I turned 39 at the end of December, and with that came a whole host of aches and pains. I thought I was just imagining things because I was eyeing my impending 40s with some trepidation. But then the spasms began, starting with my left hand. My left shoulder joint starting feeling like it was seizing up, and then the right shoulder blade seemed to be grating itself into little pieces. My back was killing me, each vertebra crunching against each other like little disks of sand. These were pains I had never experienced before, and the usual three-day window it normally takes my body to bounce back from a strain had stretched well into 9 days, no improvement in sight. In fact, things seemed to be getting worse, which didn’t help my mood.
“So this is how it begins,” I thought gloomily. “Total body distintegration. Just in time for my 40s.” I mentallly flipped through the various exotic illnesses that could be afflicting me, my imagination fueled by the recent House marathon I had taken in over Christmas, none of them particularly amusing in this context. I feel into a dark mood, lacking energy and clarity. I stayed in the house for almost the entire week, talking to no one, pushing at projects in a vain attempt to keep my mind off the imminent physical collapse of my body.
Then yesterday, I grudgingly went to have dinner with a group of friends at a very nice Sze-Chuan restaurant in Billerica that serves what is possibly the best Chinese food I’ve had in the area. Grouchy and in pain, I nevertheless put on my best face to fulfill my social obligation. Why? I know from experience that when I put myself in a place where I’m forced to deal with different realities, new insights always arise.
As usual, the company and meal were excellent, which helped lift my spirits. My friends, however, noticed that I was having some back pain because I was making very odd contorted stretching motions. I explained myself.
“You’ve never done THAT before, Dave,” commented B with some concern.
The other B nodded. “You should take some Alleve to make the swelling go down. That will help.”
I nodded grimly. I’d taken some pain medicine, which is a rarity for me since I don’t like putting drugs in my body. I also knew it was just a temporary measure, because this type of pain was something entirely new to me. The “Lion’s Head” soup, a specialty that I normally enjoyed, failed to register on my tongue at all as I stewed in my thoughts. I noted with disconsolation that I’d finished the bowl without remembering to enjoy it. “Yes, I’ve been taking some Tylenol, but this back pain is something new I haven’t experienced before. I’m worried it’s something really bad.”
P, who had come a little later than the rest of us, perked up at the mention of my back problems. “Oh, I had that a while ago, and it turned out that I was just really dehydrated.“
This was an unexpected diagnosis, and I found the idea that dehydration and back pain were related interesting. I had noticed that I was drinking unusually little water recently, and I pressed for more details.
“I was googling for information on back pain,” answered P, “and one of the first things that popped up was dehydration and chiropractice. Apparently, when you don’t drink enough water, your body isn’t ‘lubed up’ enough and your muscles shrink, which causes joints to rub together more. So I drank a lot more water, and the pain went away.”
When I got home, I started drinking water to make up for lost time. Normally, you’re supposed to drink at least 64oz a day. I had been probably doing less than 24 oz of liquid a day for several weeks, since I was just not feeling that thirsty. I drank water throughout the next day as well, and you know what? I felt better. The crackly pain in my back went away after about 12 hours. The knife-like pain in my right shoulder turned into a regular throbbing. I felt…juicier! Apparently I had been turning my muscles into beef jerky by not drinking enough water. The numbness and spasms in my arms and hands have also started to fade away. It might be too early to call, but I can say that drinking water seems to make a palpable difference in the way I’m feeling. A quick Google seemed to corroborate P’s diagnosis:
The human body also has its emergency calls for water. These are localized emergency calls. We call these heartburn, rheumatoid joint pain, back pain, migraine headaches, colitis pain, fibromyalgiac pain, even angina pain — signs of dehydration in the body. — from Joint pain, back pain, arthritis cause by chronic dehydration, says doctor Pain may be a warning of localized thirst; that is, the pain signal may be a warning of dehydration in that specific area (a regional thirst), for example low back pain, migraine headache, joint pain, and angina. Chronic dehydration may contribute to a reduction in lymph flow, which in turn may contribute to or cause varied problems. — from Diagnose Me: Condition: Dehydration
I knew that drinking water was good for you, but I had never bothered to find out what could go wrong when you are a pint or two low. Dehydration is usually mentioned as a cause of death only when you’re reading about shipwrecks, which is outside the realm of our everyday experience.
So the moral of the story: DRINK LOTS OF WATER. Or else!
UPDATE: There are many excellent reader insights in the comments below, presenting a multitude of views. Well worth reading.