If you or someone you love suffers from chronic back pain, there is an interesting mind-body theory that explains the origins of some pain as being purely psychological in nature.
The Link Between Pain and Anxiety
Dr. John Sarno, a Professor of Rehabilitative Medicine at New York University’s Rusk Institute, has firmly maintained that chronic pain not caused by traumatic injury is actually a symptom of psychological anxiety. He is the author of several books explaining his theory that links pain to anxiety, with his first book entitled, ‘Mind Over Back Pain‘. Tension Myoneural Syndrome (TMS) is what Dr. John Sarno termed a psychosomatic illness that causes spine, neck, and limb pain. This type of chronic pain is not relieved with the usual medical interventions.
According to Dr. Sarno, simply understanding and thinking about the mind-body connection to chronic pain actually helped many patients condition improve. Some sufferers found relief by writing in a personal journal on a regular basis, while others were helped with psychotherapy treatment. Though he never performed professional, scientific research, Dr. Sarno claimed that his theories were proven based upon the fact that his individual patients’ symptoms improved without the use of drugs, surgery, or specific exercises for back ailments.
Pain not Always Linked To Herniated Discs
In fact, Dr. Sarno’s insistence that back pain was not always linked to herniated discs has been proven true by researchers published in The New England Journal of Medicine. The research studied MRI scans on patients who did not suffer from back pain, yet the scans showed that the majority of them had abnormal discs and other issues. Since the bulging discs were not causing these people any pain, perhaps those who did suffer from chronic pain could find relief without invasive attempts to fix physical abnormalities.
Some of the mind-body treatments employed to combat chronic back pain that may be linked to psychological fears include:
- Reading educational materials about the psychological connections to pain
- Journaling emotions as pain occurs
- In some cases, undergoing psychotherapy
Studies have shown about a 52 percent decrease in painful symptoms upon employment of these mind-body tactics.
Emotional and Psychological Sources of Pain
Although John Sarno was disappointed that the medical community at large did not agree with or accept his assertions linking chronic pain to deep-seated psychological issues, his patients thought very highly of him and the results of his treatment. In fact, Dr. Sarno took a personal interest in the lives of his patients, and they clearly shared a mutual affection for one another. Rather than being the off-putting type of physician many patients are used to encountering, Dr. Sarno talked to his patients, thoroughly examined them, and explained that the pain they were experiencing was, indeed, real, but the cause was not bulging disks or degenerative joints. The root cause of pain was within their own minds, particularly in the minds of Type A personalities and people who were drive to please others, traits that required a suppression of stress and anger.
Most of Dr. Sarno’s patients had tried everything to relieve their pain before turning to him for help, which they ultimately found upon acceptance that the cause of their pain was emotional and psychological in nature.
Other books Dr. Sarno has written include Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection, The Mind-body Prescription: Healing the Body, Healing the Pain and The Divided Mind: The Epidemic of Mind-body Disorders.
If you are dealing with chronic back pain, keep in mind that your mental health and emotional status can be directly affected, as a mind-body link does exist and pain can negatively impact your mood. Find relief from the stress caused by pain by partaking in gentle yoga exercises, meditation techniques, or massage therapy. These activities can go far towards preserving a positive mood and outlook, thereby decreasing the way you react to and feel pain. Receiving a correct diagnosis, of course, is paramount to your well-being, in addition to obtaining a clear-cut treatment plan to ward off feelings of depression and anxiety. These interventions can result in helping you feel better both mentally and physically.
If you are prepared to find relief from chronic pain, begin by taking the first step and call the Spine Institute Northwest at 206-496-0630 to schedule an appointment.