When I started searching for answers, I came across John E. Sarno’s book, “Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection” and got excited. It was the #1 best seller and had over 1200 reviews that were mainly 5 stars.
While I had hesitations about the “mind-body connection” title, I have had so much pain for so long that I would try anything. I immediately bought the book and finished reading it the same day.
This book is primarily composed of anecdotal evidence from a particular doctor and practice with the inclusion of various studies validating sub points. While I read with an open mind, I couldn’t help but think about the author’s bias towards a particular diagnosis of Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS) which is a very controversial one. However, the number of patients who experienced relief from their back pain as a result of this diagnosis is definitely cause for an open mind. It’s unclear if the placebo effect is taking place here. Regardless, it appears to have a hugely positive effect on a sizable group of patients. I’m part of this anecdotal evidence as well…it appears to have worked for me.
1. Back pain may not be related to any injury or a postural issue.
The main case from the book is that a person’s back pain may not be the result of a structural issue but of a repressed emotional pain that exhibits itself through the body. The biochemistry resulting from emotions definitely causes direct feelings within the body. We all know this, and it’s clear from science as well. It is also known that emotional stress can be related to heart disease. However proof that emotions create an indirect effect of back pain is new territory.
2. Changing how you think about back pain changes it.
Throughout the book, Dr. Sarno presents patient case after patient case showing that once patients accept the diagnosis and acknowledge the stress they are repressing (potentially using psychotherapy for difficult cases) that the pain eventually subsides after a few weeks. The general prescription is to take a pain killer when it hurts a lot, consider deeply and acknowledge what emotional event has just occurred or perhaps been triggered, and once the pain subsides get back to moving without fear of re-injury. It’s as if the idea of just knowing that there is no injury or postural issue and that your mind is running a continual habit of pain thinking actually stops the pain.
3. This approach appears to work very well for his patients with back pain but it’s not clear what the underlying mechanism is.
It’s not clear what mechanism is at play here. It could be a placebo effect. Surgeries can have a placebo effect. Also, the placebo effect looks to have even more potential as we learn more about it. Regardless, given the number of happy patients, myself included. It’s worth a read.
I think that book puts down some very useful ideas. Perhaps the assumptions about one’s back pain can be incorrect. It might be a structural thing and it might not. If there hasn’t been an injury and there isn’t evidence in disease, there shouldn’t be any pain. That’s a powerful place to think from as opposed to thinking that you are injured and the psychological consequences of that. Of course, dealing with repressed emotions, that can only help. This books is a great read for anyone having back pain.
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