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The Revenge of the Latissimus Dorsi: a case against running

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It’s the age of sedentary lifestyles and half the Western world is grossly overweight, but you’d be a fool to take up running, says Peter Sherwood.

As a kid I used to run a lot. Long sprints to escape irate neighbours after blowing the hell out of their letter box with fireworks. The jogging continued to Hong Kong until one day my spine contacted my lower back to say, “Stop it.” Like most sage advice I let it slush around in my head for a while, and then ignored it. What finally got my attention were spinal nerves instructing my latissimus dorsi muscle to rip into spasm mode, and then inquire, “OK, now do you get it, moron?”

The message was received one morning with such vice-like agony it took me a week to get out of bed. Not that I am averse to the pleasures of the sack. Bed is a wonderful place. I have never understood those who insist it’s a waste of time. I think lying prostrate in the straw is light years ahead of going to work, shopping, pretending to be courteous, airports, flying, competition of all sorts, thinking too much, meetings, pretending to look successful – and television.

It was levering myself off the mattress that was unrewarding. Those large Latin muscles, connected ingeniously to spinal nerves, snapped shut like crocodile jaws on a kangaroo.

Standing up was the safer option but getting there produced yelps of pain. To Google a remedy meant tentative steps to the computer and more powerful grips to let me know I was not forgotten.

Sitting down was fraught with misery as I studied myriad remedies of physio, surgery and quackery. Everything from tortuous stretching exercises to a syringe full of an ancient Chinese muscle relaxant popped up on my screen, while I devoured fistfuls of anti-inflammatories – and whined.

Sciatica comes later

Ultimately, I took the course of positive dynamic action I pursue with most crises – do nothing and it will go away.

Soon I was up and running again, until my left knee objected. To solve the problem, I cleverly favoured my right leg, without caring that  my right knee took more than its share of the unnatural pounding on concrete. Soon it inflicted torment not dissimilar to sciatica. I know, because that came later.

For those unfamiliar with it, sciatica is a bit like someone thrusting a white-hot needle into your lower back, while the burning pain radiates playfully down one leg. There are numerous measures we can take to reduce or eliminate the relentless ache. None of them work. But there is plenty of discomfort (a medical term for intense suffering) to be had in experimenting.

Back pain is endemic and good posture is recommended. So, stand erect and don’t slouch over your Scotch and cigarette. And try not to walk around like Theresa May.


Peter Sherwood has lived in DB for 20 years. The former head of an international public relations firm, Peter is the author of 15 books and has written around 400 satirical columns for the South China Morning Post.

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