Training with Chronic Pain

Jessie Madrigal-Fletcher

I love hearing about the different ways people train. It’s important to me that this site reflects the realities of training and covers the spectrum of the types of people who train. So, meet Jessie, who suffers with chronic pain and yet, still manages to be an utter badass. Jessie has been a Twitter buddy of mine for years and I’m always interested to hear how she gets through training despite her pain. I thought many could learn from her story, so I invited her to tell it.


Sometimes I forget how fit I used to be. I was quite the gym bunny, whether it was climbing, spinning, or power pump aerobics. I completed a couple of 10-mile runs for charity. I also enjoyed my job in fashion which was physically, very demanding. My body worked like a machine and I took it for granted. Then, 5 years ago, everything changed.

It started as a subtle discomfort at the lower end of my spine. Slowly, it developed into a full blown injury. Running and even walking became extremely painful. I cancelled my gym membership, soon after I had to give up my beloved job. I developed a limp, and every time I overexerted myself, I spent several days in bed. I became one of millions of people to suffer from chronic pain.

The thing you don’t expect from a life-altering injury is how certain emotions take over your mind. Anger at myself for not being able to socialise, unable to stand or sit comfortably for more than half an hour. Anger at people who stopped calling me to hang out because of that. Frustration when I lost jobs because of my injury. Then, penniless, helplessness kicked in. I became terrified, losing sleep and developing anxiety issues wondering how I would make a living.

The last five years have been a continuum of doctors, physiotherapists and personal trainers. No one has been able to fix me. It’s taken me all this time to realise something: I’m the only one able to get myself out of this hole. I stopped listening to countless and often contradictory ‘expert’ opinions and began paying attention to what my body said.

Pilates has been a life saver. I built a stronger core, reducing back pain enormously. I also regained mobility in my legs and hips, helping me get rid of the limp and, slowly but surely, enabling me to run up to 2.5 miles. I enjoy Pilates so much, last month I got my first instructor certificate.

6 months ago, I decided to challenge myself and began a 200-hour yoga teacher training in Barcelona. There are many similar courses, open to people who want to work as a yoga instructor, or to those wishing to deepen their knowledge of this discipline.

At the end of each 20-hour weekend session, my entire body hurts and I can barely speak. During practice sometimes, my hips feel like they are about to break, or a sharp pain at the bottom of my spine paralyses me for a few seconds.

I am now half-way through the training, and last week my body did a full-blown shut down. Unable to tie the laces of my shoes and sit up straight, I had to admit defeat and rest for a few days. The usual doubts and feelings of frustration kicked in, pesky predictive little ghosts. Little by little, I dusted myself off and experimented with some soft yoga practice, walked my dogs to loosen my body. Thus, my training goes on.

One of my yoga teachers, told me to look at my physical problems like the weather: there will be grey days, awfully stormy ones, but then there are times in which the sun shines pretty brightly. I now apply this to my entire life.

A lot of the emotional harm I do to myself comes from how little I like to wait. Yoga is making me much more patient, stronger, and proud of every little step forward I make.

Ultimately, yoga is becoming the key to being kinder to myself, to the point of celebrating every little thing that means being me, even my injury. I may not be able to practise a certain sport, go to a club and dance all night, but that doesn’t mean I wont be able to do it in the future. It may even mean I’m destined to do something different yet equally amazing.

I don’t know if I will ever get “fixed”. But that won’t stop me from trying, it won’t stop me from living.


Follow Jessie on Twitter and check out the Yoga course she’s doing.

6 Responses to “Training with Chronic Pain”
  1. Helen says:

    I suffer with chronic pain too and am just starting the road of using training as a means to (hopefully) improve things. Thank you for this brilliant post, it has given me confidence to go forward less afraid that things will get worse and maybe even hopeful for the future. My absolute best to you both, Jessie and Bangs.


  2. Thanks for reading and commenting Helen. I hope you can find what works for you. I really do believe that there is a path to a better life for everyone with chronic pain or an injury. It may not be what the experts tell you, it may not be what your family wants you to do, it may be something completely new, or it may not be just one thing, but several. It’s all about taking it one step at a time and being seriously kind to yourself. Life is cyclical, there are up moments, down moments, and our bodies work the same way. It will get better, then really good, then maybe it gets bad again, but at that nasty moment remember it WILL get better again.

    Sending you tons of positive vibes and love, Helen xx

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