Pain can be an unwelcome companion, shaping the course of our lives. For Leslie, it was the persistent pain in her feet and ankles that had taken control of her daily life. Today, we share Leslie's story, through a conversation between her and Arun Nijhawan, one of the founders of Menda Health.
Arun: So what brought you to Menda?
Leslie: Well, the thing I came in with was really bad foot and ankle pain. I couldn’t walk at all and was on crutches for two years. I had two surgeries.
Arun: What were you told by some of your doctors in terms of what could be done for your pain or the prognosis?
Leslie: I was told that I had Morton's neuroma on my right foot and that the surgery would be about a 90 percent success rate. So I went and had surgery and the pain initially went away for eight months, but then it came back.
Then I had another injury and broke the other ankle, and I developed this thing called tarsal tunnel syndrome – an entrapped nerve. The doctors told me I had scar tissue. I went to some of the best sports doctors – NFL football team doctors – and they did surgery. But I still had so much pain I couldn't walk. It wasn't until I got to you guys that the pain went away.
Arun: I imagine this all impacted you emotionally as well.
Leslie: It did. I wanted to be rid of the pain. It had ruined my life all the way back since I can remember. It's a big chunk of time that I was desperate and unhappy, believing that it was a physical problem.
It's really hard to be happy when you're in pain and you don't know what the problem is.
You've got two or three different doctors and different therapists all telling you different things. You're confused and therefore you have more fear and you just don't know where to turn. It seemed like nobody really understood.
Arun: We’ve spoken to a lot of people with chronic pain journies who were in a similar place. Considering the challenges you experienced with surgeries and the enduring pain, what led you to shift your focus toward the neuroscience of pain?
Leslie: It was because of my friend. She was bedridden for five years with severe chronic back pain and migraines. She participated in one of these programs, and now she's now pain-free. She shared her experience with me, and I was encouraged to not give up. I'm glad she passed it on because it worked for her too.
Arun: When you first heard about pain and neuroscience, even from your friend, were you doubtful? What was your reaction to that?
Leslie: I was pretty doubtful because I was in pain for so long. I really didn't think that it would work, I thought the pain was all physical.
Arun: What shifted that perspective?
Leslie: Probably when the pain finally started to go away.
Arun: That makes sense. Were there certain practices or skills that really helped you with the pain?
Leslie: Dr. Les's pain reprocessing skills. I learned to respond to pain signals with safety and curiosity. My pain coach, Stacie, reminded me that there would be flare ups even as I’m getting better.
And also the graded exposure to activities. I got out there and started walking again. And while I was walking, if I experienced pain, Stacie taught us to recognize that it's in the brain from an old learned neural pathway.
I watched all the videos with Dr. Les and learned how the pain works in the brain. It was just a matter of learning it, and then the pain pretty much went away.
Arun: It sounds like you practiced the daily skills when you started walking again and made a committed effort to go through the program.
Leslie: I did. I would say to myself “this can't hurt me.” I would start walking and I would say “my foot is normal. There's nothing structurally wrong with my foot.” Stacie encouraged me to address emotions, like fear and guilt, instead of focusing on the physical. I'd process these feelings with the meditations we learned. It wasn't an instant fix, but I kept pushing. I would try to keep walking and then the pain just went away overtime.
Arun: It’s inspiring to hear that. How did you feel as that happened?
Leslie: I was happy to learn that the pain was in the brain – and that there was something I could do about it. I know this is going to sound weird, but I wanted to live again. I used to be miserable, in a place where I couldn't even fathom getting through a day. But now I'm in a place where, oh my gosh, it's starting to lift!. I told myself if I keep going to the Menda classes, and keep doing this, it's just going to get better and better – and that's exactly what happened.
Arun: Amazing! Were there activities you were able to enjoy again?
Leslie: I'm golfing. I'm walking. I'm hiking. I swim every day, five days a week! I'm shopping. Going to the grocery store, going to the bank. I'm going to meet girlfriends.
I can’t believe I was in my house for two and a half years and now I'm going to the gym and I'm riding the bike.
Before I couldn't even push my foot on the pedal, and I thought it was all because of Morton's neuroma and tarsal tunnel. My girlfriends have noticed the change in me, they’re just like, “wow, we're so happy for you!”
Arun: That's great to be able to share it with people and for them to watch you going out and ditching the crutches. Is there anything that you would want to share with someone who is struggling with chronic pain?
Leslie: I would tell them to read about pain neuroscience and do the Menda program. Because between those things, I got better and it was a pleasure to do the work because I see my own growth. You're finding out about yourself and there's nothing better than doing the work to find out how your own thinking is, how your own emotions are, and how you operate – you learn about yourself.
Arun: Thank you for sharing the advice, Leslie. Anything else you'd like to add or any aspect we might have overlooked?
Leslie: Doing this program and having a pain therapist were really effective for me – I got the results I wanted to get. I don't have any pain anymore. The foot and ankle pain are gone. It's tried to pop up in other areas, like my hip, my back, and my shoulder. But I just keep applying what I've been taught, and it goes away. And not only with just the pain. For me, I can apply what I learned to anything that I fear or am limited by. It’s pretty cool, who would have ever thought, you know?
Arun: Leslie, this makes me super happy for you…just to be witness to some of this.
Leslie: Well, thank you, Arun. Thank you for starting this platform so that people like me can get better.
At Menda Health, we understand the profound impact that pain can have on your life. Leslie's story underscores the importance of addressing the root cause of pain. We know the uncertainty that one faces on this journey, and appreciate the hard work involved in recovery, but we believe it’s worth it. As Leslie put it, “it was a pleasure to do the work.”
If you or someone you know is living with chronic pain, know that relief is attainable. We are here to support you on your journey to recovery.