Feature Stories

The Anatomy Lesson of Aging

Know what the piriformis is? Neither did I, until recently. No, I didn’t wake up one day with a desire to study Gray’s Anatomy so I could figure out how my body works. Truth is, so long as it works, I’m not interested. I’d rather not have learned of the piriformis at all, but I had no choice. Mine (the one on the right) decided to cramp up for no other reason than increasing my education.

As we age, that’s how we learn about our bodies: things break, ache, stiffen, swell, get infected, or catch a disease. Parts we ignorantly took for granted over a long and full life, suddenly demand attention and we gain knowledge we wouldn’t have discovered any other way.

Learning about our bodies as we grow old reminds me of what Mark Twain said about experience, “A man can learn things by carrying a cat upside down that just can’t be discovered any other way.”  Trouble is, you can learn about cats by watching someone else carry one. With our bodies, observation rarely leads to inspiration. The doctor said my problem could have come from when my wife and I moved four tons of topsoil; got it done in about a day and a half and didn’t even feel an ache. Put in another full day in the garden after that. Just kept going and going like the Energizer Bunny, until I didn’t.

Then, bam, I was learning about the piriformis. It’s a relatively small muscle in your hip. It stabilizes and helps your leg rotate. Or it stops you from bending over or turning, if it decides to. Problem is, it’s nestled in so nice and tight beneath your gluts, it’s hard to reach, but quick to anger (apparently).

Not much you can do besides a heavy dose of pain medication. At that point, you lie still (the doctor’s other piece of advice) and learn to relax as the spasms come on. There’s that word “learn” again. My wife thought it would help to understand what muscle it was and how it worked. She showed me one of those pictures of an invisible person. You know the kind that shows us with the attractive bits removed. There it was. Piriformis! The design looked questionable: more like practice than a plan. I’d have put it out where it was easier to reach and repair. Better yet, would have been to design it to hold up longer than 70 years before it started complaining.

Not that I’m complaining. We’re told education is a good thing and experience, even better.  I’m so much smarter than before I learned about piriformis, I can barely stand it. Lucky me.

Scott Funk lives, works, and writes (and gardens) in Vermont.  His Boomer Funk columns are available at VermontFunk.com, as are his blogs and archived Aging in Place columns.

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