One of the surest signs of aging is the ability to get hurt in bed – even when all you’ve done is G-rated sleep.
I know this because yesterday I woke up with a pain that wasn’t there the night before. It felt like a combination of a toothache and an earache but was actually neither. It was jaw pain – or what Dr. Google calls Temporomandibular Disorder. Sometimes the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), which connects the jaw to the skull, gets cranky and inflamed and begins to throb so you’ll remember that you’re no spring chicken.
My jaw has always had an annoying habit of getting stuck now and then and making noises that normal jaws don’t make. But up until yesterday, it never hurt – at least it never hurt me.
Tom says that when I yawn at night and he hears that terrible bone-on-bone grating sound my jaw makes, it hurts his ears. Drives him nuts, in fact. But I don’t even notice. I guess weird jaw sounds have become the white noise inside my head.
But I did notice when I woke up with that awful aching on the side of my face. After I diagnosed myself on WebMD, I read a few tips that said stretching and massage might help with TMJ pain. So I immediately made an appointment for a massage, since any excuse for a massage is a good one.
When the massage therapist asked if I was having pain anywhere in my body, I told her about the achy jaw.
“Have you had an injury there?” she asked.
I internally debated about how to reply. The cool answer would have been “Yes, I slipped last weekend when I was rock climbing.” Or “Yes, I was skiing the Black Diamond slopes in Vail last weekend and had a nasty fall.”
But I knew I wasn’t cool enough to pull off the lie, so I told her the painful truth: “This is going to make me sound a million years old, but I think I slept on it funny,” I said.
And that’s when it really sunk in – the fact that my body has aged to the point that something as simple as lying horizontal for seven hours can result in injury.
The massage therapist tried to make me feel better by saying it’s not all that uncommon to have aches and pains from awkward sleeping positions. She said some of her clients swear by buckwheat pillows because they offer better support for aging neck and jaw muscles like mine.
But I once looked at a buckwheat pillow in the bedding store and it felt and sounded a lot like a sack of Triscuits. Call me old-fashioned but I think the inside of a pillow should look and feel more like a cloud and less like multi-grain snack crackers. Maybe I’m just picky that way.
The good news is that the massage did seem to help my achy jaw. And if I follow the advice on the Internet and only chew soft foods for a while, I’ll probably be back to normal in no time. So I’ll just fix myself some jello and stewed prunes, watch the Weather Channel for three hours straight, and then go to bed and pray that I don’t break my hip before morning.
Boy, middle-age issues sure are fun. Pass the applesauce.
Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.