When Mind Over Body Hurts Your Back

Jay Stillman

4 min read

Breaking The Stress Cycle

Blausen.com staff (2014). “Medical gallery of Blausen Medical 2014”. WikiJournal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 2002-4436. [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], from Wikimedia CommonsIn this post, Stillman and Friedland will cover an issue that affects a wide cross-section of Americans and a lot of Tennesseans: back problems. If you have ever had back pain, you know what we mean, and just thinking about it is enough to make you cringe. We have discussed how effective an anti-inflammatory diet can be in easing pain, but there is another strategy that has worked miracles for back pain sufferers—acknowledging life stress, and releasing the pain. Now before you dismiss this as New Age voodoo, we want to lay out the facts and the results and show you that it can work.

Here is how we found out about the work of the late Dr. John Sarno, the director of the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine at New York University Medical Center. One of our attorneys was experiencing terrible back pain. He has a long history of back issues, and has managed his pain with a combination of stretching exercises, physical therapy, better diet, and pain medications. Recently he had a very bad flare-up and a friend recommended one of Dr. Sarno’s ground-breaking books The Mindbody Prescription: Healing the Body, Healing the Pain. Having been introduced to the basic concepts that Dr. Sarno puts forth, relief was almost immediate, and that is impressive.

While Dr. Sarno’s methods go against the grain of conventional medical treatments, thousands of patients can testify to their efficacy. The same cannot be said about back surgery. In one set of Workers’ Compensation data 70% of patients needed 40% more medication post-surgery.

Here is the factual information based on studies which examined hundreds of MRI back scans and x-rays:

• Almost no adult has a structurally “normal” or uninjured back.
• Therefore, having a damaged back does not predict back pain.
• The inescapable conclusion is that something else is causing back pain.

The corollary to the above points is that surgery can be avoided in many, many cases. In all cases, surgery is an absolute last resort. According to Forbes writer and former back pain sufferer Edward Siedle:

Sarno’s message was that in the overwhelming majority of cases, back pain was a symptom created by the unconscious mind as a distraction to aid in the repression of strong unconscious emotional issues. The hopeful message I took from his book was that there was nothing structurally wrong with my back and that I should resume normal activity as soon as possible.

In most cases, primal causes or personality type make individuals prone to back pain, and a syndrome referred to as Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS). According to Dr. Sarno’s research, these related causes are:

…histories of up to five common mindbody disorders, including a variety of stomach symptoms, such as, heartburn, acid indigestion, gastritis and hiatal hernia; problems lower in the intestinal tract, such as spastic colon, irritable bowel syndrome and chronic constipation; common allergic conditions, such as hay fever and asthma; a variety of skin disorders, such as ecema, acne, hives and psoriasis; tension or migraine headache; frequent urinary tract or respiratory infections; and dizziness or ringing in the ears…

In the case of our attorney, the stress trigger was a recent death in the family. Once he came to the realization that the loss was the source of his back pain, he could “release” it. Dr. Sarno claimed that the brain uses pain to distract from the bigger issue of emotional stress or pain.
If you suffer from chronic back pain or other pain issues, it is well worth your while to check out one of Dr. Sarno’s books, or those of his students and adherents, such as Back Pain Permanent Healing: Understanding the Myths, Lies, and Confusion by Steve Ozanich.

Does this mean that you can eat a lousy diet because “it’s all in your head”? Absolutely not! As we have discussed before in this blog, you are what you eat. A poor diet will leave you fatigued and depressed. It is always important to take a well-rounded approach, and maintain your gut microbiome. Happy gut bugs make for a happier outlook. Essential fats are another key to a sunnier disposition.

Finally, we always advise that you work with a qualified medical professional to rule out other physical causes.

To your health!

Because we care…