I’m just going to dive head first into this one. I’ve mentioned this idea of the mind and its part in the chronic pains we face from day to day. In this case I am speaking specifically about the back. There is this theory (with practical clinical trials to support the findings) that a man by the name of Dr. Sarno supports. He is what I would describe as someone who is completely “sold out” for this idea that the mind is to blame for 95% of the pain we suffer from today. We will be here all day if I went into detail about what this guy talks about so I want to give you my experience and why I think you need to give his theories a fair shot.
The idea that I am talking about is explained in detail in Dr. Sarno’s book Healing Back Pain: The Mind Body Connection. It is one of my highly recommended books you can find here. Dr. Sarno explains his findings with TMS and the power of the mind of your body. TMS stands for Tension Myositis Syndrome. It’s basically the idea that back, shoulder and neck pain stem from physiologic alterations in certain muscles, nerves, tendons and ligaments (Sarno). The book goes on to talk about how we are trained to link pain to an injury. It’s what we have always done and still do today. Maybe you were in an accident and the wreck caused you to jam your elbow or shoulder. Now 15 years later, you still blame that one event for your chronic pain. What If I told you the way your thinking is wrong? We immediately think that if something hurts that means something is broke. We have to think out side of the box. What if there is more to our pain than a simple crack, herniation or rupture?
What does that have to do with TMS?
*Testimony* leading up to my official diagnosis, my pain really wasn’t bad, I just noticed it after doing specific lifts like squats or deadlifts. It had eventually become more of a chronic pain but nothing like it was after my diagnosis. It’s as if once the doctor showed me the disc that had ruptured and become degenerative, my mind switch to “permanent damage”. Next thing you know I would blame my pain on the lack of disc. It didn’t matter what I did, every move, bend or twist that caused pain I would mentally imagine my vertebrae sliding over each other tearing into old disc tissue. Duh! All that sliding around is whats causing the numbness in my legs! I later found out that I was just confused and I had conditioned myself to believe these lies.
The big issue with always linking pain to an injury is that we aren’t giving our bodies enough credit. We think that we are walking glass houses and with one wrong move SNAP, there goes our hip. We have to get off this train of thinking. Think about it, the biggest bone in your body is the femur. It’s your thigh bone. I have literally seen one of these things snap in half, screwed back together and after a solid 6 weeks the guy was back on his feet. If the biggest bone in your body takes only 6 weeks to heal why do we rule out everything else in our bodies? We have this way of thinking that puts our back pain in a “structural” category. Since we have a pain, something must be broken. So we search high and low for this deformity or crack and as soon as someone picks up on the slightest abnormality we are on the surgical table within the week.
Okay so I need to change my thinking…check. SO what’s causing the pain?
The theory behind TMS is that the pain we feel and suffer from can be rooted back to psychological foundation rather than a physiological. Which means the slow onset of pain or even abrupt onset is our body releasing tension built up from stress from worrying, being overly conscientious, angry, compulsive and potentially too much of a perfectionist. Typically it’s the people who tend to suppress their feelings who deal with more pain. We hang on these frustrations and emotions until something happens and these emotions present themselves through pain in the body.
*Testimony* My first experience with this was when I was transferred to a different location for work which was a little over an hour away from my home. I was already dealing with back pain but it never was bad until this position change. My stress levels shot up for multiple reasons. It was a further drive, more responsibility and more head ache. I was doing the same thing but all of these new factors came into play making the position extremely undesirable. I began to notice my lower back pain getting worse and worse without any change. It didn’t matter what I did. I would get to work and no matter what I did my back was smoked for the entire day. All I could think about were the stresses of my job. I hated it and it became even worse when I felt like I was losing control of my back pain. After about 6 months, I asked to get changed to a closer location. It’s still a good drive but it’s doable. Since the change my back pain has dropped significantly. It was almost over a weekend that I had noticed the change. Since the position change there is a significant drop in stressors and I am able to control my back pain the way I should.
This is just one scenario. Like clock work, I always know my back pain will flare up whenever I am going through a hard time. For a while, stress, anger and anxiety always brought back pain. I didn’t know how to handle it so I just rode it out until my body took care of itself. It took time but eventually I established a better understanding of my back pain which allowed me to control the way my body handled certain circumstances.
The role conditioning plays on your back pain.
This is another side of the back pain spectrum. The art of classical conditioning. If you have been dealing with back pain for a while you will know what I mean when I say we try to always link our pain to a certain activity. We are convinced since my back hurt when I sat down last time, that every time I sit down now my back will hurt. You sell yourself on this in your head to the point where it practically becomes a reality. I would do this all the time. It got so bad that I almost stopped working out all together because I had convinced myself that anything I did in the gym only made things worse. If this hits home for you, you’re not alone! It’s a natural survival instinct to always want to link our pain to something we think we can control. We condition ourselves based off of one episode to the point where we can bet that if we sit down or stand for more then 10 minutes or carry anything over 10 lbs that our back will begin to hurt. Believe me, this makes sense to someone who is desperate and trying to control their pain but we have to stop doing this!
So how do we fix this?
Well, I wish it was as easy as just learning how to relax. Unfortunately, if I told you to just “relax” you would probably think I was crazy. You soak in a hot tub with your favorite glass of wine only to find your pain back an hour after. The only way I can suggest is that you truly learn the idea and techniques used in this idea of overcoming TMS is to begin to read through Dr. Sarnos book. I say that because it took me the entire book to truly understand what he was trying to tell me. It’s as if each page and chapter of that book takes you on this mental journey of finding yourself out and really taking a hold of TMS and its role in your pain. I’m going to be completely honest with you though, some of Dr. Sarnos theories surrounding this TMS are hard for me to support. I’m not saying everything this man says is gold but I do know that after reading this book, my ability to control and understand my back pain was taken to a whole new level. He is convinced that most modern pain management techniques (exercise, surgery, therapy etc.) are unnecessary. Like I said, I can really resonate with this book. It’s as if I was reading my own life story written out page by page having someone point out where I went wrong and confirming where I was wrong. Just take what he said and apply it to your life where applicable. I promise you there is something you can learn.
If this helped you in any way I really want to spread the word about beating back pain. It would mean the world to me if you share this with your friends and family so they too can get relief!
Talk to you soon!