Plagued by minor ailments: How to ease the pain of middle age
Despite looking after my health, I still wake up most days feeling exhausted
‘Middle age is a time when many people may have put on weight and this adds to the whole issue of not feeling good about themselves’
While the pandemic continues to dominate our lives, I have been fortunate (am touching wood as I write) not to have contracted the virus. I am also in the lucky position to have never had a serious illness, despite losing several family members to cancer and being in a relatively high-risk category myself due to a strong family history of the disease.
However, although I have been dealt a good hand so far in the health stakes, in recent years I have found myself plagued with minor ailments.
Perhaps it is due to the fact that I will turn 50 in May, but every day, I seem to be afflicted with some symptom or other.
I suffer from regular headaches, frequent migraines, occasional nausea, broken sleep, and anxiety – and don’t even get me started on all the glorious side-effects of being perimenopausal
I am currently dealing with a tendon tear in my left shoulder (with some arthritis, bursitis and tendinopathy thrown in for good measure) which keeps me awake at night and has significantly reduced the movement and function in both my arm and shoulder. A painful condition, this is my most pressing problem for which I am currently awaiting treatment, but it is by no means, the only issue.
I also have plantar fasciitis in my right foot, a herniated disc in my lower back and some wear and tear on my knee. Psoriasis is another petty complaint and I suffer from regular headaches, frequent migraines, occasional nausea, broken sleep, and anxiety – and don’t even get me started on all the glorious side-effects of being perimenopausal.
To most people under the age of 40, my list of ailments probably sounds ridiculous and most certainly mind-numbingly boring, and to be honest I don’t usually mention them for fear of sending people to sleep. But despite exercising every day (walking, as opposed to pole vaulting or kick boxing), having a healthy diet, being a non-smoker and limiting my alcohol intake to a couple of glasses of wine at the weekend, I still wake up most days feeling almost the same level of exhaustion as I fell into bed with the night before.
And I am by no means alone in my “why-do-I-feel-like-I-am-90-years-old” status as I have discovered that, for those of us no longer in the first flush of youth, aches and pains seem to be part and parcel of daily life.
Aisling Murphy from Dublin is 52 and can relate wholeheartedly to my litany of medical complaints as she wakes every morning “feeling like an old woman”.
“I seem to go from one ailment to the next without any break in between,” says the mother-of-two who works in finance. “My sleep is very bad at the moment and because I am menopausal, I have hot flushes and night sweats and all sorts of other lovely symptoms. I am currently having physio for pain in my neck and shoulders, which is probably down to spending too much time on a computer, and I also have a ‘bad’ knee and lower back pain.
“I wake up tired every day and when I finally get into bed, I can’t sleep _ I feel like I’m on an exhausting merry-go-round.”
Mike Boland (49) can also relate to this and says every day he seems to find “something else wrong”.
“I used to play a lot of sport when I was younger, but these days I find just getting through the day is an ordeal,” says the father-of-three who works in IT. “When I wake in the morning, I feel as if my whole body is aching. I have a recurring shoulder issue from an old sporting injury which flares up every now and then and I also suffer from shin splints which has forced me to cut down the running I was doing.
“I took up swimming instead had been trying to do that as often as possible as it is a much gentler form of exercise, but the pools have been closed for most of the year and as I suffer with Raynaud’s Disease (severe numbness in fingers and toes when exposed to the cold), I haven’t been able to take part in any wild swimming, which would have been a good alternative.
“I know I sound like an old crock, but I’m not alone as many of my friends also suffer from a litany of symptoms and my wife also says she can’t remember the last time she woke up feeling refreshed. Although I am not old, I think minor issues like are part and parcel of middle age and, much as I don’t like it, I feel it is something we all will have to get used to.”
Stress is a very common issue in this age group and sleep patterns will change naturally during this time so needs adjusting
Dr Tadhg Crowley agrees and says once we get into our 40s, we need to be prepared for minor ailments.
“Middle age is a time of life for most of us which results in our first contact with any health issues,” he says. “It is also the time when adults are at their peak earning power and many will have families who are dependent on them physically, financially and emotionally – so this combination of physical decline and emotional pressure is a boiling pot for physical and mental health complaints.
“Stress is a very common issue in this age group and sleep patterns will change naturally during this time so needs adjusting, but any stress issues can upset the delicate balance, which obviously makes depression and anxiety worse.”
Dr Crowley, who works as a general practitioner in Ayrfield Medical Centre, Kilkenny, says along with stress, there are also many other complaints which become apparent during middle age. But while we are all likely to succumb to some issue or other, exercise and a good diet can be very beneficial.
“Some of the most common health issues around this time are stress, anxiety hypertension, arthritis, urology issues and coronary and cerebrovascular disease,” he says. “In addition, this may often be the first time a 40-year-old will attend their doctor with concerns about their health. Exercise is a major talking point in my consultations with patients in this group as it forms a very important ‘drug’ in the fight against physical and mental illness.
“Sometimes the exercise they are doing may not be as intense as in their younger years and unfortunately many will have given it up completely which I often find is a component to their ill health. Also in many cases, arthritis has started so monitoring and treating this is important.”
The family doctor says stomach issues such as gastritis and ulcers are also common for people in this age group after years of not adhering to a proper diet – and this coupled with the stress of having put on weight can be difficult. He would advise people to take time out for themselves, seek medical advice if worried and stay away from online “experts”.
“Middle age is a time when many people may have put on weight and this adds to the whole issue of not feeling good about themselves,” he says. “So it is important to note that in many cases this transition in body shape occurs at time of huge emotional and psychological stress and it is necessary to separate the two issues and address them individually.
“Me-time can be very hard for middle-aged people who don’t allow any time to focus on themselves. Menopause also occurs in this age cohort but much can be done to help women at this time so I would encourage them to attend their doctor when symptoms begin to cause concern as there is much preventative work which can be done.
“But while the internet is a valuable source of information when some knows exactly what is wrong, in my experience, checking symptoms online leads to excess worry and anxiety as generally the diagnosis found there may be more catastrophic than it would be in reality, so if any concerns, seek medical advice.”