Dr. John E. Sarno MD is a Professor of Clinical Rehabilitation Medicine, New York University School of Medicine, and attending physician at the Howard A. Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine, New York University Medical Center.
For more than 40 years he has devoted his life’s work to proving that chronic pain, though a PHYSIOLOGICAL condition, has a psychological cause. He has relieved many thousands of people’s pain as a result of psychotherapy, or in many cases; simply being aware of the pain’s true cause. Yes, in some cases just knowing this can be enough to rid you of your pain.
Now I know what you are thinking:
“Oh god, so she’s saying it’s all in the mind – Charming! I’m in REAL PAIN here!”
“All in the mind” usually implies that something is not real, but imaginary. And that is NOT what Dr Sarno is saying. Sadly all his non-believers (and the 8% of 1-star “reviewers” on Amazon) also jumped to this conclusion, without even having read his book.
Dr Sarno knows that the pain is very real, but many years ago, he carried out a simple experiment, that provided very compelling evidence that chronic pain had a psychological cause.
He simply got a large number of middle-aged people and recorded how many of them had back pain. He also recorded how many of them had degeneration of the spine. This degeneration ranged from Bulging or Herniated Discs to Osteoarthritis, and all types of Degenerative Disc Disease.
Around half of the people had back pain, and around half had degeneration of the spine.
BUT they were not the same people!
Only half with back pain had spine issues and vice versa
Only approximately half the people with back pain had degeneration of the spine, and approximately only half the people with degeneration of the spine had back pain!
So this evidence proved that spine degeneration could NOT be the cause of Chronic Back Pain.
How could it?
My father had prostate cancer in 2003 and has since had to have check-ups every six months after he was told he was all clear of cancer. In 2009 one of the tests that checked his bones revealed he had Chronic Osteoarthritis all over his body. My father was astounded to hear this news because had never suffered arthritis pain at all.
Sarno calls this phenomenon The Mindbody Connection, (Sarno’s definition of “Mind Body” is even more literal than the more commonly understood meaning of the term, which includes most alternative therapies, yoga and Tai Chi).
He believes suppressed rage is the cause, and it is made clear that this is NOT rage as would we all think of the word. Our unconscious mind can still have rage that our conscious mind is unaware of. Some of the things that can cause this type of suppressed rage are the compromises we make for family members, or the thankless tasks and hoops we jump through at work. It could even be because we are perfectionists, and want to do a good job. This explains why someone who loves to play the piano, for example, would not suffer from pain all day doing anything else, but as soon as they sit down to play the piano, will start to get back pain. It could either be because they have a high standard of accuracy, and are their own worst critic when they play. Or because they feel guilty for spending time doing what they love, instead of spending time helping others.
Our conscious mind is grown-up and feels dutiful to others, but our unconscious mind is like a stubborn toddler having a tantrum. It only sees the world in a very basic, black and white way. And it governs all our behaviour.
Dr. Sarno has coined the term TMS “Tension Myositis Syndrome” or “Tension Myoneural Syndrome” (TMS) to describe this “psychophysiological” condition. He states that, “The brain mildly oxygen-deprives our back muscles and certain nerves and tendons to distract us and prevent our repressed anger from lashing out.”
He readily acknowledges that this diagnosis is controversial. In fact, he says, “Most people won’t buy it. But my TMS patients who do accept it cure themselves.”
Only certain types of people will develop Chronic Pain, and the perfectionist is one type. People who worry and/or who feel eternal guilt are another type.
Some of these character traits may not sound too flattering, but please don’t mistake what Sarno is saying to mean that: a) it is your fault that you are in pain – he is NOT saying that, and you are NOT to blame (though some have jumped to that conclusion from reading other people’s reviews of his books online).
And please don’t think that: b) Sarno is saying there is something wrong with your brain. There is not. In fact it is more likely that you are a kind, caring person who tries to do the right thing all the time.
Isn’t that unfair? The nicest people get to suffer the most.
But don’t worry if that doesn’t sound like you, or you have trouble believing such a theory. Not all of you will be able to accept Sarno’s theories. I was his biggest sceptic to begin with.
But if you are serious about becoming pain-free, I recommend that you read at least one of Sarno’s books. I started with “The Mindbody Prescription: Healing the Body, Healing the Pain” and I could see myself on every page. His first (and now updated) book was “Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection.” His latest book is “The Divided Mind: The Epidemic of Mindbody Disorders.”
The late actress Anne Bancroft said of him; “John Sarno has changed my life and the lives of everyone to whom I have recommended him. He is a true miracle worker.”
Radio Presenter Howard Stern has said; “My life was filled with excruciating back and shoulder pain until I applied Dr. Sarno’s principles, and in a matter of weeks my back pain disappeared. I never suffered a single symptom again… I owe Dr. Sarno my life.”
The behavior of injury pain in chronic pain patients
Two other things I discovered from Sarno, is that chronic pain behaves very different to other pain, and people who have chronic pain deal with minor injuries and aches very differently to people who don’t have chronic pain.
Here’s some food for thought; think of someone you know with back pain. Is that the only pain they have? It is highly likely that the sufferer will also have a whole plethora of complaints, aches and pains. With back pain cases, the permanent pain will be the back pain, while other parts of the body will end up taking turns to get in on the action! One week the left foot will be in pain, then the next week the right knee, and so on. Sometimes, it can even change drastically within a day.
I had chronic back pain pretty much every day, but I often also had bad left shoulder pain that would come and go. Also my knees would take turns to out-do each other in the Pain Olympics. Funny how they were never at the same time, and THAT too is explained in Sarno’s books.
Since I read Sarno’s “The Mindbody Prescription”, I was astounded how quickly I was able to nip these temporary pains in the bud, simply by NOT WORRYING about them! And I have learned how to minimize my back pain, so that it is under control.
That’s right. Worrying about pain will not only make it worse, but can even set it off to begin with. FEAR of pain will aggravate and cause pain. Most people who have Chronic Pain will make their pain a whole lot worse simply by worrying that it is a) permanent and b) they believe it will inevitably get worse.
And THIS is why the pain of whiplash patients varies so much. One person can have a stiff neck for four days, while an identical car accident will leave someone else (the Chronic Pain sufferer) in pain for YEARS. The Chronic Pain sufferer will feel terrible pain either instantly or the next day, and because they already live with pain on a daily basis, they start to imagine this new pain as a permanent addition to their current chronic pain. Then the fear sets in. And because fear is an emotion, it is governed by the unconscious mind.
The fact is; whiplash is an injury. And all injury pain should take no longer than three to six months to completely recover from – in theory. This is why physical therapists and other specialists sometimes think people are not being honest about their pain, or exaggerating. Chronic pain is invisible and unless others suffer from chronic pain themselves, they do not know what you are going through. This is also why people, such as work colleagues and bosses who work in the same conditions you do, are not able to give you any sympathy. They simply do not believe you.
People with Chronic Pain will get false toothache occasionally as well. False toothache is just like real toothache, but will disappear after a day or two, sometimes only hours. But it largely helps if you KNOW it will. That’s the power of the mind. All dentists know about “Transferred Pain” too. That is very similar, and can have the serious result of having the wrong tooth extracted, because the patient thinks it is the next tooth along that is in pain.
Sadly I know this from first-hand experience. I had a front tooth extracted because I had Transferred Pain and then the tooth was wrongly diagnosed as being fractured. I still had the pain after the tooth was taken out. It turned out to be from a maxillofacial nerve close by, not the tooth.
We all easily accept that physiological conditions such as migraines, ulcers, IBS and acid reflux materialize by stress, so why not pain?
As of today, 86% of people who have read the book “Healing Back Pain – The Mindbody Connection” have given it 4 or 5 out of 5 stars on Amazon.com. There are a few negative book reviews by people who have only read other peoples’ reviews; not the book itself. They seem more intent on being right, than being pain-free. The way I see it, if you could end your pain simply by reading a book, wouldn’t it be worth it?
Paula Hughes is a writer, researcher and former sufferer of chronic pain since 1987. She is a huge follower of Dr John E Sarno MD's pioneering work with The Mindbody Connection and Tension Myoneural Syndrome (TMS). By using Mindbody techniques and further research and testing she has developed an effective pain management system for most types of chronic pain.
To learn more about Paula visit Chronic Back Pain Relief.