A Pain In The Neck

Many of you will remember that the thing that started me on this project (of doing athletic activities that I’m not good at and are out of my comfort zone) was a neck injury that caused me not to be allowed to do the athletic activities that I actually enjoy. I had several bulged discs and I was having symptoms like pins and needles across my back and down my right arm, a pain that shot across my back and down my arm when I coughed or sneezed (making an ill-timed head cold into an excruciating experience) that built to extreme nerve pain in my right arm and ultimately seriously messed with my nerves, causing not just horrible pain, but the short-term loss of the use of my right arm.

It took weeks of doctors insisting it was a pulled muscle or rotator cuff issue until finally one of them insisted on an MRI and I got a diagnosis. I was told that I could “try physical therapy” but would likely need surgery, and my doctor restricted me to water activity and walking, which put me on the path to walk my first marathon while I got the physical therapy and did the obsessive icing, home traction, and stretched that eventually made me better.

About three weeks ago I started to have a pain in my arm. At first I thought that it was a pulled muscle but then it began to feel too familiar. The neck problem is back. It’s come back a little bit over the years, if I sleep on it funny or something but usually a couple of days of icing and NSAIDs solve it. Not this time. I’ve spent the last week and a half on activity restriction that means I can’t swim, bike, or run – which is pretty much everything.

So I’ve been the queen of long walks and my new “triathlon” is icing, traction, and stretching.

I was scheduled for the Atlantic City 70.3 this weekend. We had already modified to the aquabike to try to avoid re-injury to my left achilles, but now it’s just not happening at all.

My IM is in about 2.5 months and it’s not like I was steaming along faster than I needed to be in order to make the cut-off times – I need this training time.

Y’all, I’m just going to be totally honest – I am in a dark place. Right now it feels like this whole journey has been a total waste. All those hours and hours and miles and miles – right now it feels like I have worked so hard for five years and have fuck all to show for it. Part of me just wants to get back to training as soon as I can, another part of me just wants to quit and find an activity that I enjoy (preferably with air conditioning and clothes in my size.) I don’t have any answers right now, just a mix of sadness and frustration and a pretty big desire to throw myself of the floor and yell IT’S NOT FAAAAIIIIIRRRR (except I’m pretty sure that toddler-style tantrums are on my movement restriction list.)

For now, you can take a look at my current activities, including ultrasound, the electro stim machine that shocks me while I lay on a giant ice pack, my best chipmunk impression as I inflate my traction collar, and a workout selfie from a late-night walk.

About Ragen Chastain

Hi, I’m Ragen Chastain. Speaker, Writer, Dancer, Choreographer, Marathoner, Soon to be Iron-distance triathlete, Activist, Fat Person.
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19 Responses to A Pain In The Neck

  1. Sarah says:

    Hi Ragen, I’m so sorry! I know how frustrating it is for someone like me to get an injury that prevents certain activities or movements, and I’m no athlete, so I can only imagine how devastating it must be. I’ve been following your blogs for years, and have been silently cheering on your iron man journey, mostly because long workouts also bore the crap out of me and I know I wouldn’t have made it through the first one, never mind 5 years! If random words from an internet stranger can help then here’s what I told my mom when she hiked the Camino last year: it is totally fine to keep going, and it is totally fine to stop at any time. Neither decision will take any value away from what you’ve already accomplished. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  2. nothimg is a waste of time. Your experience of the last few years might not lead to Ironman but you/we know that you gave it everything. Some things are just not meant to be. You are so inspirational for trying something for so long that is out of your comfort zone but I think that it’s time to go back to doing the things you love. What ever you choose to do will be the right decision

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ali says:

    I agree-I think resting to avoid further injury and then returning to whatever movement feels joyful and meditative to you sounds like it could be really welcome and a relief. I exercised compulsively for a few years and it put me in an unhealthy place-far from what I believe exercise is supposed to be, just consumed with numbers and calories. It was tough because diet culture and society tell us that exercise and wellness obsessions are healthy and they are not. I took some time off to re-evaluate and now I’m slowly getting back to a place where I enjoy exercise. Yourjourney has not been for nothing but it sounds like your body is trying to tell you something.


  4. Debora Knutson says:

    I admire your persistent and passion to do something outside your comfort zone. Yes, there is a “but” coming. Don’t permanently hurt your body for this. There are so many things you love to do that would be difficult or impossible with an ongoing injury. You have accomplished a great deal these past years with what you have taught us who follow you and what you have learned about yourself. Be well and stay well!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Debora,

      Thank you so much. I absolutely agree with you. Plenty of people have to drop out of their IRONMAN dream because it’s just not something their body will handle and of course there’s no shame in that (there’s no shame in quitting for any reason.) This is not worth doing permanent damage that could stop me from doing things I love in the future. 🙂


  5. nosnikrapzil says:

    A huge cyber hug for you ((((((((((((((((((Ragen))))))))))))))) I know how horrible neck problems are, and I know how hard you have been training for the IM. You will need expert advice on this before you even consider it, but wearing a small portable TENs machine might help – but there are issues on of where and why when it comes to using on your neck. And remember that the people who love you love you whether or not you do IM this time or not. Take care and be gentle with yourself xx


    • Thank you for the hug and the reminder. I’ve definitely looked into a tens unit, for the time being we’re keeping the shocking to physical therapy appointments but it may be useful in the future.


  6. Moniqa Aylin says:

    *hugs* Remember that you don’t owe the world anything and have compassion for yourself. ❤


  7. You can do this Ragen. I have impingement into the cord of c-4/c-5 and problem facets at 4 and 5. I also have had neck muscles removed as a result of work caused thoracic outlet syndrome. Constant left arm numbness and weakness and neck pain. This won’t make your neck worse. It will make it a lot more uncomfortable. I think you have already proven that you can handle uncomfortable. I am really looking forward to being on the course with you in November. Let’s do this.


    • Thanks for the cheering, and I’m sorry for everything you’ve been through with your neck.

      It may be that my situation is different than yours, but this is pretty much the exact opposite of what my doctors and physical therapist are saying. Literally, the first question I asked each of them was “if I keep pushing will it just hurt, or will it cause damage?” And they all told me that not taking the time to recover, and continuing to train, would lead to further injury and could result in surgery and/or permanent damage which, obviously, isn’t worth finishing a triathlon. Wishing you all the best with your training!


      • I did have permanent damage as a result of a work injury and a bear shaking me by the neck in 2016. Mine won’t get better. I hope you do. Side note: Since I have had this experience with my neck I get it. It is very demoralizing, depressing, and debilitating. I found that a soft c-collar does help with the pain. It keeps your neck from getting as tired and forces you into a better position. I was finding that I was leading my car around by my nose – my head pushed so far toward the windshield that c-5-6 was bent at practically 90 degrees. I hoped to meet you at IMAZ. I think you are amazing!


  8. mrsa122995 says:

    I wish I could help you feel at peace with things. As others have said, you have given it your all, and then some. Please try not to be too hard on yourself as you are deciding what your path will be. Everything you have done has had ripples of positivity out here that you may not ever even know about. Taking care of *you* and considering what works and suits you going forward are completely reasonable, sensible, and right things to do.
    Wishing you health and health, and peace of mind wherever your journey takes you (and I will be following along for as long as you are blogging.) ❤️❤️❤️


  9. Heidi says:

    I’ve been following you this whole time and I only wish you ease and comfort right now. Take good care. I walked 2/3 of a mile a few days ago and that was the longest I’ve walked this whole year, due to injuries I’m trying to heal. You have accomplished so much! So much.


  10. lsstrout says:



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