After This Archaeologist Got Injured in a Car Accident, Chronic Pain Nearly Ruined Her Life

Once Noel Davis started building up her core, her back pain improved — and she realized she could help others get back on their feet, too.

chronic pain

Personal trainer Noel Davis helps those dealing with injury and chronic pain rehab and strengthen their bodies. / Photograph courtesy of Noel Davis

Who I am: Noel Davis (@parisfitphilly)

Where I live: Northeast Philly

What I do: I’m an archaeologist and personal trainer.


I found out what an archaeologist was in third grade. It’s one of those funny stories where you’re asleep in your class and your teacher wakes you up and tells you to read something — for me, that lesson was on archaeology. I was reading about how this man became a millionaire from digging in the dirt. I love jewelry and shiny things, so I told my mother that that’s what I wanted to do.

I studied anthropology and geological science at Rutgers University–New Brunswick and abroad at Manchester University in London and on a dig excavating a Roman villa in Italy. When I was a senior at Rutgers, I took a class called osteology [the study of bones]. I fell in love with understanding the human body and discovering things about the human body that could tell us about our past. A company called URS hired me to work on the I-95 expansion project. We had to make sure the premises were clear [of scared or historic objects] before they started to do major construction. It was my first job in my field.

Then, in 2015, I was at a stoplight, and I got rear ended. My car didn’t have a lot of damage to it, but me physically, being small and being jerked by a big car…I ended up getting lower lumbar bulges in my spine. When that happened, the pressure caused nerve damage all the way down my leg.

There were points where my foot was so numb I could barely walk. It was my back pain that was pressing down so heavily. When I got tests, they said, ‘Your blood sugar’s low. Your white blood cells are low.’ We used to always drive and go to Canada, and I couldn’t sit longer than 30 minutes. That’s when the depression came. Every time I saw a car come up behind me, I tensed up. It took me years to feel comfortable in my own body again.

While all this was happening, I was told I couldn’t go back to work. I had only been in my field doing things for maybe a year or so. They had me on leave for a couple of months, and I went back thinking I would be OK. That’s when I ended up doing a project over in Lumberton Township, New Jersey, and the pain and agony I would have from digging all day…it was almost like a tightening in my back every time I would dig down and come up. There would be days where I couldn’t get out of bed. I had to call out of work until I finally understood that I couldn’t do this anymore.

It took me continuously letting my doctors know I wanted to get back to archaeology for them to say, ‘You need to start working on your core.’ Once you build your abs up, your back strength will start getting better.’ I started going to the Burlington-Riverfront YMCA in Burlington, New Jersey. I was constantly exercising and trying to rehabilitate myself. This one woman watched my entire journey and asked, ‘Are you a personal trainer? I’ve watched you being here, and I think what you’re doing is amazing.’ I said no. She said, ‘I want to get you certified.’

I started working with clients to use their own bodies to rehabilitate themselves. I came out with my own line of resistance bands. Everybody wants to lift heavy weights, but they can do so much damage if you don’t know what you’re doing. With resistance training, you’re getting equivalent resistance to what you would have been lifting. The bands can go up to 175 pounds.

I use other equipment, too. There’s a stretch strap, which is usually what we use when we go to physical therapy, but it’s something more convenient for people to have while they work out. A lot of people use a sweat belt to lose weight, but it also stabilizes your back to prevent less injury while you’re doing abdominal exercises. My question is always how can we exercise while keeping our bodies safe so we can get back to where we were.

Back pain, for example, is very common. If they’re dealing with that, I’d start them with very low reps on different back exercises, like leg lifts. (When you go to physical therapy, they tell you leg lifts are very important because they help straighten the vertebrae.) Or, instead of telling somebody, ‘We’re going to do 100 push-ups, we start with five and go up to 10.’ It’s a matter of building people up slowly but surely. I start to strengthen their legs and work on posture. I even do balance tests. You don’t realize when your back is all out of whack that your balance is off.

If I have someone with a torn ACL or a knee problem, I’d maybe start them with resistance bands doing kickbacks or hip thrusters — to help build around the area before you start to attack the area. Before doing squats that I know may injure somebody, I do more leg strengthening — side kicks where you lift your leg all the way up to a side kick or kick forward rather than squatting. Once you build up leg muscle, then you can squat. Some people put a stabilizing ball behind them and do squats that way.

My oldest client right now is 87 years old, and she’s the strongest little lady I know. I have 63-year-old clients who can do three-minute planks. The body is so powerful — we just have to know how to use its powers.

What’s most important is that personal training isn’t only for losing weight or getting toned. It’s a therapeutic outlet. That’s why I’m trying to target everybody — not just the older folks, not just the young kids, but everybody as a whole. Because everyone can benefit from this.

As for me, I still have that same injury, but I don’t feel it at all — not even my leg pain. I’m so appreciative that I’ve been able to get here. I felt helpless, especially being so young when this happened to me. But now I have a whole life to live ahead of me.