It seems preposterous I’m sure!! Most people will tell you that their exercise regimen is the cause of their chronic aches and pains, in some cases, it absolutely can be if you aren’t careful to avoid over training and/or listen to the warning signs that your body is sending you. Some people even use chronic aches and pains as an excuse not to exercise. Not many people will tell you that it has cured them However, looking at it conversely from the standpoint of someone who suffers from an injury that left me with a lifelong illness – I can tell you that beginning (and sticking to) a regular exercise program saved me.
About 11 years ago I had a few injuries the last of which was when I broke my leg in 10 places. The resultant trauma left me with a disease called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). Long medical jargon made short – the trauma to my leg caused a total breakdown of my sympathetic nervous system. RSD causes severe pain, weakness and loss of feeling to the limb that is affected, has been known to spread to other limbs after even the smallest trauma such as cuts or bruising and has caused loss of hearing and blindness in some individuals
The way most people visit their PCP for illnesses I was visiting orthopedic specialists. I was put on a regimen of anti-inflammatory medications to help with the swelling and inflammation, anti-anxiety medications and sedatives to calm the nervous system and oxycontin to help with the pain. I lived that way for several years and felt myself spinning out of control. Don’t get me wrong, I went through the motions day by day, took care of my kids and my husband, went to work but there is absolutely no quality of life when you are in a constant fog.
One day I decided to start exercising. I started out slowly and everything I did hurt and sometimes it hurt bad – but I kept going. It’s very easy to take a painkiller every time you are hurting, it’ not so easy to ignore that pain and keep working. But I did. I worked with personal trainers – attended a regular boot camp class for a while then started doing kickboxing with my then trainer and coach. The same thing, everything hurt, I often suffered from awful pains, cramps, seizing muscles, etc. but I kept pushing myself and while I tend to be a bit of an extremist and didn’t always listen to my body – the pain that I was feeling was good pain. My muscles were sore, my joints ached but the symptoms that I had suffered over the previous years had dramatically decreased.
I am now going on 5 years of following some type of continuous exercise program. Some people think I’m crazy for putting my body through some of the things that I have. I’ve run marathons, suffered some more overuse injuries, broken bones (due to my extreme klutziness more than anything) and I now do CrossFit where I have been blissfully happy. CrossFit is hard – it pushes you to limits you never thought possible, if you let it. But, more than anything, it is a cure for my chronic pain. I no longer take medications. I no longer need to see my orthopedic specialist more than I see my husband. I no longer need to lie around in agony crying woe is me. I took control of my life and exercising helped me do that. I still have some triggers that cause pain in my left leg and foot, I still have areas on that same leg and foot where I have absolutely no feeling whatsoever or very limited feeling, but I am a happier healthier person all around.
After I stopped taking the medications I was still seeing my pain specialist once per year to get a series of nerve block injections (cold weather can be brutal on this disease) but the last time I was there (over 2 years ago) my doctor told me that he wished all of his patients would listen to people like me. He has so many patients that just decide to give up and live their lives on medication rather than fighting the good fight and trying a more natural approach to their illness. The thing is…exercise makes you stronger, the stronger you are the more able your body is to fight. It’s not an easy fight but it’s definitely worth fighting for in the end.
By Holly Packy