An Accident Left Me With Debilitating Chronic Pain — How I Found Relief
I was riding my motorcycle through Los Angeles when all of a sudden a car veered in front of me. I hit the driver’s side, and I was thrown over my bike, and over the car. I landed nearly 30 feet away, where I was knocked unconscious. When I woke up, I grabbed my helmet and felt that it was broken. I thought: Am I dead?
Fueled by pure adrenaline, I jumped up. I didn’t notice any injuries at first, but then I realized my arm was bleeding. Something also felt really off in my knee, but since I could walk I assumed it wasn’t too bad.
I ended up needing 16 stitches in my arm, and I had soft tissue damage in my meniscus. But the worst part: the way my neck made an impact caused trauma to my spinal discs. I ended up having a nine-millimeter disc bulge. The accident was on October 17 of 2007, and by mid-December I was in so much pain, I couldn’t even talk. I just lay in my room, trying to figure out a way to fix the problem.
Living with constant, inescapable pain
The pain was unrelenting. It went down my right arm into my thumb, index, and ring finger. At the time, I had just finished up chiropractic school and started my own practice — so the fact I couldn’t use my hands was really scary.
My chiropractic business partner would work on me a bit and try to relieve the pain, but it never seemed to work. This kind of nerve pain doesn’t stop. Ice doesn’t work. Drugs don’t work. Nothing works because once you’ve irritated the nerve, it takes time to calm down.
I started to learn that I needed to just sit and relax and let the swelling go down, and get intentional about my lifestyle practices to minimize inflammation (avoiding certain foods, managing stress levels, and getting plenty of sleep).
However, the sleep part wasn’t easy. By Christmas of that year, the pain was so bad, I hadn’t slept through the night for 40 days. I would catch naps here and there, but the pain was always there. It was like I was moving through life in a blur — all I could think about was how to make the pain go away.
How I finally escaped the pain
At my clinic, we had a vibrating table that would help relax the tissue in patients’ necks and lower backs. I decided to give that a try. Sure enough, it made the pain tolerable, but the effects didn’t last long.
My brother is also a chiropractor, and he’d been in a water skiing accident about two years before my incident. He recommended trying a Vibracussor (a soft tissue and fascia percussion tool), and we happened to have one buried in storage at the office.
This tool had a cylinder, about the size of a coke can, that would vibrate. I placed it under my right arm, but just like the table, it would only relieve the pain for a minute or two. I started using it almost all day long, because it was the only thing that took the pain away. Then I decided to try to press it harder to my body, and then the relief lasted for a few more minutes. But then it would come back with vengeance.
I realized the reason it helped relieve the pain was because of something called accommodation — where your body accommodates to a stimulus (whether it’s the temperature, noise, etc).
Then I wondered what if there was something that didn’t touch my body the whole time, but had a really high frequency — maybe that would offer more sustainable relief. I ended up building a prototype based on what I saw in my mind, by wrapping a towel around a jigsaw with electrical tape.
I started putting my weird contraption on my body, moving it up and down my arm, as it moved up and down rapidly. I experimented with it more and more — when the pain would start creeping back, I’d use the device on my body again.
I learned that pain travels to the brain to your pain centers at about 55 miles an hour. But when you put something on your skin—ice, heat, cold, vibration—that information travels to the brain 265 miles an hour. So what I was doing was overriding that stimulus—the pain signal didn’t reach my brain because the sensation of the tool was getting there faster.
I learned that that stimulus didn't have to be on my neck, where my pain originated. It could be anywhere on my body — my right quad, my left arm, my shoulder — anywhere I put this thing it took the pain away, it was so powerfully relieving.
Everyone deserves to live a pain-free life.
For the first three months of 2008, I basically used this jigsaw every day, all day long.
At first, it offered pain relief. Later, it provided tension relief. By June of 2008, I was able to start going back to the gym and work on building muscle in my arm (which had completely atrophied).
Between each set, I would use my percussive device, and I would wake up the next day without pain. By August, I was only using it for recovery — because I wasn’t experiencing daily pain anymore.
I started using the device with patients and saw results that were just like mine. Eventually, I transformed that first prototype into the Theragun, and my experience led to founding my company Therabody.
My advice to anyone experiencing chronic pain
When you’re in that much pain, it can be easy to fall into a dark place. So my advice is to not give up, and don’t be afraid to think outside of the box. Try to figure out where the root issue is, and address that as much as you can. Question any doctors or people around you that are giving you traditional ways to deal with your symptoms. The fact that people are out there in pain is still what drives me — everyone deserves to live a pain-free life.
Dr. Jason Wersland is the Founder and Chief Wellness Officer of Therabody. He is deeply involved in Therabody’s R&D process, starting with the invention of Theragun, the world’s first handheld percussive therapy device, to leading a team of scientists and engineers in creating the brand’s full ecosystem of wellness technologies. Having started his wellness career as a chiropractor, Dr. Jason has dedicated his life to giving people access to products that can enhance their health and well-being.