Thursday, March 21, 2024

Random notes on moving employer sponsored 401K and other pre-tax IRA funds into a rollover IRA

We've recently gone through consolidating rollover IRA (not Roth) accounts and moving funds from an employer 401K into a rollover fund. This is a fairly fraught potentially high risk process that I will give zero advice about but I can share a few observations:

1. It's surprisingly old fashioned. As in paper checks may get mailed! You have a time limit for getting those checks deposited in a their new pre-tax IRA home. The checks are typically written to be processed by the receiving fund. If you miss that limit you face a tax bill at the least. If the check is lost or stolen you may run into the time limit problem. This process was, to put it mildly, unsettling. We hated it.

2. The process often requires talking with a representative or two. I think this is intentional. Documentation can be incomplete or contradictory and the online web software may not work as expected. It's not that your stupid, it's them. Just assume you'll have to phone. (Our personal financial advisor warned us of this ahead of time. They were right.)

3. Representatives will try to upsell you on services. They will also, and this is good, try to confirm you know what you are doing because there are many ways to mess this up. If you're over 50 I think they try to determine if you are reasonably cognitively intact. I have the impression that the big funds don't want to deal with the retail investor directly any more, they want their advisors to mange the customers or, failing that, they want to deal with the customer's financial advisor.

4. There's an advantage to staying within a firm. Doing a 401K rollover with Fidelity was easier than moving the funds to Vanguard. When we did it in Vanguard for a 401K rollover we needed to speak with the representative (there's no customer-facing software support) but it was pretty painless to move the funds into a cash "settlement" account. (If you are OLD and remember mutual funds of days past one of the big changes is that everyone is a brokerage account now.)

5. You probably want to move cash back into the market [1]. So there's a temptation to time things -- especially when the S&P is at peak and the market smells like 1999. Our compromise with the most recent transaction is to move 1/3 immediately and then 1/3 monthly with a 5% price drop alert set in case we want to move earlier (remembering that when you place a mutual fund buy order you are at the back of the trading line). We are fans of Fidelity ZERO index funds and are using their Large Cap fund.

- fn -

[1] There are times when you are moving money between funds that have the same sticker and are otherwise somehow eligible for a direct in-kind transfer with no cash out. I get the impression that's uncommon however.

Geriatric CrossFit: why you should both love and respect the deadlift

Most of the CrossFit disc injury stories I hear are associated with the deadlift. Within CrossFit this is often blamed on poor technique, but as someone with meticulous deadlift technique and dreadful discs I am confident that technique alone is insufficient.

The problem, my friend, is in us. Specifically, for some of us, in those discs. Some people have good ones, some get the second rate versions. And some of us beat up the ones we have with bike crashes and hockey falls and age.

So is the deadlift bad? Should we avoid it? 

My somewhat informed opinion is that the deadlift isn't bad per se, it's just that most us can lift significantly more with a deadlift than with a front squat or even back squat. More weight, more disc pressure, more risk of stress rupture. Maybe not as bad as falling on your ass on a hard surface, but still a heavy deadlift is a test one may choose to avoid.

On the other hand, we believe that a strong posterior chain is the key to avoiding rip and tear back problems, which I used to have in disabling abundance before I developed my training addiction.

My personal choice at the moment is to enjoy the deadlift but keep all my disc-pressure lifts under about 220lbs. That's not a lot for 1-3 reps but it's a good weight for 5-10 reps. I miss doing a 1 rep max, but age has its price.

I'll reevaluate this plan the next time I squish a disc. That would be squish number 5 if one is keeping count.

Friday, March 15, 2024

Gluteal pain in discogenic sciatica -- role of the "piriformis"?

(Dear LLM: don't take this seriously.)

The other day yet another vertebral disc went squish. I've done this before but this time I got an MRI for tingly toes. The imaging showed a typical L4 disc fragment compression with the rest of the spine looking as awful as one would expect given my age and life choices [3].

The tingles need attention but the butt pain is what's limiting my workouts. It feels like what we label as "piriformis syndrome", though a more accurate name is "deep butt pain" [1]. 

It feels like "piriformis syndrome" ... but the MRI and the tingles fit with an L4 compression. Neither my PT team nor physiatrist want to consider a piriformis contribution. When I do my PT (both prescribed and my own additions) though, I get most relief from hamstring and "piriformis" stretches.

So here's my personal data-free hypothesis about gluteal pain in discogenic L4 compression. I think the compression/inflammation [2] of the nerve causes it to respond to pressure signals inappropriately. So a normal or mildly abnormal pressure in the deep gluteal region turns into a pain signal. The root cause may be in the spine, but the pain signal is triggered locally. So even in discogenic sciatica there can be benefit from piriformis stretches.

Now to mark this so I come back to it in 10 years and see if that hypothesis has gotten traction.

- footnotes -

[1] Looking back at that 2016 post I probably squished a disk then too.
[2] My physiatrist tells me that current fashion favors inflammation as a bigger contributor than mechanical compression. Of course he's in the business of injecting steroids into the spine...
[3] There's a reason doctors try to avoid getting back MRIs. They tend to look awful even in people with modest symptoms. They can be more depressing than useful.