In my lifelong quest to understand this particular body — this “experiment of one,” as running guru George Sheehan memorably put it — it never occurred to me until this week that being tall might be contributing to some of my challenges (such as muscle spasms in my back.) Weird that I would not think of this! At six-two, of course I’m aware that my body is unusual, and if I ever forget that, even for a few hours, a stranger comes along to remind me: “Wow, you’re tall!”
Perhaps due to my insistent perception of myself as “not the freak that strangers imply I am,” I didn’t consider that my height could have a negative impact on my physical functioning. In fact, in many sports, such as basketball and volleyball, being tall seemed a distinct advantage.
(Short basketball players have reminded me that height is not inherently helpful in basketball, since tall people tend to be less agile, and plenty of superstar players are guards or forwards… but still. Closer to the basket can be a good thing.)
Meanwhile, many men are my height, so being six-two is not odd; it’s just odd for a woman.
My physical therapist, Lyn Stewart at Capitol Rehab, said to me this week, “You know, you are tall.”
I rolled my eyes, mocking her. “Really?”
“And you’ve got small bones,” she continued, undeterred by my sarcasm. “You have the bones of a petite woman, yet those bones need to support a much longer frame.”
“Oh.” I was taken aback by the logic of her observation. “I have wondered why I seem to have more biomechanical problems than men my height.”
“They have bigger bones, and stronger, testosterone-fueled muscles to move those bones. You’re petite – and tall – which puts you in a very different position than men.”
That was the first time I’ve ever been called petite!
She continued: My vertebrae, for instance, are long and thin, like my femurs and finger bones.
When I play golf or lift weights, these toothpick bones need to support all of my weight, and also the club or barbell in my hands.
At 53, I can’t do too much to strengthen my bones beyond what I’m already doing — weight-bearing exercises and daily calcium – but somehow I take comfort in this information.
Reminds me of another “aha” that similarly should have seemed obvious to me years ago: An orthopedic surgeon told me recently that “you’re loose-jointed; that’s just how you were made.”
I knew that my knees and elbows hyper-extend, and I knew that my shoulders are prone to fall right out of their sockets. Somehow this diagnosis – chronic, structural loose-jointedness – made me feel less mystified by, and victimized by, my many joint ailments.
Similarly, realizing that I have toothpick bones feels validating, somehow – and gives me hope. Lyn Stewart and her chiropractic colleagues (Bill Booker and Ed Beck) know a lot about how bodies function, and how to help them function better, and I plan to continue consulting with them routinely, to learn (and heal) as much as I can.
Understanding my anatomical challenges makes me re-commit (and isn’t every successful exercise program one long re-commitment?) to intelligent and disciplined rehab, and pre-hab, and all the other “habs” as I let go of bad habits, adopt good habits, and discover and implement the exercises and movement patterns that are most appropriate for this particular unique body.
As for you? You’re unlikely to be both petite and tall. But you, too, have a unique body with unique needs. Understanding everything you can about that body – what I call physical intelligence – will help you make good decisions about how to move and how to live.