How I Got Pain Free with Pilates

Here is my story how I became pain free with Pilates. It has changed my body, my mind, and taken away all my daily nerve pain. It’s been replaced it with confidence, strength and a lean, strong figure that I’m truly proud of.

I’m so over the moon enthusiastic about Pilates, and what it’s done for my body, that I simply must share it with you… and stop clogging my Facebook feed with Pilates memes and milestones (sorry friends and family, this is my attempt to make it right).

I’d like to start this Pilates series with my CRPS and Pilates journey, as I believe it’s the most important and most personal.

I expect to cry a lot as I write this, and hope my CRPS and fellow nerve pain warriors will find value and hope in my story.

My CRPS Story

I won’t dive too deeply into my CRPS problems, you can read all about them here, but I will give you a brief synopsis and explain how it has affected my body.

In 2011 I was diagnosed with CRPS (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome), also known as RSD, it’s a nerve disease that ranks highest of all diseases on the pain scale.

McGill Pain Index

By 2014 it had spread to half of my body, making it hard to do simple things like walk, wash my hair and worst of all, play with my daughter.

I tried many different nerve medications, physical therapy and nerve blocks. Some helped, a little, but nothing really gave me the quality of life I desired.

Why I Started Doing Pilates

Beginning Pilates Class

My Pilates journey started at North County Pilates in 2016. I started with One-On-One training and then moved onto small group classes. (photo courtesy of North County Pilates)

In 2016 my first cookbook “Lose Weight by Eating” was slated to be released, and I knew there would be a media tour associated with it.

The problem with that was that the stress and work that it takes to write, edit and pour your heart out into a book had spurred a pain burst and left me bedridden for months.

I literally edited the entire book from my bed, took sales and marketing meetings from my bed and tried to hide all of this from my publishing house. Something HAD to change, I couldn’t appear on the Rachael Ray Show from my bed!!

I had heard about Pilates and decided to give it a try, what did I have to lose?

I figured any movement would help and signed up for some one-on-one classes with a very patient and experienced Pilates instructor. It was expensive, but so were the meds and the nerve blocks… and so my journey into Pilates began, thank goodness!

My Journey Through Pilates

My journey through Pilates started slow with one-on-one private classes, and eventually led to Advanced Pilates group classes. Though it took some time, I have gotten to a place I never could have imagined in both my level of classes, and in my body. Here is my journey…

One-On-One Pilates Classes

One-On-One Pilates Classes

I started on the Tower, Reformer and Pilates Chair in private One-On-One sessions. (photo courtesy of North County Pilates)

As I noted above I started with one-on-one classes, I was terrified that I would hurt myself and opted for 15 one-on-one classes instead of the 10 required to join a group reformer class.

The instructor was gentle and patient. I pointed out the places she could not touch my body (still to this day, if an instructor touches the bottom of my left foot the pain is so excruciating I have to stop).

She always asked before placing her hands on me to make sure not to hurt me.

My instructor left the studio and moved out of state halfway through our 15 one-on-one sessions and I started on with a new instructor, Melissa Barton.

Melissa Barton - North County Pilates

Melissa is the owner of North County Pilates in Atascadero, CA.

She is my guardian angel who gave me my life back (tears!)

I was feeling stronger and more confident and with a new instructor I was able to shed my “scarred” skin and challenge myself more.

Melissa moved me from the one-on-one classes into a beginner reformer class before my 15 sessions were over, she gave me the confidence and knowledge to do so.

Beginner Pilates Classes

Beginner Pilates Classes

In Pilates beginner group classes I was able to challenge myself, unlike One-On-One training there is a rhythm to the class, and you don’t want to fall behind. It makes you want to push yourself to keep up, and as you do that you let go of fear and kick butt! (photo courtesy of North County Pilates)

My first Pilates reformer class I was terrified, I expected to see a ton of hard bodied blondes like something out of a Robert Palmer video. Boy was a wrong (thank goodness, and in the best kind of way!)

Instead I found myself in a group of women all with injuries, some back problems, knee problems, even a woman who had spine surgery!

They were all warm and friendly and as Melissa walked the 7 of us through a reformer class she gave each of us specific modifications to help with our injuries.

After a while I realized that I had better movement, that daily tasks were easier and that the pain was less frequent. I wanted to challenge myself more.

I figured “if I’m gonna hurt, I want it to be positive pain, not negative pain” and I craved that muscle pain you get after a really hard workout. I called it “Fighting Fire with Fire” and reveled in it!

Intermediate Pilates Classes

Intermediate Pilates Classes

It was in an Intermediate Pilates Class that I did my first plank in 6 years. Two wrist surgeries had made that impossible, but in Pilates I got back my range of motion and strength. I started as seen above, on my forearms and moved up to on my hands. I cried after that class, tears of joy! (photo courtesy of North County Pilates)

Always the teacher’s pet, I wanted more weight on my reformer, harder modifications and Melissa moved me up from beginner to intermediate classes!

ME!! The CRPS patient who 8 months earlier was stuck in bed! Talk about a powerful moment, I was not going to let her down and I was going to kick butt in intermediate reformer classes.

This was also the time when I was to appear on the Rachael Ray Show, I was to film just before the book was released, and it would be aired after the book release date. I had to kick butt and look great, and Melissa got me there!

Gone were the days of “I’m just doing this so I can move and be out of pain” I had graduated to wanting to be a Pilates bad-ass.

I don’t even remember the moment it switched for me, or the day I took my last pain pill, but it was during this time frame. I was so distracted by Pilates and feeling good I completely missed this CRPS milestone.

I started the Intermediate classes, and let me tell you, they were a challenge! Much harder movements and choreography, but I kept with it and after a few months Melissa would say to the class, “look at what Audrey is doing if you’re not sure”.

Can you imagine me, the ham, the teacher’s pet being used as the example?! I was so proud of myself and my accomplishments.

Now, I’m gonna go off on a small tangent, so stick with me. During this time my book came out, Melissa and her studio helped me through the stress and anxiety with Pilates, more on that in a soon to be released post.

Shortly after that I moved to Idaho and I had to leave my little studio and my guardian angel, again more on that in a future post. I’m only filling in the gaps here so we can get onto my next milestone… ADVANCED Pilates!

Advanced Pilates Classes

Advanced Pilates Classes

I was surprised to find that Advanced Pilates is mostly increasing choreography and building upon exercises you have already mastered in Intermediate Pilates, with some new (and really fun) exercises. Don’t be scared, if your instructor tells you you’re ready, you’re ready! (photo Courtesy of Pilates at Thrive)

Never in my wildest dreams would I ever expect to say (or shall I say, write) this, but I am currently in Advanced Reformer Pilates at Thrive Physical Therapy in Boise.

I have not taken a single pain pill (not including the occasional Aleve), had a nerve block or taken a nerve medication in over a year!

My pain levels are typically between 0-3 each day and I recently had a pain burst that ranked only between 4-6 on a pain scale, went away in 2 days and I was able to go about my daily activities during the burst… all because I got myself into a Pilates class when it hit… but I digress, let’s talk advanced Pilates.

I moved to Idaho, found a wonderful studio and started at the beginning again. Because each studio and method is a little different, studios often want you to start with the one-on-one or beginner classes no matter your current level, especially when you’re dealing with injuries.

After one class they moved me up to Intermediate, and to my surprize I heard myself asking Jessica, the owner of the Idaho studio a couple months later “when can I start advanced classes?” and you’re gonna laugh… she said “you just did, I didn’t tell any of you, but all 3 of you in today’s class were ready for advanced classes, so I just taught you an advanced class!”

Say WHAT?! She pulled a fast one on me, and I couldn’t love her more for that! I would have been terrified for my first advanced class, and well, that wasn’t possible anymore.

Last week I was early for a class and realized, in not so many words and not in an obvious manner the receptionist was trying to steer me away from the intermediate classes and into all advanced. Probably because space is limited in my new small studio, it took me the drive home to realize her questions of “why are you still taking that intermediate class? We have an advanced earlier in the day, does that work with your schedule?” was their way of giving me that final push.

I’m currently attending 2-3 Advanced Reformer Pilates classes a week, I find that 2 is enough to relieve my pain and give me the flexability I desire. Three classes per week is my next goal, I feel strong and notice much more muscle definition the more often I attend classes.

How Pilates Has Affected My CRPS

Pain Free from CRPS with Pilates

For years I struggled with chronic pain, after a year in Pilates my pain was gone!

When I started this journey, putting on the yoga pants and getting into the car was painful. But I kept with it and now I am happy to share with you I feel great!

No more daily pain, the brain fog that comes with CRPS is mostly gone, my stress levels are low (which helps a lot with pain) and I’m so strong!! I can pick my daughter up again, and she’s a big kid first grader who’s almost my height!

When I was on the Rachael Ray Show I got to cook with both Rachael and Bob Harper, he complimented me on Pilates saying “it’s too hard for me” and “damn girl, look at those Pilates arms” I could have never stood on that stage in heals (I have CRPS in one leg and my back) if not for Pilates.

I would not have had the confidence to be silly and giddy and make them laugh so much that they asked me to come back. I had gone from being the “broken girl” to the “Pilates Bad-Ass” and that is, in my eyes, the ultimate pain warrior story.

As I said above, I recently had a pain burst. I did a book tour in Texas and all the travel and stress took its toll on my body. I was limping to the baggage claim when I finally arrived home, woke up in pain the next morning. Three fingers in my affected arm were both numb and burning like they were on fire (yeah, seems impossible, but that’s CRPS!) and my leg felt like it was 200 pounds, the simple movement of walking was almost too much for my affected hip.

The first thing I did was sign up for the first class I could get into… a beginner class. When I arrived for the class everyone was curious why the advanced gal was there in a beginner class, but I KNEW my body couldn’t handle a advanced class. It was gentle and easy and I went home feeling about 50% better, my leg still felt so heavy it was hard to move, but I could.

The following day was my usual advanced class and I was able to keep up, I believe thanks to taking the easier class the day before, and by the next day my pain burst was completely over. I think in the 48 hours the pain burst lasted, I took 4 Aleve… that’s how great Pilates is for my body!

On a fun note, Jessica my advanced instructor and Pilates Studio owner has asked me twice to become an instructor! 18 months ago I could not get out of bed, now I’m advanced Pilates, in remission (knock on wood) and being approached to become an instructor.

My Pain Relieving Pilates Theory

Pain Relief and Pilates

After struggling with chronic pain due to CRPS/RSD for 6 years, I found a way to free myself of daily pain while strengthening my body and mind. (photo courtesy of Pilates at Thrive)

So, why do I believe Pilates has helped my CRPS so greatly? I want to explore that with you in this next section, but I must stress that I am not a doctor, a scientist or even a Pilates instructor. These are just my theories, they could be right or very wrong… but this is why I believe it’s helped me so much. And let’s be honest, I don’t really care WHY it’s helped, but that it HAS helped.

Learning To Move More Fluidly

Pilates has taught me to move my body more fluidly, not jaring my joints or muscles. Because Pilates was originally created to assist ballerinas recovering from injuries, it’s a very graceful exercise. You are never supposed to move your joints in an unnatural or stressful way, and instructors teach you how to feel the right movements in your joints.

I can now identify joints you may not have thought were there, for instance my shoulder blades, I know how to move them in a graceful intentional manner as to not jar them or move them in a way that might cause pinching.

My hip, I know my range of motion and can even do the splits (on a good day) now… something I could never do even as a kid! I can move my ribs, in and out and catch myself realigning my spine when my posture is off… getting me to my next point, posture.

Better Posture

I have learned how to stack my spine, sit on my “sits bones” close my ribcage with my abs and often catch myself doing all of these things without thinking. I even catch myself realigning my spine from my neck to my tailbone in bed, as I’m falling asleep!

So why is this important? Better posture is great for looking thinner, and for the short gals like me, looking taller. But also helps with overall health. You are less likely to pull a muscle or hurt yourself in exercise and daily life if you have good alignment. It has helped with moving more fluidly and absolutely helped with the pain. Even as I’m sitting here writing this, I’m sitting up straight and rolling my shoulder blades back to avoid tension from pouring over a keyboard all day.

Repairing Muscles May Repair More Than Just Muscles

So here’s where my “theory” warning comes into play, big time. I have read articles that lean to this theory, but none having to do with CRPS… The theory is that when your body repairs muscles after a workout, it may repair more.

So you exercise, and you really work those muscles, they ache and repair themselves. Do they perhaps also repair the nerves in the same area? And if so can they repair CRPS or other nerve conditions?

I really don’t know, but I think it is a real possibility, and I also think this may be why I am doing so well after working out my affected areas in Pilates. No other exercise do you work your hip muscles in such an intense and yet gentle way, or your spine etc.

Sure other exercises may do the same, but I believe it’s all three, the fluidity, posture and the repair, paired with an instructor spotting you and ensuring you are doing every exercise perfectly.


Pilates Pain Relief

If you’re looking for an exercise that both disabled persons and professional athletes both swear by, try Pilates! (photo courtesy of Thrive at PIlates)

So as I bring this “lifestyle” article to a close I want to thank you for listening, I poured my heart out and hope you will enjoy my story. My plan is to write a 6 part (or more) series on Pilates for the Lose Weight by Eating blog.

This amazing exercise was created to help ballerinas stay strong while recovering from injuries, but Pilates is not just for the injured, look up the slew of celebrities who attribute their hard and yet lean bodies to the exercise, many who look light years younger than their age (Sandra Bullock, Kate Hudson, Cameron Diaz just to name a few).

I recommend trying out a reformer class if you can afford it, if not take a mat class, but please do me a favor… if you are dealing with injuries or disabilities, do not start doing Pilates at home without an instructor until you have mastered the moves. Like any exercise, you can hurt yourself if you’re not doing it correctly, and my instructor still corrects me often.

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