime for a few weeks, unless the pain doesn’t abate in which case we amputate.
Just kidding. If I don’t recover, we’ll discuss surgical remedies. Time will tell.
Ironically, my PT team has being trying to improve my posture, thinking this would help with my general mechanics, I suppose. Well, it turns out that stenosis patients find that a forward lean helps to attenuate symptoms. When I ran back in my 20s and 30s, I had a pronounced forward lean. When I sit, I naturally lean forward. Riding a bike puts my in a forward lean as well.
So I asked the doctor, can I ride my bike.
Considering the fact that two years ago I was in a hospital bed on anticoagulants and trying to breathe with one functioning lung, I’ll take this year’s medical conundrum any day.
Merry Christmas, y’all.