Men's Health (USA)

The Humbling Power of PAIN


My physical activities informed my sense of self. When something as innocuous as tendinosis slowed me down, my health declined—and the road back was much longer than I ever expected.

THE BAD PAIN STARTED in my right arm soon after dinner. By the next morning, it hurt for me to make a fist. I was on the chronic-injury ride.

One of my sons and I had been bull raking from a skiff near an island in Narraganse­tt Bay, scratching up baskets of wild hard-shell clams on a winter day. Bull raking, a method of manually harvesting shellfish with a metal rake and basket attached to a long aluminum pole, can be hard work. On this afternoon, early in 2019, we were working in 16 to 20 feet of water, and the rake was angled beneath us at the end of a 40-foot pole. I dragged it through the silt-and-gravel sediment by squeezing my hands over and rhythmical­ly pulling on a metal T-handle, cutting furrows as we drifted downtide.

The ritual went on for hours. I’d jerk the rake for about five minutes, until the basket felt full, then retrieve the rake to the surface and dump its contents on a sorting table, where my son picked through the catch while I sent the rake back over the side. The rake was heavy. The tide was strong. We filled buckets with clams.

I had felt a twinge in my right forearm early on, when the rake hung up on a submerged rock and I pulled too sharply.

I opted to ignore it, to do nothing beyond adjusting my form to compensate for the light pain. This, of course, was a mistake—a familiar case of someone being too eager, and too foolish, to call it quits when it hurt.

We headed home before sunset, riding the skiff over the darkening waves. That night, after eating a small mountain of steamed littleneck­s, I sat by the woodstove as new sensations set in. The bundle of muscles in my right forearm felt creaky and strained. This did not alarm me. I assumed I had sprained or torn something early in the day. But the pain was

migrating, following the muscles up to a point on the outer side of my forearm, just beneath the elbow.

This new pain sang out louder throughout the night, seemingly worse by the hour. When I woke in the morning, my other arm ached, too. I did not yet know it, but I was suffering from microtears where my wrist extensor tendons attach to the outside of my elbow, a condition commonly called tennis elbow. I was in for a rough 15 months.

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