Foundation Training: How I Went from Debilitating Pain to Living Again

Carrie does a Foundation Training movement in the great outdoors. (Photo Courtesy Carrie Russell)

Carrie does a Foundation Training movement in the great outdoors. (Photo Courtesy Carrie Russell)

By Carrie Russell and Jessica Hamlin

I never would have known when I met Carrie that just a couple years earlier she was living with physical pain so severe that she could hardly move or function sometimes.

Carrie, in her 30s, is a registered nurse, health coach, avid gardener and home cook who makes drool-worthy dishes from fresh, nutritious, and whole ingredients—seriously, check out her Instagram. She also likes to hike and explore nature—something she could never really do before.

We met in 2015 through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, an online holistic health coaching school where we learned from experts about nutrition, exercise, emotional well-being, finance and more. To make it more interactive, we were connected with fellow students in our geographic area so we could get together, talk and learn with each other.

One of our assignments was to interview several people about their general background, lifestyle and any health concerns. Carrie and I interviewed each other on our phones via FaceTime and ended up talking for a few hours. I forget if I’d even met her in person at that point. It was a breath of fresh air. Carrie was so down-to-Earth and sincere about her care for others and overall health. We connected on our approach to holistic wellness, of course, but also on other values and some personal struggles with people in our lives. She was so knowledgeable but always thirsty to find out more beyond the “conventional” ways our culture often tries to treat illness (and sometimes contributes to it in the process). Part of that springs from her own life.  

From a younger age, Carrie had back issues and pain brought on by lifestyle and poor movement. It eventually got to the point where it hurt her to sit, lie down and do pretty much anything. At 27 years old, she was almost medically retired. Then she had an accident and, if you can imagine, things got even worse.

After visiting with various practitioners and getting told she would need serious surgery or medication, she stumbled upon Foundation Training, a series of simple movements that work with the body. She says it has changed her life and given her important insight into healing.

This is Carrie’s story.

Carrie and her husband, Shane, at the Columbia Gorge at Multnomah Falls, Oregon. After healing from her extreme pain, Carrie was able to do the 16-hour road trip and hike pain-free. (Photo courtesy Carrie Russell) 

Carrie and her husband, Shane, at the Columbia Gorge at Multnomah Falls, Oregon. After healing from her extreme pain, Carrie was able to do the 16-hour road trip and hike pain-free. (Photo courtesy Carrie Russell) 

When did you start experiencing physical pain?

I have had low back pain at different levels of severity starting when I was 17. I had the low hanging heavy back packs all throughout middle school and high school that made my back hurt and my knees were also pretty weak and prone to dislocations, so when people said “lift with your knees” (which looking back was very bad advice regardless) I couldn’t. I worked at Jamba Juice for several years in college and after bending over the ice boxes, standing all day, and lifting 30-40 pound boxes of frozen fruit over and over again I would go home and sit down and then not be able to get up. I lifted with poor form for many years as a nanny and an RN before my accident in early 2013 that left me in the worst pain of my life.

What symptoms were you experiencing and how was it affecting your life?

The pain initially started in my low back but as time went on it gradually went down my right leg and past my knee through the sole of my right foot. The pressure on the nerves in my low back affected the nerves controlling my right side so it created muscle knots called trigger points all through my glutes and hamstrings. I could not walk very far, I had to wear a huge hard plastic lumbar spine brace when I was at work and was put on strict restricted activity and was nearly medically retired at 27 years old. Sitting was nearly impossible and pretty much any other activity other than lying on an ice pack on the floor hurt. The lumbar brace helped me get through work and feel stable but ultimately it made all of my muscles weaker and weaker. It was a very hard time in my life.

Why do you think you were experiencing pain?

Years and years of poor movement patterns and weakened muscles is what led to my injury. While a fall down a couple of stairs was the final straw that broke my back so to speak, I had been experiencing mild low back pain that would come and go for 10 years prior to that. My poor body mechanics and weak joints made my back slowly degenerate and made me very vulnerable to injury. Our muscles are meant to protect and stabilize our joints and mine were not in any condition to do that. Our bodies adapt to lack of activity as well as poor movement patterns and when we do something incorrectly for long enough that is when inflammation, degeneration, and injury occur.

When did it get to the point where you knew you had to seek help?

When the pain persisted for 4 months and got more severe to the point where I could hardly sleep, walk, or sit down and when I was lying on my back I could not raise my right leg I finally went to my MD and she sent me for an MRI to see what was going on in my back.
Carrie used to need a portable TENS unit (which stimulates nerves) at home and a back brace at work. (Photo courtesy Carrie Russell) 

Carrie used to need a portable TENS unit (which stimulates nerves) at home and a back brace at work. (Photo courtesy Carrie Russell) 

Where did you seek help?

After I was diagnosed, a family member recommended I see his chiropractor and so I did. At his office I was able to get massages, acupuncture, cupping, chiropractic adjustments, and some serious TLC from their wonderful staff, which was truly awesome. They really cared about me and I could feel that. I was referred to physical therapy through my primary doctor which helped a little but not much. The physical therapists and the spinal surgeon would take one look at my MRI and say, “I don’t think this will work, you are going to need back surgery, but we will try.”

How did those methods work for you?

The chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture, cupping and massages were truly wonderful and my overall health improved a lot while going through them. I would find some relief from the pain after my treatments but it did not last long. Again, I still was moving poorly, couldn’t tolerate a lot of activity, and wore a big lumbar brace during my nursing shifts so my muscles were just getting weaker and weaker. I needed to get strong in the right way.

What did various practitioners tell you?

My primary medical doctor said I could take opiate pain medication for the pain and muscle relaxers to help with the muscle spasms, which she did prescribe to me, but as a nurse I have seen the seriousness of opiate abuse and addiction and was not comfortable with going down that road. I have seen family members, friends, and many patients have their lives ruined by being put on medications that are addictive and only address the symptom—pain rather than addressing the root of the problem. The spinal surgeon I was referred to told me I needed fusion of my lumbar spine but I was not comfortable with that option either. There are real red flag signs and symptoms to be very concerned with when it comes to back pain such as bowel or bladder incontinence, numbness, and several others which I did not have so I was not ready to take such an invasive, drastic, and irreversible step.

How long did it take to properly diagnose the problem?

The fall happened in February of 2013 and I got my official MRI diagnosis in May 2013. I have [two herniated discs in my spine, one with a tear]. The fall at home also twisted my spine and moved my sacrum out of alignment.

Where did you find the most healing for your back issues?

Without question it was through a program called Foundation Training. It took 7 months for me to stumble across a book review of Foundation Training’s book but I read it, showed it to my chiropractor and started doing the movements immediately and found tremendous relief very quickly.
Foundation Training along with the adjustments from my chiropractor and keeping my body moving as much as possible (lots of walking!) gave me tremendous relief. I got my life back.
Carrie doing a basic Foundation Training movement. She says the program has changed her life. (Photo courtesy of Carrie Russell) 

Carrie doing a basic Foundation Training movement. She says the program has changed her life. (Photo courtesy of Carrie Russell) 

Can you explain more about Foundation Training? What is it, what are the main points of it, and how can people access it for relief?

Foundation Training is a series of simple yet powerful movements designed to decompress, strengthen, and stabilize the spine and activate the posterior chain of muscles, which are the many peri-spinal muscles, the gluteus muscles, and the hamstring that are vital for strong and safe movement. The exercises used in Foundation Training are universal accessories to all movement/exercise types and are helpful for advanced high performance athletes as well as for everyday people who are in pain or are looking to stay out of pain. I always tell people, if you have a spine, Foundation Training is good for you. Foundation Training is not meant to replace anyone’s workout method of choice but to rather make that workout safer and more effective.
You can access this work online through their website and YouTube Channel, through their book “True To Form,” and through their DVDs.

Why do you think Foundation Training was the most helpful for you compared to other remedies?

Foundation Training got to the root of my back problem which was my weak back muscles and poor movement patterns. Strengthening the muscles … helped to support and brace my spine and get the pressure of my herniated discs, off of my nerves and made my body start moving differently from a strong and stable spine. I do it consistently for just a few minutes per day and years later even though the disc bulges are probably still there I do not have symptoms.
Back surgeries have a very high failure rate and low back pain is a massive issue these days. Most people know someone who suffers from back pain, has gone through surgery and the extensive rehab that comes after, or has gone through a failed back surgery or multiple back surgeries. I did not take the thought of back surgery lightly and felt a deep sense that there was something else out there.

What is life like now with Foundation Training?

I move differently and my stronger muscles affect how I move all the time. I walk strong, bend and pick up things differently, I can run safely, I can lift weights safely. It also taught me how important it is to keep moving throughout the day as much as possible. I would sit to chart [as a nurse] or sit to write a paper for school for hour; now I stand when I do those activities as much as possible. Getting up out of my chair at least once every 30 minutes and walking around, breathing deeply or doing a Foundation Training exercise is really important. We need to move the way our bodies were designed to move and then move a lot! Foundation Training taught my body how to do that. My doctor is amazed to see me 4.5 years later at my annual physical out of pain and moving well when she remembers very clearly how bad I was.

Here's just some of the beautiful food she's grown in her garden since healing:

Why do you think we don’t hear a lot about Foundation Training to heal?

I think it just takes a long time for the standard of care to change for medical doctors and physical therapists. The average time it takes for any new medical practices to be adopted is 17 years and that comes after extensive, large peer reviewed studies. which takes time to do. For now, there are still many well-respected medical and health professionals around the world teaching this work because they have experienced and seen the benefits themselves.
The Foundation Training program is growing tremendously as more and more people experience it and it has helped thousands of people around the world. Professional athletes, our Olympic teams, actors such as Chris Hemsworth [Thor!] and and Jeff Bridges [The Dude!], and many health professionals have all become vocal advocates for this work because of how much it has helped them not only with pain but also with improving athletic performance.

Here’s Jeff Bridges teaching Foundation Training moves to David Duchovny and James Corden on "The Late Late Show":

What did you learn from the experience of having bad back pain and trying to find relief?

I learned that no trial or challenge is wasted and I want to use everything that I go through in life to help others who are going through hard times.
I became more compassionate for people experiencing chronic pain. I had experienced acute injuries before this but never anything like my back injury. Being in severe pain constantly and not knowing if it would ever change is very scary. I had many thoughts when I was in the thick of that time where I would just sink into a hole and wonder if life was always going to be like that.

What would you tell others who are experiencing chronic physical pain?

Find the root cause of the problem and start getting help for that. My back pain was due to weak muscles, poor movement patterns, and the spinal degeneration that followed. This “root cause” principle is true for all illnesses. If you have blood sugar or hormone imbalance, find out why. If it’s autoimmune disease, get to the root of it.
Read, read, read. Educate yourself as much as you can.
Find a good functional medicine provider. Functional Medicine focuses on finding the root cause of the health issues you are facing so it’s a great place to start.
Get good imaging done such as an MRI so you and your healthcare practitioners know exactly what they are dealing with.
Surround yourself with people that can make you laugh and feel loved. Chronic pain or illness is very isolating so try not to face this journey alone. I don’t know what I would have done without my husband, Shane. When all I could do was lie down on the floor, he lied down next to me and just loved me and made me smile.
Don’t lose hope and don’t give up. Value yourself and your future enough to prioritize self-care and true healthcare that will help you heal from the inside out. You are so worth it.

The Good Stuff.

We asked Carrie about some of her favorite things.

After healing from her pain, Carrie was able to garden again. (Photo courtesy Carrie Russell) 

After healing from her pain, Carrie was able to garden again. (Photo courtesy Carrie Russell) 

Fave workout/way to move: Hiking, swimming, Foundation Training

Fave wellness practice: Cooking real food at home for my family and friends

Fave self-care practice: Quality time with good friends

Fave hobby: Gardening

Fave food: That is a tough question as I LOVE to cook but if I had to choose I would say a great bowl of Pho.

Fave drink: Groundwork Coffee…black.

Fave snack: Apple with raw almond butter and cinnamon

Fave kitchen gadget/appliance: My trusty cast iron skillet. Good for everything!

Fave place in the world: I have so many but the most recent place I went to that I loved was our secret river side camping spot in the Sequoia National Park. No cell service, no other campsites or people, no electricity, no running water, and right on the water. Just peace and quiet, it’s good for my soul.

Who or what inspires you?

I get inspired by following people who use challenges or injustices they have experienced to help others. Dr. Vandana Shiva, Robyn O’Brien, and Dr. Eric Goodman are a few people I have followed and been inspired by because they have been through pain or very difficult trials and have come out the other side not only stronger but with a deep passion to help others through similar situations. They fight for good in the world.

Fave quote/saying/mantra and why: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

As an RN I have seen what chronic conditions do to people’s lives and many times they are lifestyle related and totally preventable. I wish more people knew about how important nutrition and lifestyle is in preventing diseases like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. I have seen the end of the road for these conditions in the hospital and it is just awful. So many complications, medications, surgeries, tremendous financial costs, and premature loss of freedom and life. Healing from these conditions is sometimes possible through tremendous effort and lifestyle changes but why not prevent it from happening in the first place?

Fave podcast: Bulletproof Radio

Fave workout song: Lol, well I never listen to music while working out! Life is so noisy and busy most of the time so when I am outdoors I like to keep it quiet.

Fave book: I don’t really read fiction so it’d have to be a health book… either “Deep Nutrition” by Catherine Shanahan MD or “Undoctored” by William Davis MD. Read these books!

Fave website: Civil Eats

Fave movie: Babette’s Feast. That movie makes my heart skip a beat and shows what gathering around a table and sharing a good meal is capable of. It’s all about love.

Jessica Hamlin is an LA-born and bred journalist and editor who started taking pictures of food back when everyone used film cameras. A graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition’s health coach training program, she’s passionate about wellness and enjoys making and discovering delicious and healthy food. Her work has appeared in Clean Plates, NPR affiliate KPCC, AOL, and Eater LA.   



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