• Mariah Heller

The 2020 Pandemic and Chronic Pain

It's no secret: 2020 was a WILD year for most of us. While there was tragedy, loss, and no shortage of struggle, I'd like to think there were some positive developments. Being that the Fitness and Pain-Management industries were turned on their heads over the last year, I recently sat down with SalonPas to discuss some of the developments - good and bad - that I've seen with my clients in recent months. See the interview below. Mariah Heller is the Owner and Creator of Pain-Free Fitness who helps busy professionals get pain-free in 10 minutes a day. She is a Certified Personal Trainer, Certified Massage Therapist, chronic pain educator, lecturer, gym co-founder, NPC bikini competitor, and coach for over a decade. Mariah has worked with hundreds of clients over the course of her fitness career and now specializes in “Pain-Free Fitness,” wherein she blends the principles of pain and injury management with overall health and fitness. Mariah is currently the Executive Program Director at Results Transformation Centers in addition to working with her own clientele, and is a regular presenter at various health and wellness conferences and the UC Davis Entrepreneurship Academy. Salonpas sat down with Mariah to learn more about her practice:

What role is the pandemic playing in people’s chronic pain? Is it making it worse?

I’ve seen a mixed bag of results with my clients and their chronic pain during this pandemic. There are a unique set of challenges that comes with working from home and spending a lot of time in isolation. A HUGE part of pain is how much of the “spotlight” that pain occupies in our brains, and when we have more time in isolation we do tend to stew more on our chronic pain or injuries. On the other hand, I’ve also seen people become more empowered as a result of this pandemic; we have learned that a TON of valuable information is available to us from the comfort of our own homes, and as a result I’ve seen many of my clients willing to take more proactive steps on their own.

What are your top techniques in helping a client reduce their pain?

Step 1: Identify WHERE the pain is, what the quality of that pain is, and what any triggers are. This is EXTREMELY important both for the client and for the practitioner. I have all of my clients go through a worksheet where they try to objectively describe their pain in as much detail as possible and identify any triggers that make their pain worse. This is a crucial step in developing body awareness and “defining the problem,” so to speak.

Step 2: Develop a pain-free movement “menu.” This is essentially a list of movements that don’t aggravate the client’s pain. This can take some time to develop, as the body is different every day, and sometimes the location and quality of our pain shifts, but is important to build on nonetheless. This is an empowering exercise because it allows clients to stay active even during the healing or rehab process.

Step 3: Take a proactive action DAILY to resolve your pain. This usually requires a collaboration between the client, me, and the client’s medical practitioner. What is the root cause of this pain? What can we do to help get on the road to healing? What is a manageable bite-sized daily chunk of action that we can take that moves the client closer to the end goal?

Tell us how you became a chronic pain educator/expert?

I’ve had a connective tissue disorder called Ehlers Danlos for my entire life. This disorder causes – amongst other things – a dramatic increase in the occurrence of musculoskeletal injuries. I realized as I was training in Martial Arts and CrossFit that there was a HUGE gap in knowledge from trainers and coaches when it came to injury prevention and treatment, so I decided to become a trainer myself to take the matter into my own hands. A few years later, I became a Manual Therapist as well, and the rest is history!

What is the role of a manual therapist?

A manual therapist helps to decrease pain by manually manipulating clients – think massage, assisted stretching, cupping, IASTM, etc.. In my remote coaching work, I apply manual therapy principles to help my clients learn to use SMR (self myofascial release) to become more independent in their pain-free journeys.

Tell us about a typical day in your life; from when you arise to when you retire.

I wake up around 5:30-6AM, have my coffee and a protein bar and get right to work. I work in Executive Management for a fitness company and coach my own clients on the side. I typically work out between 10am-12pm, and then back to work until 6-7pm. I do my soft tissue and stability work at night after work (usually while watching a trashy TV show or listening to a podcast), and take a bubble bath before taking some magnesium and retiring to bed for the evening! Are you struggling with pain, or struggling to adjust to the post-2020 fitness environment? Set up a Free Assessment with Pain-Free Fitness today to get set up for success!

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