Recovering From 19 Years of Chronic Pain

by Chris Werts

I’ve been an athlete all of my life, not at the elite level but perhaps some would say right below that. Growing up, very little emphasis was put on strengthening modalities, and all kids are invincible as you know. Baseball was my jam, but I did it all. When I was 16, I blew my shoulder in the championship game and that was that, for baseball anyway. There went my hopes and dreams! Never rehabbed it, actually just kinda doubled down on being more stubborn about my pain levels. I was told it was normal for a ball player like me, and that I’d get over it eventually. I played for another 2 years but I was never the same player.

A few years later (2006) saw me in boot camp, USMC, another two years after that began my single deployment overseas. Young military men are not known for showing pain, weakness, emotions, whatever, and I of course was no different. It was very hard on our bodies, but we were young and dumb, and we liked it that way.

Fast forward to 2013, no longer serving but still abusing my body every chance I got. At some point in 2010, I got into playing softball, and over the years just kept hurting my arm and shoulder again and again, having to drive home after the games left handed because I couldn’t hold the steering wheel with my right, before I switched from shortstop to pitcher. It was almost a point of pride, you know, like how much pain can I tolerate and still perform? I also broke my jaw that year (2013), that sucked. Again, no rehab or strengthening once the wires came off my teeth, 9 weeks total of eating through a straw. Lots of pain, I remember feeling like my arm was gonna fall off at the shoulder, and for several months out of the year, that pain level was my baseline.

I carried on anyway. At some point, I figured out that I couldn’t continue on this path. stress levels were through the roof, due to work and some relationship issues. This began my severe stomach problems, and for about 2 years the only thing that would abate these stomach issues (temporarily) was exercise. So around early 2014, I began my own gym practice, decided bodybuilding was for me, and started to get big.

The bigger I got, the more pain I was in. I looked great but usually felt awful. In 2016, I quit my desk job and I decided to become a massage therapist to try and start tackling these internal issues, because at this point, basically everything hurt at all times, but I couldn’t stop because if I did, my stomach issues would flare up (stress). I remember having to decide between muscular pain or GI pain and issues…it wasn’t fun. Anyway.

9 months of schooling and I was officially a licensed massage therapist! It was a great experience and I am glad I did it. The daily, often more than once, massages were great for the stress but I mean honestly didn’t do much for my pain. Maybe a little bit here and there but nothing lasting. I actually developed lower back pain during massage school, because while they did preach proper body mechanics, my body simply couldn’t move the way it was supposed to. I should mention at this point, I’m 31 years old.

By the time I graduated massage school, I couldn’t work as a therapist, mostly due to the chronic pain I had, and fear of making it worse. I was still working out, but not as much, and as the back pain got worse and worse I began to stay home and indoors more and more. By the end of 2017, I was basically bedridden. I couldn’t move my neck left or right, driving became nearly impossible. I couldn’t use my right arm for more than a few seconds. The back pain got worse the more I laid around, although I didn’t make the connection at the time.

By the end of 2018, I was 40 lbs heavier than I had ever been, and I had type 2 diabetes. It was the hardest thing I have ever done, sitting around all day doing nothing. I got into podcasts and audiobooks but that was about all I did. Never been a tv or Netflix guy, but podcasts and audiobooks became my life. I remember – I would lay on my massage table, set in the living room next to the large exterior windows and watch the sun rise, and fall, and move around in between, listening to whatever podcast I was into at the time. By this time, my girlfriend and I were split, we had to sell the house, she took the dogs, etc. It was bad. I hadn’t worked in over 3 years at this point, and was living with my parents.

2019 January, one night, enough was enough. Nobody in my family or inner circle knows this next part, but I am okay sharing it now: I was gonna either die, or die trying. I wasn’t depressed, I was just robotic. I felt like a zombie. Suicide wasn’t an option…. but I *could* try and give myself a heart attack. Alright, let’s do it. I’m ready.

I went for a run, and I went all out, like I hadn’t done in probably 7 years at this point. It was absolutely manic. I remember laughing and crying at the same time. It was 2am in the Alaskan winter, and the tears were freezing to my face as I ran a large loop around my neighborhood. When I got home, I didn’t die, I actually felt really good for about 10 minutes or so and I thought to myself, there’s something here. This began my real journey towards pain relief.

That night I decided to re-attack the problem, and with the financial support of my parents and support from the VA I began seeing, man I don’t know, 20+ people for my pain, ranging from MDs to internists to chiropractors and everyone in between, with very little progress to show, and certainly no diagnoses other than general pain. Refusing all meds, I decided a change of pace might help, and moved to Washington. Down there, with a LOT of help, I started to get healthy, lost the weight and took care of the diabetes. I met with a different style somatic practitioner and went through her 6 week course in person. It helped, way more than anything else, but at this point my back pain was a constant 5-6 with flare ups in the 8-9 range. I was also seeing 2 chiropractors, one weekly and one bi-weekly, both with different approaches to pain. This was mid 2019.

But by February 2020, the pain was still there, maybe just a little bit better sometimes but nothing to brag about. Right before the Covid outbreak, I moved back home. I found that I could get some temporary back pain relief by running, but by this point I had run my knees and hips and feet into the ground, and I was lucky to run a mile without excruciating pain somewhere else in my body. By September 2020, I decided “it is what it is” and gave up hope of ever being pain free, hoping to just manage the pain through diet and exercise.

Sarah, I heard you on the Rogue Running podcast, and your words were like a puzzle piece snapping into place. Everything I had learned about pain over the past 4 years, plus my own approach to my pain, got turned upside down in that hour. Before the podcast was over, I had purchased the Level One Course. This was, well, exactly 53 days ago! After…call it 19 years of chronic pain…within 10 days it was all gone. Shoulder, back, feet, knees, neck, all gone. I cried for about an hour when I realized that I had gone a whole day without thinking about my back. It makes me tear up as I write this, thinking about it. Words cannot describe, so I will not try.

You know, it was absolutely insane to me that these tiny movements could be so powerful. I just never questioned the bodybuilding dogma and stretching protocols for pain, “no pain no gain,” the massage modalities we were taught, etc. I just never thought of any other types of movement you know? My whole life, everyone said pain is normal, just deal with it. Mentors, my family, friends, colleagues, etc. Complete BS, but I just didn’t know! But the morning after doing the VERY FIRST Arch & Flatten, what is that like a 10 minute video, I could tell that this was gonna be the answer. I was so relieved. There was this mental ease that came with knowing this was gonna work. I could put that burden down and trust a protocol. I’m here for that. I loooove me some efficiency.

When I first started the program, I wanted to do it all on Day 1 and of course it wouldn’t let me. After complaining to my girlfriend, she said something like, “Do you want to do the program or do you want to just do it your way and not get any results like you normally do?” I am glad she humbled me. It was absolutely the perfect program for me.

Of course, I have since done all of the Level One stuff, and I can honestly say that there is still a small level of tension in my right shoulder, but other than that, I am *completely* pain free, and back to doing whatever I want with my body, which now includes biking, disc golfing, dancing, running, hiking, swimming, and of course, pandiculations. I won’t miss another day. And you know what else? I am STRONGER than I have ever been. Even when I was bodybuilding 7 days a week, I wasn’t this physically capable. It’s a different kind of strength, it’s a CONFIDENT strength, or something close to it…kinda hard to describe. And this is only the beginning?! Heck yeah. BRING IT!

Thank you Sarah. From the bottom of my heart.

-by Chris Werts