The Mystery of the Aching Leg

by James Wallace Harris, Monday, 1/11/21

After years of controlling pains in my back and leg with exercise and diet I’ve had a relapse. What have I done wrong? It took me years of learning about many good and bad habits to get that pain under control. What have I done to screw things up? It’s a mystery that I’m trying to solve but complicated by the many different factors involved.

Many years ago, I was diagnosed with spinal stenosis. I had gone to orthopedic doctors because I thought my hip was going out, but the pain went all the way down to my foot. After an MRI the showed my hip was okay, but I likely had stenosis I was sent to a pain management doctor. He told me to avoid surgery unless things got unbearable, set me up with a physical therapist, and prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs.

I quickly learned that sleeping flat on a bed aggravated my condition and switched to sleeping in a recliner. That dramatically reduced my pain. I also learned my 3 mile a day walks were annoying the hell out of my leg, so I stopped walking as much. That reduced the pain, numbness, aching, tingling, etc. a good deal more.

Also, during the time period, I had to have a stent put in my heart and I lost about thirty pounds trying to help that problem. I assume losing that weight might have helped my leg, but both my regular doctor and back doctor were doubtful.

Concurrent with those lessons I also learned my stomach couldn’t handle NSAIDS anti-inflammation drugs, but the physical therapy exercises paid off big time. Before I gave up on the drugs, I became aware of what it felt like to have lower inflammation. Because of that I became aware of which foods set off inflammation – mostly fun foods. So, I began avoiding them. That helped too.

Eventually I supplemented the PT exercises with exercises by Miranda Esmonde-White that I discovered on PBS TV. They helped a lot! Even better than the PT exercises.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been doing intermittent fasting, and that seems to have helped with inflammation, but I’m not sure.

All these efforts got things mostly under control, and the pain and numbness almost went away. It became low level enough to ignore, and I was good for a few years.

However, things have gotten bad again. Not as bad as when I first started going to the back doctor, but it’s heading that way. Over the years I’ve had flareups and could fix them by being more diligent about my exercise and diet, but these quick tweaks aren’t working.

I assume my present flareup is because I’ve gotten lax about my exercising and intermittent fasting. Over the holidays I’ve indulged in some fun foods and gained five pounds and might have increased inflammation. But there’s one new factor that’s bothering me. At my annual checkup in November my doctor told me I my legs showed signs of poor circulation, and some of my aching legs symptoms could be that. She wants me to have tests done but not until after I get the Covid-19 vaccine. A stent in my leg might fix things, but I won’t know for a while.

Because my doctor scared me about the poor circulation in my legs I went back to walking regularly. I tried walking 1 mile twice a day. At first that seemed to help, but then my leg got bad again. I had been walking 1 mile several times a week. It makes my back and leg hurt for an hour or two, but that kind of exercise helps my heart, so I figured the short-term pain was worth it. But that extra walking is another clue to the leg flare up.

I also remembered that statins caused my legs to ache. Over the last twenty years my doctor has been having me take different statins and dosages trying to find the right combination that don’t produce side effects, which were pains in the legs. I was on 5mg every other day, but in November she had me go to every day, and even wanted to bump up the dosage to 10mg. So that might be another factor.

Now I have the mystery of the aching leg and wondering what’s causing it. My doctors have always told me things could get worse, but I’ve had so much success controlling pain with lifestyle changes that I don’t want to believe they’ve stopped working now.

I wish we had a little computer to plug into my brain and read body health like those car code readers decipher automobile problems. It sure would simplify things.

Did that extra walking caused this flare up? The gaining of weight? Enjoying a bit of cheese danish every day? Too many meals with cheese? Switching to statins daily? Skipping my exercises too often? Or is it hardening of the arteries in my legs? Do I need to go back to my 16:8 intermittent fasting? I just remembered I had to give up my protein drinks because they were driving my bladder crazy. That’s 30mg less of protein. I switched to eggs and yogurt, which may or may not affect my clogged arteries.

I know two types of people. Those that eat anything they want and don’t exercise and seem to do fine, and those with growing ailments that are constantly trying to find solutions that involve just the right combination exercise and diet.

Unfortunately, I’m in the group that always has a health mystery to solve. Sorry to bore you by complaining about my ailments, but writing these blogs are my way of thinking things through. This essay has helped me, but not to come up with a specific answer. I’m going to eat better, do more good exercising, walk less, take less statins, watch my posture, and try to lose weight. I hope that helps, but it won’t solve the mystery of what actually caused my leg to get worse.

JWH

7 thoughts on “The Mystery of the Aching Leg”

  1. James,
    Do I have a story for you, brief and to the point, but adding details that do not matter at all but details the make the story worth telling.
    I had that “veinous blockage” whatever-the-hell it is called surgery back in ’19.
    Sidebar: I had been seeing a doctor for 09 months (count ’em, 09 months) before that surgery because…yes, my damned leg hurt. So began the testing. “Oh, yes, Mr. Vaughan. You do have some blockage in your LEFT leg.” Really. Then why in the hell is it that it’s my RIGHT leg that is killing me?” And, “Oh, yes, Mr. Vaughan, you do have an aneurysm in your stomach and, well, gee, if we don’t get that outta there and it bursts? Well, teeheehee, you’ll either be dead before you can call 911 or you’ll die on your way to the hospital.” And also “Oh, yes, Mr. Vaughan. One of your carotid arteries is blocked at, hehehe, 70%. If that gets any worse, well, we’ll have to fix that, too.”
    So they/he/it–those “medical professionals”–started doing their “tests”…test after test after test. And then it was time for the doctor to make his annoucement. And after almost 09 months of these tests and these appointments with this ONE doctor, he said, “Oh, and Mr. Vaughan. Just one more thing: I refuse to operate on anyone who smokes. So stop smoking and we can proceed.”
    James, from time to time I have, shall we say, alluded here in my comments to the total disdain and distrust I have for, well, all “authority figures”. And I am betting you have read enough of lmy ittle diatribes to rightly conclude that I can, when circumstances require it, use rather “colorful” language. So I simply let loose the hounds of hell, reduced to “Seriously? Shoudn’t THAT have been the first thing you told me, you know, NINE MONTHS ago?”
    The story ends happily, however. I told him to go to hell and die, then went to see another doctor. The first question I asked was the obivous: “Do you treat people who smoke?” And he said “Yes.”
    And he operated on my leg back in ’19. For the record, 92 (!) staples to close it all up. And there were indeed a few months of “hobbling along”–meaning actually needed a good can for walking instead of carrying one simply as a tool for self-defense (a tradition that goes back to the ’70s and training in the martial arts).
    That same doctor still asks me when I am going to stop smoking and I am still telling him when he can stop humans from being such assholes, I’ll quit. He laughs and says, “See you in six months.”
    P.S.: No one, no doctor, no “medical professional,” “private practice” or in a hosptial, has since mentioned either that killer carotid artery or that stomach aneurysm. It is fun, however, to mention them and listen to both the excuses and reasons (two entirely different animals and you know that as well as I do) of “why” “they” (those medical professionals) either cannot or will not do either or both and on and on and….
    So James, the surgery–if that’s what you have been told–really ain’t a walk in the park. I was in the hospital for a week and again, I hobbled around for a few months. But, and then I shut up, I’m a short guy and 92 staples in my short little leg? Wow. Gross. Cool. (Yeah, fill in the blanks.) But to get rid of that (!) pain? Yeah, worth it. (And not to mention what perhaps you have already been told: Either the surgery or, well, wait until it gets really, really bad and we’ll just lop off your leg.)
    James, you take care of yourself and I really am wishing you all the best in the world.

    1. It takes a 92 sitch incision to fix a clogged leg artery??? I’m not ready for that. I thought they might fix it like my heart by snaking in a stent. My father-in-law had that leg procedure done before he died. After he came out the hospital he said he’d never go in one again. He died at work in his office chair.

  2. James, I read your article with interest because my husband has spinal stenosis and a lot of the same symptoms. He had the stenosis in his neck (it caused vertigo) fixed in March, right when the Covid stuff was beginning, but had such bad complications that he was in hospital and rehab for 77 days and is still recovering. The doctor is advising against getting the stenosis in his lumbar spine operated on because he can’t promise the complications won’t happen again. Greg is suffering, but can’t bring himself to regularly do the exercises that help him.

    1. I’m sorry to hear Greg is still suffering. Having stenosis in the neck sounds more scary to me. My doctor said to avoid surgery unless I just couldn’t stand it, and I have. The PT and Esmonde-White exercises have made all the differences with me. But your husband might be worse off and can’t handle exercise. The Esmonde-White exercises are very gentle though, and lots of old people do them. I hope Greg eventually gets better.

  3. I experience occasional leg pain, too. And, like you, I’m on a statin. I found that taking CoQ10 reduced some of my leg pain. I’m able to tolerate MOTRIN ( Ibuprofen) so that helps, too. Aging sucks…but it beats the alternative.

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