Thriving Despite Chronic Pain with Emily Skamla: PYP 298

While leading the morning run groups at Engine 2's Plantstock this August, I met a young woman named Emily Skamla. She was fit and speedy  – easily pounding out 6-minute miles, and smoking me during the hill repeats.

I figured that the combination of youth, a Plant Strong diet, and a commitment to training were the whole story. Instructive, mildly inspiring, but certainly not Plant Yourself Podcast material.

Boy was I wrong.

Turns out, Emily has been suffering since the age of 7 with Type 2 Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD; now known in medical circles as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, but we'll stick to RSD since that's the term Emily uses).

It's a beast of a disorder. Triggered by an innocent-seeming wrist sprain from a gymnastics fall while in second grade, Emily's RSD led to changes in her bone and skin, tissue swelling, and extreme sensitivity to touch.

And constant, agonizing pain.

Meet RSD

The key feature for Emily was the constant firing of pain signals from the brain, even in the absence of physiological damage.

The worst part was, the RSD went undiagnosed for 14 years. Fourteen years of a childhood with an invisible disorder that her doctors didn't recognize or understand. Fourteen years of living with severe pain that was not acknowledged or explained. Fourteen years of fruitless surgeries, prescriptions, and other treatment dead ends.

Emily tried to live a normal life, but the disease took its toll mentally and emotionally, as well as physically. She suffered from depression and anxiety. She felt suffocated – a slave to the RSD that was dominating every cell in her body.


And then, she decided to take matters into her own hands.

Beginning with a whole f00d, plant-based diet. And a commitment to physical fitness and exercise that turned her into a formidable athlete.

Emily is very clear that she's not “cured.” But the plant-based diet has allowed her to feel healthy from the inside out, even as the pain remains.

And the pursuit of physical discomfort through hard athletic training has allowed her to reconceptualize the pain of RSD as soreness. As the kind of discomfort that leads to growth.

In addition to running lots of marathons and other races, Emily took up boxing and crew – more challenge and more discomfort.

In our conversation, we talked a lot about discomfort. And how discomfort can be our worst enemy, or our best friend.

And we compared her RSD with the discomfort of transitioning to a plant-based diet. The physical discomfort of cravings and withdrawal. The social discomfort of being different from your group.

I am indescribably inspired by Emily and her journey. She's another one of these people who blows my feeble excuses out of the water. I hope you'll find her story of healing as valuable as I have.

Enjoy, add your voice to the conversation via the comment box or audio recording box below, and please share – that's how we spread our message and spread our roots.


Emily Skamla on Instagram: @emmskamla

Email Emily:

Plantstock 2019

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The Plant Yourself Podcast theme music, “Dance of Peace (Sabali Don),” is generously provided by Will Ridenour, a kora player from North Carolina who has trained with top Senegalese musicians.

It can be found on his first CD, titled Will Ridenour.

You can learn about Will, listen to more tracks, and buy music on his website,


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4 Responses to “Thriving Despite Chronic Pain with Emily Skamla: PYP 298”

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  1. Nancy Lee says:

    Thanks for featuring Emily Skamla on your podcast! As her aunt and the family’s pioneering vegetarian, I encouraged Emily’s childhood interest in eating ethically, and watched that blossom into an all-consuming desire to go fully plant based, and that desire converge with her determination to best her chronic pain and the attendant issues of depression she suffered. Always athletic, Emily resolutely dedicated herself to making her body “pure” through a whole foods, plant-based diet (no salt or oil!) that not only improved her recovery time and amped her stamina, but tamped down much of the chronic pain she lives with. Nothing about what Emily has accomplished in her diet, health or athleticism has been easy, but she remains one of the most effortlessly kind and positive people I know, always willing to help others on their journey to health.

  2. Tricia Adams says:

    Yet another inspiring interview – thank you Howard for introducing us to Emily. wanted to suggest that you could introduce her to Alan Goldhamer at True North Health Center as I wonder if water only fasting might be a powerful therapy for Emily. Goldhamer has spoken of a case study of treating a women suffering from trauma induced chronic migrAines with water only fasting. Here is a link to the article on the TN website research page

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