On my path to try to find a solution to 7 years of severe chronic back pain (and associated conditions), I had read endless convincing testimonials and anecdotes about how [insert treatment/supplement/drug] had eliminated their chronic pain. At the last count I think I had tried around 30+ treatments with varying results. Testimonials raise your expectations and when yet another treatment fails to deliver the desired effect, it adds another layer to the ongoing demoralization that is part and parcel of the ‘Chronic Pain Experience’.
All had one thing in common, they didn’t offer any long term relief. CBT is often touted as an excellent treatment for chronic pain patients. This is based on the accurate idea that how you perceive the pain alters the perception of the pain, adding to the misery. My aversion to trying it out was based on the fact that CBT did not offer any explanatory framework for WHY I had pain and how to reverse. Like the dreaded ‘Pain MGMT’ idea you are left to essentially cope and move on, accept you have pain and tell yourself ‘life is tough’. My reasoning was along the lines of ‘I am depressed because I have pain, if I am less depressed I will still have pain’. In other words, what the hell is the point?
Upon closer inspection however, I was pleasantly surprised and it allowed me to examine just how ‘wonky’ some of my thought processes had become in response to the constant pain stimuli. What I hadn’t considered however was the possibility that the way I thought about certain things, my perfectionist tendancy/people pleasing/stoic nature could be the actual progenitors of pain. I visited 3 NHS Pain specialists and asked each one why I had pain, not one of them even hinted at the possibility of psychosomatic phenomena being a potential cause. My level of desperation was apparent to the last one as I presented a folder full of pain patterns, past injuries and attempts on my behalf to understand WHY I had pain. So I slipped back into the demoralisation as not even Pain doctors could tell me what was wrong.
When I read Dr John E Sarnos theory on chronic pain and his TMS diagnosis a lightbulb went off.
The Tension Myoneural Syndrome diagnosis really hit home with me because it offered,
1. An actual diagnosis that was plausible
2. A reason why there is pain in the first place
3. It is benign and not harmful thereby alleviating a huge amount of anxiety.
4. How to get rid of it, entirely!
5. You can have spinal abnormalities yet be 100% asymptomatic.
Sounds too good to be true, eh? The ultimate snake oil I told myself.
The Sarno TMS concept is heavily reliant on anecdotes for the time being. In pure scientific terms, testimonials and anecdotes are not enough to change the medical world’s view of chronic pain. If you have a purported cure for anything the first thing that will be demanded is a Double-blind, placebo controlled Randomized Controlled Trial (and rightly so!). Dr Howard Schubiner is the main man in this regard with his trial dealing with Fibromyalgia patients.
I have zero authority to tell Doctors that he is right and they are wrong. Leading Pain researchers & neuroscientists like Lorimer Mosley and VS Ramachandran are making great strides but it will be a long time until it gets round to what Sarno (amongst others) is advocating. At present we recognise really odd phenomena like Synaesthesia and recent discoveries of Mirror Neurons are intriguing. A colleague of Lorimer Mosley is Physiotherapist Peter O’Sullivan who does an excellent job of dispelling popular myths that have become ingrained in our culture.
Other people familiar with Sarno’s ideas are much more optimistic, pointing to the recent phenomenon of meditation becoming popular. There is also the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ concept that points to his ideas becoming more widely accepted. At some point in the near future, Sarno-eqsue approaches to Chronic Pain treatment will be adopted en masse. They will use slightly different language but the skeleton will be the same. Just recently the Irish Independent published this article to help dispel some of the myths surrounding chronic back pain. One major error is the idea that ‘everyone gets back pain’ and feeds into the notion that evolution has gone wrong leaving us susceptible to back pain. We are in danger of becoming Cyberchondriacs but on the flip side the web is being used by like minded people to tell of their experiences with chronic pain and how they tackled it.
Sarno readily accepts most people will just ignore him. With each passing year the chronic pain epidemic seems to get worse and is costing our economies an absolute fortune. The statistics are eye watering. I wonder how many people could be spared if his work was fully looked into and validated?
I did the whole skeptic thing for a long time but finally concluded he was right based on personal successes with this approach. Having been kept prisoner in my own body for such a prolonged period of time lead to the belief that this was permanent and irreversible, ably assisted by the medical profession who don’t know the real cause. They unwittingly perpetuate misery.
‘Magic’s just science we don’t understand yet’’ Arthur C. Clarke.
This sums up Sarno’s approach for me. I was 100% convinced this was a structural injury of some description replete with all the joint crunching/cracking and neuropathic symptoms to go with it. Medical professionals still fail to provide an accurate diagnosis in 85% of cases and it has really perplexed them. The best Doctors intuitively know a lot of chronic pain is indirectly related to major stressful events but have no template by which to interpret and communicate such a diagnosis to the patient. A pet hate among Chronic Pain sufferers is being accused of making it up or using it for ”Secondary gain”.
Success stories are absolutely crucial at this period of medical history to give someone the impetus to read Sarno’s work and give it a fair hearing. Many notable successful people have come out in support of his work. John Stossels infamous 20/20 clip is well known. John’s brother Tom Stossel is a Harvard trained MD, a noted skeptic and a debunker of the Big Pharma conspiracy. He rejects Sarno and still suffers chronic pain to this day funnily enough. Perhaps he is right?
Then you have Howard Stern and Larry David, two huge names. I especially love Larry David who wrote ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘Curb you enthusiasm’, the latter being my favourite. For me, Edward Siedle’s contribution was as important as any other. He works in the cut-throat world of finance and business where you need to be tough and not allow anyone gain an edge on you. The same applies to Greg Gutfeld who works in journalism, another tough game.
These are all people who “came out” with their stories because they felt it could help a lot of people. They took a big risk laying down their own story, especially the guys who work in the media and business. People could lampoon them for believing in ‘woo’ and embracing ‘voodoo’. They marched onward.
Once you’ve lived with pain for such a long time and had relief via Sarno you can understand why so many of us can become evangelical. It reassures you that you are not broken, allows you to really understand what is going on and how you can resume a normal life.
Another Siedle article calls Dr Sarno, America’s greatest Doctor. I would tend to agree.
Some of the others.
Brooke Hewes – Writer for NewWest.net has a great explanation in this piece.
Janette Barber – Comedienne and former writer for the Rosie O’Donnell Show
Clay Warnick – Journalist who explains the concept really well.
Cynthia Kuni – A professional Harpist and discoverer of Sarno whose disclaimer I fully agree with.
Greg Gutfeld -Media commentator who overcame 15 years of pain and sheepishly explains to his Conservative audience how he did it. This line nails it in regard to his inexplicable back pain of 15 years. ”I found out, however, from John Sarno that this was normal for freaks like me.”
Oprah Magazine(I know) contributor June DeMelo – talks of how she fixed her migraines with the TMS concept.
Stanford Computer Genius Aaron Iba – personal favourite story that details everything he tried to overcome RSI.
Shaddin Dughmi – Top Standford PhD Computer Science graduate shares his experience.
Harvard alum Rachel Podolsky who set up Harvard-RSI upon discovering and utilising TMS knowledge.
Hugh Howey, a writer that has made the Amazon best seller list tells his story.
Dr Wayne Kampers, a Psychiatrist who works in the Priory Group London whose recovery story is especially powerful as he had access to the top medical brains before reluctantly seeking out Georgie Oldfield. Bear in mind he had read the books with no success and like many needed the professional guidance to really overcome TMS.
All these people have one thing in common, Succ-stress!
The personality type seems to be the driving issue here and once you understand how this process works the more you will see improvement. I am going to devote my next blog post to the personality traits involved and why this is a hallmark of Tension Myoneural Syndrome.
Then there is the purpose built website made by Sarno patients who wanted to keep a record of success stories. http://www.thankyoudrsarno.org/ How many Doctors can make that boast?
In an odd way I am proud to hold such esteemed company and happy to finally have a path out of misery. If I can replicate a smidgen of the success they have achieved I will be a happy man.
Please remain sceptical and consult with your Doctor. It only took me 7 years before I was ready to accept that the pain may have a Bio-psychosocial basis and not physical.
Have a gander round my Youtube channel where I have uploaded work by Dr Schubiner , Schechter and Dr Sarno.
It can be miraculous for some people who can read the book and get better within days, most people however aren’t so lucky. The first few weeks I improved by around 70% and this allowed me to even entertain the notion that perhaps after-all the pain wasn’t with me for life as one of my Doctors had informed me. It took me the guts of a year to first buy the diagnosis and second to actually do the work required.
It is really about becoming less reactionary to little things, focussing on how strong the body actually is and remembering to stop beating yourself up. Deceptively simple.
Maybe I am experiencing a placebo effect but now when my foot starts hurting(X-ray found nothing) I think what is really on my mind/stressing me out. I do find myself lapsing back into doubt but remind myself of what I’ve experienced directly from learning this new information. For now unfortunately it will be resigned to ”alternative medicine” oblivion and pushed by less credible individuals than actual Doctors.
I’m also a big fan of Quantitative Stressing which may explain my problems with cash-flow 🙂
If you’re sketpical but in pain and have tried everything else enter ”Healing back pain pdf” into Google search and you can get a free copy of the book. You have nothing to lose!