TV viewers know Carrie Ann Inaba as a judge on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” and as a co-host on CBS’s “The Talk.” But fans may not know she has chronic pain from autoimmune diseases.
Inaba says there have been many days when she’s sat in her chair at “The Talk” or at the judges’ desk at “Dancing with the Stars” and been in immense pain. She credits her strong work ethic from her background as a dancer for helping her work through the pain.
“I will always show up fully, pain or no pain, not only for everyone else – because live television is truly a team sport – but also for myself because it’s what I do,” she says. “And I truly love what I do. The adrenaline of the live shows get me through the pain.”
In 2013, Inaba had a very challenging year. Her father passed away suddenly, her dog died in her arms, she and her fiance broke up, and she moved – all major life events. In addition, she was diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune condition that attacks the body’s moisture producing glands, causing extremely dry mouth, eyes, difficulty swallowing, pain and can lead to organ damage. She was also diagnosed with fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and discovered that she had the markers for antiphospholipid syndrome, which can cause serious blood clots.
The diagnosis was actually a relief because she’d been struggling with her health for years and wasn’t able to get answers – which is often the case for people who have autoimmune syndromes. She had spinal stenosis and narrow angle glaucoma for which she had a laser iridotomy, on top of many other symptoms that she couldn’t identify a cause for.
“It was a very difficult time in my life. And yet, when I got the diagnosis, I felt immense relief,” said Inaba, who is very proactive in her self-care. “Finally, I understood what was going on with my body.”.
“Pain management is a way of life for me,” said Inaba, who experiences most of her pain in her right shoulder, the base of her skull, and her sinus cavity. The pain also shoots down into her right arm, her fingers often go numb, or she has pain under her shoulder blade. This sharp pain can be accompanied by neuralgias, which she says are like painful facial muscle spasms. Due to her rheumatoid arthritis, she also has joint pain that can make it difficult to walk.
“Sometimes the pain in my neck and shoulder get so bad that it feels like a steel metal rope is digging in, and it’s attached to a 500 pound weight,” she says. “It’s a cold, heavy chronic pain that just throbs and aches deeply. And then there are sharp acute pains in the base of my skull and neck.”
Pain management is a significant part of her life, which she remains very proactive about. This includes spending hours every week working with doctors and healers. She does reiki, acupuncture, energy work, massage and yoga weekly. She also does chiropractic craniosacral therapy on a bi-monthly basis.
She has a trainer and exercises when she can. Still, sometimes exercising can trigger a flare up. But without exercise, she often has more pain.
“It’s a difficult balance because exercise does help relieve pain but it can also cause a flare-up,” she said, noting that a flare-up can set her back two weeks or more.
Despite having severe pain, she tries to avoid surgery. Her regimen also includes using heating pads, ice, lidocaine cream prescribed by her doctor, Chinese herbs, and very high strengths of CBD balm on her neck, shoulders, ankles, and wrists. She also takes prescribed pain medications, uses cool light therapy, and meditates.
From March to the end of December, she was in constant pain.
“Pandemic pain is a real thing,” she said. “Managing it during this time has been all-consuming.”
She struggled to get out of a bad pain cycle during quarantine. In addition to her usual pain, her body was tense and lockdowns meant she couldn’t o her normal pain management routines and her pain threshold continued to rise.
Pre-pandemic, Inaba only needed to take prescribed pain medications once a month, usually at night. But during quarantine, she took the medications more often. Her doctor even gave her a low dose of a chemotherapy drug.
In December, after enduring months of increased levels of pain, she tested positive for COVID-19. This only made them skyrocket even further. However, when she recovered she made a promise to herself to focus solely on healing her pain in the new year. Then in December, she tested positive for COVID-19. Her pain levels skyrocketed but she decided to focus solely on healing her pain.
She says the pain cycle “was stealing too many moments of my life,” so she changed doctors, started to see a new acupuncturist, changed her diet, and created new wellness routines.
These days, Inaba is slowly improving.
“My pain levels have gone down tremendously,” she said. “And for that, I am beyond grateful. It took work, but the work was worth it.”
Talking the “Talk”
The talk show host is busier than ever. She wakes up daily at 6 a.m., tends to her five rescue pets, and has coffee and a protein shake with healthy greens. She does exercises in the shower and then gets to the show around 7:30 a.m. The next few hours are non-stop with meetings, topic discussions, rehearsals, and hair and makeup, followed by the live show.
No matter how busy her days are, Inaba ends each day with stretches for her body and a mantra or prayer of simple gratitude: “‘Thank you God for all that is. For all that was. And for all that will be.’”
Inaba spends her afternoons working on Carrie Ann Conversations, her wellness and lifestyle website, which is a passion project and has a special focus on living with autoimmune syndromes. She loves to write and she loves to help people by sharing her own stories and tips that she’s learned along the way in all aspects of life.
“The goal for me is always to help people who are struggling in any way because I have also struggled,” she said. “Through this website, I express my compassion for my fellow humans who are going through this magical, incredible, and sometimes challenging journey of life.”
“Pain is a powerful teacher,” said Inaba, who wants to be a resource for people living with pain and autoimmune disorders. She recommends taking notes at each medical appointment since the appointments can be stressful and distracting. She also encourages communicating your pain to your doctors, and if a doctor isn’t helping you, to seek another opinion.
“You can’t give up,” she said. “Life with or without pain is a gift and I’m grateful for it all.”