Staying Active to Compete Against Chronic Pain

Staying Active to Compete Against Chronic Pain

Editor’s Note: We are always on the lookout for chronic pain patients who have an interesting story. When I read this piece on Tom Riggs, a chronic pain patient from Fort Collins, Colorado, who has figured out a way to battle his chronic pain through exercise, we thought he might be an interesting story.

Tom Riggs is a runner, artist and writer living in Fort Collins.Tom Riggs Running

He has run over 30,000 miles, competed in 30 marathons and three times ran in the fabled Boston Marathon.

But in recent years, his body simply broke down.

He has had four spinal surgeries and three foot surgeries in the last six years. He lives in chronic pain.

And yet he kept running – eight to ten miles a day.

“My body was suffering, but I’ve always had issues with pain and just thought that’s the way life is so I kept running.”

Tom is not going to tell you that running is a cure all – although he thinks it might be close.

In order to keep going with his severe chronic pain, he has a regimen of pain medications that he takes – Cymbalta treats anxiety and fibromyalgia – Nucynta ER which is a narcotic pain medication – a muscle relaxer, hydrocodone and sleep medication that he takes on as needed basis.

Those are his medications, but he’ll tell you the most important drug he takes is exercise.

His doctors agree.

When he started seeing a pain specialist a couple of years ago, they told him to stay active.

So he did – and continued to run.

But it hurt even more.

He made a promise to his wife of 32 years, if they tell me to stop running, I will.

The pounding the body takes with each footfall, generating as much as three-to-four times the body’s weight, can take a toll on a very healthy body, let alone one with screws and rods and wires holding things together

In late 2013, the doctors finally said, “Enough – the running is doing more damage to your body than it helps.”

Tom thinks chronic pain may run in his family. His mother used to say “I hurt,” but it never slowed her down. She was diagnosed with cancer in her 40’s – and probably suffered from breakthrough cancer pain. It went into remission but claimed her life twenty years later.

Like his mother, Tom tries to fight through the pain.

For him, a former high school gymnast turned runner, exercise has always been the way.

So as his doctors told him, you have to stop running, he looked for an alternative.

“I knew I felt better when I was active, so I looked for alternatives.”

Tom Riggs ElliptigoHe found a California company called Elliptigo – which makes a stationary elliptical machine that is put on a bicycle and lets you ride outside. You don’t sit down, so it’s a weight bearing exercise that lets Tom “run” without breaking down his body. And ride, he does. A 20-mile ride is like an 8 mile run – which Tom used to do every day.

I asked Tom what advice he would give a chronic pain patient who is not active.

“I really encourage people to stay active,” he said. “I know there will be people who read this and say ‘he’s wired different’ I wish there was a way to get people just not to quit.”

Most doctors agree.

For Riggs, not every day is a great day.

“It takes me up to two hours to get going some days, but I make sure I try to do something,” he said. “I know I feel better when I’m active, and once I get going I do feel better.”

Chronic pain is a daily opponent for Tom.

As he wrote: It can get you down if you let it, and you keep trying to really understand it, but I don’t think life is meant to be understood. There are too many things in our everyday world that defy logic and understanding.

I think we can understand one thing about Tom Riggs. He lives with chronic pain and fights it every day.

“I try to inspire people and get them moving.”

What do you think?

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Authored by: Ed Coghlan

There are 4 comments for this article
  1. Jack at 10:44 am

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  2. marty at 4:21 am

    Tom Riggs is a inspiration . A big key to chronic pain is exercise and so many push it aside saying they are in to much pain to exercise when in truth just laying around will cause you much more pain. You can exercise doing little things. Knee bends, stretches etc. while doing dishes. Maybe a extra 2 minutes on your treadmill or while taking a walk. Exercise comes in all shapes and forms but laying around and letting your body turn to mush isn’t one of them. Although I can’t walk anymore without a walker, I still strive every day to take one extra step. I am a fighter in my own way just like Tom Riggs.

  3. Sandra Gordon at 11:15 am

    I, too, have had multiple spine surgeries and fusions as well as Fibromyalgia, Degenerative Disc Disease and Parkinson’s. While difficult, working in my gardens has become imperative to my functioning. I can’t do much but between gardening and walking, I’m better able to face everything that comes next!

  4. Darbi Beals Stolk at 8:59 am

    Amazing! What an inspiring story. I just want to caution Fibromyalgia sufferers to take it slow and steady when starting to exercise. So many of us jump into exercise, doing what we might have done in the past and then we have a discouraging flare that may keep us down for weeks or even months. Instead, start out very slow and stop long before you get tired, gradually doing more in small incremental steps. Listen to your body and don’t think “No pain, no gain” still applies. Fibromyalgia and other chronic pain syndromes do not play by the same rules. Slow and steady wins the race. I encourage those who are not exercising to start a movement program of some sort. You may need to move sitting or lying down at first. Put on your favorite music and move. Remember to not overdo… break the cycle of increased activity and inactivity due to flares. And kudos to those of you who keep going no matter the pain.