Creative Herbals

surviving chronic lyme

Defying Limits: Building a Fitness Journey and Running Routine Despite Chronic Lyme

Running with back pain and other chronic pain, and choosing good running shoes for correct biomechanics

Tips On Running With Back Pain, Knee Pain, and Chronic Fatigue:

Exercise was an integral part of my early life. From middle school through high school, the joy of movement coursed through my veins. Those years seemed blessedly free from the shackles of my eventual chronic pain. While minor ailments like hand joint pain occasionally whispered, it wasn’t until the age of 16 that the curtains lifted on the stage of major Chronic Lyme symptoms.
A devoted runner, I loved cross country and track, but a disheartening reality emerged. By the time I turned 17, the wellspring of my running stamina had dried up, lost to the grip of chronic pain that seemed unrelenting.
My journey, however, didn’t halt at the crossroads of adversity. In my 30’s I discovered yoga, a steady companion that, when embraced consistently, offered respite from the relentless waves of discomfort. Yet, the call of running persisted like a haunting melody. Countless attempts to reignite this passion were thwarted by the ceaseless companion of pain – my knees and lower back bore the brunt of this.
Eventually, a beacon of understanding beckoned in the form of biomechanics. Understanding dawned as I uncovered my tendency to walk on the outside of my feet, an act known as supination in the running realmThis biomechanical issue cast a shadow that reverberated from my arches to my lower back, imbuing my joints with unwelcome stress.
Through trials and revelations, I discovered that running, like life, isn’t a linear path but a symphony of adjustmentsAs I navigate the maze of chronic pain, embracing small steps forward, I’m again rewarded with the joys of running, even if it’s just for small distances!

My Morning Exercise Routine:

Quick Stretch Before My Run:

Before breakfast, I do a few stretches, some squats, and a half mile run on our back roads.  My warm-up stretches for running include these yoga poses and runner’s stretches that can all be performed standing while inside or outside:

  • Mountain Pose – Raised Bound Hands stretching into true Mountain Pose to each side; then to Standing Crescent Pose – stretches upper body, obliques, arms, and more
    • stand with hands clasped above your head and stretch up (MP-RBH); drop the hands behind your head, still clasped and let an elbow drop to each side (MP); then raise hands back up and bend sideways at the waist in each direction (SCP).
  • toe touch or Standing Forward Bend – stretches all the muscles, tendons, and ligaments along the back of your legs
    • stand with feet together and bend at the waist, remembering to breathe normally.  Reach down to touch your toes with legs straight – reach as far as you can, but don’t overstretch.  While still bent (and after getting a good initial stretch) twist towards one side, trying to touch the floor behind that foot (this is really difficult if you have tight ligaments so go slow and don’t overstretch!); repeat on the other side.
  • general arm stretches to thwart neck and shoulder stitches/muscle spasms
    • underarm stretch – raise one arm straight up, then bend at the elbow to place your hand behind your head; use the other hand to pull your elbow gently behind your head to stretch the muscles under your arm; repeat on other side
    • shoulder stretch – while straight, pull one arm parallel to the ground and point straight to the other side; use your other arm to pull it tight to your body, stretching your shoulders; repeat on other side
  • Runner’s Lunge – stretches muscles along the front of your thigh and into your hips, which are typically tight in runners
    • step into a forward lunge, bending the forward knee until you can touch the ground; keep your back leg straight and off the ground, and allow your hips to go as low to the ground as possible (but remember to keep that back leg straight!)
  • Half Side Squat – stretches abductors and other muscles along the inside of your thighs
    • similar to runner’s lunge but to the side
  • Hand to Foot One-Legged Half Intense Stretch Pose – stretches quads
    • while standing, bend one knee and grab that foot directly behind you with the same hand as the leg that’s bent; for a more intense stretch, lean forward and touch the floor (or as close as you can get); repeat on the opposite side
  • Calf Stretch – stretches calves and the large ligaments that run up the back of your legs.
    • lean forward against a wall or other surface, keeping the heels of your feet on the ground; bend the knees for a deeper stretch.

For all of these stretches, remember to breathe!  I typically hold each stretch for a minimum of 10-15 seconds; the tighter the area, the longer I hold until it starts to loosen up.  I may also rest and stretch the tighter areas a second, or even third time if needed.

*Note on stretching – there’s some research coming out that stretching doesn’t help, and can actually hurt.  I’ve tried not stretching and it always ends up in injury for me.  So this is something you’ll have to decide for your own individual needs!

Squats To Increase Lower Body Muscle Strength:

After stretching I do squats.  When I first started running, I didn’t do any squats!  I started low with three squats before my run a couple weeks in, after I was able to run a full half mile without stopping to walk.  I’ve worked myself up to ten squats before my run, and I’m noticing definite benefits in lower body and leg strength.

Small Bouts Of Running: Best Exercise For Back Pain?

I’m currently running 1/2 mile every other day or so.  I try to get in at least 2-3 running sessions per week, depending on weather, how I’m feeling, etc.  I’m only doing 1/2 mile for now due to risk of knee pain and a recent ankle sprain that still has my ankle very sensitive.  I’m hoping that by fall I can increase my distance; however, with the improvements I’m seeing now, I may stick to this regimen a while and see where it gets me.

After my run, I cool down by walking around the property checking horses, watering the garden, and letting the horses out if they’re going to the big pasture for the day.

This doesn’t sound like a lot, but I’m noticing improvements in my lung strength, heart palpitations, leg strength, energy, and more. I’m more convinced than ever that the distance doesn’t matter, it’s the act of getting started and staying consistent that can give you big rewards.

Right now, I run every other day to keep from exhausting myself, and on days that reach over 100*F I usually skip running altogether, opting instead for some light yoga or gentle hand weights to work my arms without stressing my tendons.

Benefits of Running, Even When It’s Intermittent and Small Distances:

Things I’ve noticed improve when I run are:

  • improved balance and less chance of twisting an ankle due to improved leg/ankle strength
  •  breathing is easier due to increased lung strength and capacity
  • fewer heart palpitations (almost non-existent with diet changes on top)
  • less back pain due to stronger core muscles; for me, running is the best exercise for back pain and core strength
  • better mood, less anxiety
  • more energy
  • better digestion
  • stable blood sugar (no spikes or jitters)

Research-Backed Benefits of Running:

  • improved cognition 1
  • heart health: “runners had 30% and 45% lower adjusted risks of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality, respectively, with a 3-year life expectancy benefit” 2

Exercising When You Have Pain: Running With Back Pain and Knee Pain:

Running with knee pain is something I tend to avoid. If I don’t, my right knee goes into an inflammatory spiral and will become completely unusable for a few days.  Ibuprofen helps sometimes, but not always. 

Running with back pain usually works out okay, but only if it’s not significant pain and if I’m avoiding work that will make the muscles in my back sore (compounding the issue!).  After years of dealing with this, I’ve found a couple of things that help with severe knee and back pain from running/exercise/farm work:

  • Shoes that enhance biomechanics
  • Core strength

Biomechanics To Help With Knee and Back Pain:

If you’re an overpronator (turn you foot in) or supinator (turn your foot or roll your ankle out) you’re likely putting more stress on your joints with each step.  I’m a supinator and roll my ankle out, putting weight on the outside of my foot and pushing off my pinky toes.  This causes intense knee and back pain and used to keep me from running before I found out what the problem was.

I’ve had NO BACK PAIN OR KNEE PAIN since finding shoes that both have a wider toe box and help me to push off my big toe and ball of my foot rather than rolling my ankle.  I used to have significant back pain daily, and my knees would swell and become painful (to the point I couldn’t climb stairs) after a short run before making this change in footwear.

I now wear shoes for supinators all the time, as I’ve found that wearing anything else for long periods brings back my knee and back pain.

Running for Core Strength:

Strengthening the core can really help back pain by taking some of the strain off your back and relying more on your core ab and side muscles.  Usually when strengthening the ab and side muscles, you’re also strengthening the back muscles, again helping with back pain.

To strengthen the core when running, focus on bringing your knees up and using your core.  Stabilize with your obliques to keep from shifting from side-to-side with each step, and for pushing off with each step. Your back muscles should also engage and support, keeping your back from arching and adding stress up your vertebrae with each step.

Using your knees helps to keep from over-using your calves and helps with shock absorption.  Landing heel first also helps with shock absorption. 

Focusing on these areas should help to minimize joint stress while strengthening the important muscles you need to help with chronic pain issues.  Along with the correct shoes helping biomechanics, you’re setting yourself up for longevity!

Exercising With Chronic Fatigue:

Exercising when I have a chronic fatigue flair has been one of the most difficult aspects when it comes to developing an exercise routine.  That said, when I do exercise, especially going for a run, I have so much more energy throughout the rest of my day.

One thing I’ve noticed is that my severe chronic fatigue days are usually related to migraines – migraine medicine is proving to be especially helpful in getting my energy back.  Catching the migraine early is necessary if I want to get anything done during my day.

Bringing It All Together:

The journey isn’t about pushing through pain, but rather crafting a regimen that respects your body’s limits while gently pushing its boundaries. In doing so, you have the opportunity to reclaim your body, redefine your physical (and mental) narrative, and gradually cultivate the stamina and endurance you once thought were out of reach.


  1. Mandolesi L, Polverino A, Montuori S, Foti F, Ferraioli G, Sorrentino P, Sorrentino G. Effects of Physical Exercise on Cognitive Functioning and Wellbeing: Biological and Psychological Benefits. Front Psychol. 2018 Apr 27;9:509. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00509. PMID: 29755380; PMCID: PMC5934999.  “Much evidence shows that physical exercise (PE) is a strong gene modulator that induces structural and functional changes in the brain, determining enormous benefit on both cognitive functioning and wellbeing. PE is also a protective factor for neurodegeneration.”
  2. Lee DC, Pate RR, Lavie CJ, Sui X, Church TS, Blair SN. Leisure-time running reduces all-cause and cardiovascular mortality risk. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2014 Aug 5;64(5):472-81. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2014.04.058. Erratum in: J Am Coll Cardiol. 2014 Oct 7;64(14):1537. PMID: 25082581; PMCID: PMC4131752.

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