A couple years ago, I worked in Ethiopia for a few months, helping a team take care of AIDS and leprosy patients. I had the privilege of visiting a leprosy hospital a few times, and happened to stumble upon a book called The Gift of Pain in the midst of my visits. I won’t get into the book now, but it revolutionized my idea of pain and how we ought to embrace it and be thankful for it, rather than thoughtlessly numb it. 6 years after Ethiopia, I bought the book again to re-read it. Dr. Paul Brand, a surgeon that specialized in working with lepers, tells us a simple, free secret to avoiding hip problems as we age. We young folks need to know this so we can take preventative measures too.
Indian vs. Western Habits
“It struck me that Indian people rarely complained about osteoarthritis of the hip, a common malady of old age in the West. Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage cushion separating the femur and hip socket wears down, narrowing until the bones almost touch. Sometimes they rub together, resulting in friction and severe pain. The pattern shows up readily in X-rays. Searching for clues, I compared the hip X-rays of Indian and Western patience and found that the cartilage gap closes at the same rate in the elderly of both cultures.”
Only One Direction
“Uneven wear is what causes such difficulty in Western hips. The ball of the femur starts out as a smooth sphere. Westerners tend to move their legs in only one direction, straight ahead and back, as they walk or run or sit in chairs. The bone scores along a single plane, resulting in some longitudinal grooving and the formation of tiny bumps and projections in the cartilage—the eventual source of arthritic pain. In contrast, Indians customarily sit with crossed legs, yoga style, rotating their hips in full abduction and complete rotation dozens of times a day. The ball of the femur wears evenly, not asymmetrically, and even through the aging cartilage of the joint shrinks, elderly Indians walk on a perfect sphere without grooves and projections. Sitting cross-legged is good insurance against old-age hip pain.”
Sit Cross-Legged As Much as Possible
“Artificial hip replacement is now a huge, profitable business in the West. It staggers me to realize how much expense and suffering could be avoided if we simply became more adept at listening to the body’s message that we ought to give every joint a full range of activity every day. The average middle-aged person finds it painful to sit fully cross-legged, because he hasn’t used the rotation of his hips for years. In contrast, someone who swims and climbs mountains, or walks on rough uneven ground as our ancestors did, uses every available movement and forestalls future pain. I toy with the idea of placing an ad in health journals offering “A Guaranteed Method to Avoid Hip Replacement” and charging $100 or so for the secret formula. Adopt the practice in youth of sitting cross-legged ten times a day on the floor or on a sofa.” – Paul Brand (1914-2003)