How Dancing Star Jennifer Grey Beat Chronic Pain

September 29, 2011 at 12:37 pm , by

Actress Jennifer Grey is probably best known for her dance moves. Who can forget that final triumphant performance at Kellerman’s? Johnny storms into the end-of-summer talent show, and what follows is pure movie magic: “Nobody puts Baby in a corner,” he says, grabbing her hand to lead her to the stage for the last dance of the season. It ends with Baby landing the lift, her back arched perfectly. She made it look so effortless. I still get goose bumps when I think about it. Last year, Grey returned to the dance floor to take home the top prize on Dancing with the Stars. But what you may not know is that she spent the years in between in debilitating pain.

“I just accepted it as a problem. It wasn’t until they asked me to do Dancing With The Stars that I went to my doctor. I realized I was not in control of my pain, I was at the whim of it,” she says.

Grey’s pain started when she suffered severe whiplash in a car accident in 1987, the same year Dirty Dancing came out. After the accident, things only got worse. Before she started on DWTS, she endured surgery to insert a metal plate in her neck and to remove tissue that was pressing on her spinal cord. And throughout the season she battled pain—in addition to lingering neck pain, she herniated a disk in her back and developed a neuroma on her foot.

But she hasn’t let pain dictate her life. That’s why she’s partnered with the Partners Against Pain campaign to increase awareness about chronic pain—that is pain that doesn’t go away—and encourage others to get the most out of their doctors. I got to talk with her this week about how she handles it, and what others can do to get help. After I was done being starstruck (I got to meet Baby!), she gave me some serious food for thought about what pain patients are up against.

We’ve all experienced pain—it’s just your body’s way of saying, “Hey, there’s a problem here.” For most people, pain is more like a passing nuisance, an afternoon headache or a sprained muscle. It can also mean something serious, for example, the chest pain that signals a heart attack. But for some people, pain is not a symptom, but a disease all its own.

For more than 100 million Americans, severe pain is a staple of their everyday lives. It can stem from an injury, as in Grey’s case, or from an underlying condition like arthritis. Migraines, pelvic pain, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis are all chronic pain disorders that affect women more than men. Other times, there is no known cause.

Earlier this summer, the Institute of Medicine released a report drawing attention to how tricky pain can be, noting that each person experiences pain differently, and that too few physicians are adequately trained in pain management.

“Treating pain has many dimensions. It’s not just about painkillers,” says Micke Brown, BSN, RN, and director of communications for the American Pain Foundation( (right, in the photo, with Grey on the left, and that’s me in the middle). To get to the bottom of your pain, you’ve got to work closely with your doctor to try a number of different treatments.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Research treatment options before your doctor’s appointments. Whether you have chronic low back pain or fibromyalgia, there are online communities and resources to help.  And don’t just look at drugs, look for complementary therapies, too, such as yoga and meditation.
  • Make a list of questions and other things you want to talk to your doctor about. You don’t get much time, and this will help you remember everything.
  • Keep a pain journal. You are the only one who can describe your pain, and details matter. Sometimes being in a lot of pain makes it hard to remember what makes it better or worse, or how long you’ve had pain. A journal will help you keep track, so you can share everything with your doctor.

Grey still has pain, but now she’s able to manage it. “I use exercise. I do a lot of mindfulness meditation and massage. But that’s what works for me. Every one is different,” she says.

To learn more about chronic pain and for more resources, check out partnersagainstpain.com.

Screen grab shot courtesy of obviouslyobsessed.com.

One Response to “How Dancing Star Jennifer Grey Beat Chronic Pain”

  1. Love the article and the focus being cast on this important issue! Chronic and intractable pain are huge issues facing the country, with 116 MILLION+ of us now suffering. This is an important step–it helps people understand the truth: severe pain is impacting more and more lives.

    Pain can be bothersome to some, but to others, it is completely devastating… Taking away everything you thought you were–your career, your home, everything. It is earth-shattering to lose it all, and at the same time, friends and family think you’re either a drug addict or are lying for attention. Quite often, the media can be harmful to people with pain. It’s important for the world to know that only a handful of people are either addicts or are mentally ill. Most of us just want the pain to end, and some support along the way would be nice, too!

    So, thanks LHJ for this article. I do, however, think the headline is misleading. Jennifer Grey didn’t BEAT pain just like I haven’t… That doesn’t make her any less a hero, however. She’s speaking out about life with chronic pain, while so many sweep this topic under the rug. It takes a strong person to look past their own suffering and try to reach out to help someone else find strength and healing. Without advocacy, I don’t know where we would be! I’m proud to use the “good days” to speak out–tell people what happened to me and what has helped me regain a new life, as a person with constant, severe pain.

    Bravo to you for covering this story, and to Jennifer Grey for sharing it. :)

    Heather Grace
    Intractable Pain Advocate