Annie’s Health Journey: Cardio, CrossFit and Chronic Pain

Annie’s Health Journey: Cardio, CrossFit and Chronic Pain

My fitness story begins like many others: I was pretty active growing up as a competitive swimmer. Healthy food was not something that really crossed my mind (hello, post-swim practice pancakes!), but my weight wasn’t a huge issue.

During college, I dabbled at the university rec center with a few bootcamp classes, Pilates sessions and stints of the elliptical here and there, but I never really fell in love with exercise (and mostly spent my free time pursuing less-healthy activities).

After college, I had the great fortune to start work at a health and wellness-related company, where living a healthy life was not only a personal interest of all my coworkers, but also a professional one.

There, I learned the many ways regular exercise boosts health: We’re talking improved sleep cycles, less stress, a lower risk of nearly every chronic disease, a happier mind, better bone density — the benefits of exercise go on and on.

This awakening prompted 22-year-old me to go beyond occasional jogs and group fitness classes, and I took up long-distance running. Thanks to coaching from experienced coworkers, I quickly started running half marathons, upping my strength training game and going to yoga and spin classes, which I loved.

women running marathon

A pre-dawn photo before my first half marathon in Central Park. I was hooked!

All was well for a few years — I even made tons of new friends through running — until nagging pain in my neck and glues began to start and stop, as I pushed myself to run farther and faster.

For months, I would experience twinges of pain that would clear up after a quick stretch, so I thought nothing of it, chalking up aches and pains as a normal runner’s experience. That is, until one day, after a 3-mile recovery run as part of my training for the New York City marathon, I found myself nearly unable to walk.

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I felt shooting pain everywhere — my neck and down my arms, in my glutes and radiating down my legs into my feet, which felt numb. Every step I took was excruciating.

It was obviously time to call a doctor (looking back now, I can’t believe I didn’t do it sooner)!

After a couple months of different treatments, X-rays and MRIs, I was diagnosed with previously unnoticed structural issues in my spine and hips, as well as bulging discs in my spine that were impinging some nerves in my right arm and right leg (hence the radiating, all-over pain).

At that time, my doctor said I would never run again.

coworkers running in race

Running with coworkers would be no more

I called my boyfriend sobbing, as he and my friends and family jumped to say that I needed a second opinion — stat. I got one (and a third) and took up a year-long journey of multiple physical therapists, too many doctor’s visits to count and trips to different chiropractors, massage therapists and even one “mind/body practitioner,” as I struggled to find answers for why I felt the way I did.

Unfortunately, I never really got a great answer, and that first doctor turned out to be mostly right. I have not been able to run more than a mile or two without pain since.

For many months, I was in too much pain to even walk a mile or more or to lift anything. I memorably recall having a serious muscle spasm trying to pick up a 2-quart saucepan, and how painful it was to wheel a suitcase through the airport or to carry my laptop to work.

More than two years later, I’m happy to say I’ve mostly learned how to manage my pain, through mobility work, over-the-counter pain meds and a firm understanding of the types of exercises I can and cannot do. But more than two years later, I also am in pain every single day.

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My biggest bright spot is that I have been able to start biking and doing CrossFit — something my first doctor said was impossible — which has made me stronger than I’ve ever been. Thanks to CrossFit, my health journey has a happy ending.

bike chained up

My bike! My other post-running fitness love, and my favorite activity to share with my boyfriend.

What I really want others to know from this is that it’s true what they say: Health is the greatest wealth.

Not everyone needs to run a marathon or do CrossFit or practice yoga. But finding a way to move your body in a way that you love is one of the most important things you can do for yourself and your family.
Any day you can move — walk, run, bike, or anything else — is a great day.

Annie shared her journey and so can you. Join in on the my steps our journey challenge and if you’re interested in sharing more contact christina@matchup.io

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