Jill's Story - A 37 Year Pain Journey

Founder's Introduction

Jill’s story teaches us about perseverance, determination, and hope. It’s a testament to why we do, what we do, at Align. To bring hope and relief to someone who is struggling and terrified for the future, that’s why I get out of bed in the morning. It’s why the entire Align team gets out of bed in the morning. I feel honored to have been a part of Jill’s 37-year pain story. In her words, “I honestly feel that story is over, and a new one has begun.” In my opinion, it doesn't get any better than that.

- Matthew Lister, Align Founder


“My pain story started 37 years ago. It was 1981. My family was in a car accident that left me with compression fractures in my lower spine and broken bones and nerve damage in my foot. I was in a metal back brace and a foot cast for months. The doctors told me I could never play sports again, but I was able to move without pain. The pain didn’t start back again until my early 20’s. It quickly worsened past the pain levels I experienced during the initial injury. I was beginning to take pain meds and muscle relaxers regularly. The pain just kept getting worse and worse and worse.

I was having severe nerve pain down my legs and I basically was just dragging my leg behind me. That’s what it felt like. My movements started to decay rapidly. I saw doctor after doctor after doctor. I was in and out of physical therapy constantly. At times I would fall to the ground in such severe pain I wouldn’t be able to move. I would just lay there in pain, helpless. By 28, I wasn’t living. I was just existing.”

That type of pain destroys everything about who you are as a person. I’ve lived in that type of pain for years on end. It changes your personality, your priorities, your belief in what’s possible. When you’re in that type of pain your just looking for anything to get the pain to stop. You’re not living. You’re just existing. Your life is pain. I cringed listening to Jill describe being in this place. I remember being here through my 20’s. It’s a dark, lonely, scary place. Jill remained hopeful though. She kept trying to find an answer.

“I ended up having a spinal fusion in 1994. This was before MRI’s and CT Scans were common practice for back surgeries. To say the results weren’t guaranteed would be an understatement. After a long recovery, I was walking again and off the pain meds. This surgery gave me my life back. I chose a career in accounting, instead of pursuing my dream of becoming a nurse, and tried to lead a normal life. It never quite works out that way though does it.”

“As time went on I started to get more and more stiff. Movements slowly got harder and harder to do. It crept on so slowly I was able to tell myself I wasn’t hurting. I was just stiff.

Over the last 4 years it really got bad and quickly. I could feel that I was bent over when I was walking. My back and hips were so tight my feet were turning out. And last year it dawned on me that I couldn’t even walk a mile without my back hurting badly and my muscles being on fire for the rest of the day to the point I had to lay down. I just kept losing things I could do without pain. I just knew I had to keep moving. Walking was all I had left. I couldn’t go very far but I knew I just had to keep moving, pain or no pain. It affected every area of my life. I stopped volunteering for my kids’ activities, stopped cooking, and stopped going to the movies. I didn’t even realize it, but I was just less willing to do things. I knew I would suffer for it.”

This process of losing the ability to do daily activities carries the greatest risk psychologically. This type of loss makes us feel inept, useless, and worthless. It’s one of the hardest things to cope with for people in pain. It leaves the window open to speculation of the future. Then fear sets in.

“Last year I started to imagine not being able to hold or play with my grandkids. I kept it to myself, but I was terrified I was going to be back on pain meds, not being able to walk, and just existing in pain. It’s a terrifying future. I love to travel and learn new things. I knew that as I got less mobile and in more pain those things would become less likely. At 51, I was too young to throw in the towel and resign myself to a chair in front of the TV. I didn’t know what to do.”

Finding Hope

“I was out of options, at least any that I was familiar with. I had a friend who was going to Align, and it was really helping her. I figured I would give it a try. I had gone to trainers, only to have them hurt me. I had tried yoga but they weren’t able to accommodate all my issues. I was definitely fearful of getting hurt. That was the most common outcome of trying new things for me in the past.”

“During my first meeting, they seemed to understand what was going on better than anyone ever had. They seemed to be able to predict what I was going to say after I explained what my structural condition was. They had seen it before.”

We are able to predict what problems our clients will experience because our bodies follow predictable patterns based on our Posture, Flexibility, and Strength issues. Just like how an engineer can predict how a bridge will hold up during an earth quake, we use science to understand how your human structure is holding up under stress. Jill had a nasty combination of Problematic Postures, Tight & Painful Muscles, and Weakness Issues through her hips. The most notable one is what we call The Low Back Pain Walk. It has a long scientific name, but we prefer our name for it. When you have The Low Back Pain Walk you are increasing the stresses on the low back which means pain and degeneration are inevitable. Jill’s Problematic Postures had been developing for 37 years. But the length of time with the problem doesn’t change what we have to do. We must fix the problem, not chase the symptoms. We had to work the process. Fix her posture. Get her flexible. Get her strong. In that order…

“I’m an optimistic person at heart but I was really only hoping to slow down this path of decline I was on. I never imagined I would get strong. But that’s exactly what’s happened. Not only did I stop the decline. I actually don’t have pain anymore. None. I can live again. I might have a tight muscle occasionally, but I have the knowledge to work through it quickly.

This journey with Align has literally given me back a life of moving without pain. I have hope and confidence that I will never have to live like that again. Hope is kind of a huge thing!”

Living and Moving

“A year ago I couldn’t walk a mile. We just did a super challenging hike with lots of hills this weekend. Then on Monday I did this crazy walking plank thing. It’s insane. I’m standing up straight, walking without pain, going to the movies, and cooking dinner without pain. Not that I love cooking dinner. But I can do it without having to lay down constantly. It’s so energizing to have the freedom to move without pain, to be able to do basic things. It’s amazing. And honestly, I think the best thing is the mindset that I will be able to keep getting stronger and keep doing more and more things without hurting myself. My family and friends are excited to see my abilities improve but I don’t think they ever understood my growing fears prior to coming to Align, mostly because I was scared to talk about it. That would have made it real.”

Talking To Someone Without Hope

I asked Jill to give advice to someone in pain and without hope. Here's her advice. “Now that I have experienced this process, I would say posture and flexibility are the key to moving without pain. It’s the whole thing. And it’s completely non-invasive. You have to be patient with the process and be willing to invest the time and energy into your health and recovery. And stay determined!”