Rewards of a Pilgrimage Through Pain

For the sake of this post, let’s say that the definition of pilgrimage is a journey to a holy place.

And that the definition of holy is healthy, whole, happy, and sound.

The English word “holy” dates back to at least the 11th century with the Old English word hālig, an adjective derived from hāl meaning “whole” and used to mean “uninjured, sound, healthy, entire, complete“. The Scottish hale (“health, happiness and wholeness“) is the most complete modern form of this Old English root. (from Wikipedia entry for the word sacred)

Chronic pain can be a long and humbling journey. I learned through my pilgrimage back to healthy wholeness that the time and money required to reduce and prevent physical pain are worthy investments.

The rewards of a commitment to preventative care are future physical and mental well-being and a handsome reduction of future medical expense.

The Downward Spiral of Chronic Pain

Strong enough to climb mountains! (that’s me in the middle)

I am not a physical therapist or a doctor, so what I know about pain comes only from my personal experience.  Physical pain in one part affects multiple other parts, one very important part being the mind.  For a number of years I had mysterious pain that traveled around the region of my lower back, hip, and lower abdomen.  Initially, during longer periods of “remission” I was strong enough to whitewater kayak, climb mountains, backpack, practice intense hot yoga, and ride my bike up to 250 miles/week.  As the years went on, the pain became worse and more frequent, despite intermittent attempts to manage, treat and resolve.  Here’s what I experienced toward the bottom of this downward spiral:

  • Near-constant pain, including waking up multiple times each night and inability to sit in my chair at work for longer than a few minutes at a time
  • Physical activity reduced to short walks and gentle swimming pool workouts
  • Diminishing ability to complete basic household chores (cooking, laundry, yard work, etc.)
  • Weight gain
  • Irritability
  • Depression that manifested as almost zero interest in social activities
  • Though I prioritized maintaining a positive attitude and hope that things would get better, this dark period was a strain not only on my mental health, but also on my most important relationships with my husband, family, friends, and co-workers


Road to Diagnosis

Throughout this experience I sought out help along the way with visits to doctors, physical therapists, and acupuncturists.  When the $h*t hit the fan, I went through a battery of visits and procedures:

  • Appointments with internists, gastroenterologists, gynecologists, and physical therapists
  • Colonoscopy, abdominal CT, ultrasound, and eventually a hysterectomy that may not have been necessary


Diagnosis, at last

When there was still pain after the hysterectomy, an athletic trainer that helped me numerous times over the years referred me to Iris Wolf, PT, the physical therapist who was finally able identify the source of years of  physical woes.




After just 2 appointments with Iris, the pain relief that I experienced was transformative.  I knew the road to recovery would be long and I didn’t know if I could reach my prior status of active athlete, but I was committed to putting in 100% effort.  18 months of treatment involved:

  • 25 hours of physical therapy at Iris’ office
  • 360 hours of exercise/therapy at home (~40 minutes every day for 18 months)
  • Commitment to maintaining home therapy routine of 20-30 minutes/day for the rest of my life


Rewards of Recovery

It has been over a year since my last appointment with Iris, and I feel great.  In the past year I have enjoyed


Back on the bike! Banks-Vernonia trail

  • Many days with near-zero pain
  • Restful nights
  • Walking 2-7 miles every day
  • A few hikes and a couple of short backpack trips
  • Multiple local bike rides and a few bike-packing trips (one of them 175 miles over 4 days)
  • Re-connecting with family and friends
  • Getting involved in my community
  • Meeting new people and establishing new friendships
  • Greatly reduced medical expense (from $1,982 in 2015 to $1,029 in 2016, and $130 so far in Q1 2017)


Commitment to Pain Prevention (the pilgrimage continues …)

There are many ways to prevent and manage pain.  Here are a few that work well for me:

  • Daily meditation: 30-40 minutes a day (10-20 minutes per sit)
  • Daily stretching and Taoist Tai Chi foundation exercise routine to maintain flexibility and strength
  • Healthy meals
    • High in veggies, legumes, fruits, and nuts
    • Low in sugars, meats, dairy, and processed foods
  • Minimum of 60 minutes/day of physical activity
  • Maintenance PT appointments with Iris as needed (2 times in past 6 months – not bad!)

*Note that all of these are free of charge except for the occasional PT appointment and tax deductible fees for intro classes at the Taoist Tai Chi Society. These classes were a worthy investment in health and cost far less than medical expense associated with pain.




Pain Management: Benefits of Physical, Mental, and Financial Health 

How has pain management improved your physical, mental, and/or financial health?
















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