May 30 2013

Pain: Can it Be In Your Mind? 30 Plus Years of Research Says it May Be

Vol. 202, May 30, 2013

Over the past few years I have been studying how our health care system has let us down. With doctors given no more than seven minutes per patient, they rarely have the time to really listen to your concerns. This has lead to the over prescribing of medications, expensive testing and even more expensive surgeries with poor results.



John E. Sarno, M.D. has been studying the whole area of mindbody disorders for over three decades having come to the conclusion that the medical model is broken. In his book “The Divided Mind: The Epidemic of Mindbody Disorders” he has built on the foundation of his original book “Healing Back pain”.




Going back to Freud who was the first to speak of the unconscious mind, to the present healers of today, Dr. Sarno explains that a patients’ physical symptoms were induced by the brain to serve a psychological purpose, which is his definition of a psychosomatic disorder. The brain actually causes physical changes in the body parts where blood flow has been reduced. This causes a slight reduction in oxygen causing the pain and other symptoms experienced. Dr. Sarno calls this response tension myositis syndrome (TMS). Since first recognizing this syndrome, Dr. Sarno has realized that nerve and tendon involvement is more common then the muscle tissue from which the name comes.



Many of the common medical problems of today fall under this umbrella of TMS:




  • Gastroesophageal reflux
  • Peptic ulcer
  • Esophagospasm
  • Hiatus hernia
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Spastic colitis
  • Tension headache
  • Migraine headache
  • Frequent urination not associate to medical conditions such as diabetes
  • Most cases of prostatitis and sexual dysfunction
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears) or dizziness not related to neurological disorder
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Carpel tunnel syndrome
  • Chronic pain syndrome
  • Rheumatoid arthritis



Dr. Sarno came to these conclusions after realizing that the medical treatment for the structural problems never permanently got rid of the problem. One would think that if one had a rotor cuff tear for example, and underwent surgery the problem would go away. That particular problem may have gone away, only to have another problem arise causing pain elsewhere in the body.



The primary gain from the cause of the pain, TMS, serves is the prevention of the conscious mind to become aware of unconscious feelings like rage or some emotional pain.



So next we come to the idea of prescribing psychopharmaceuticals to treat depression and anxiety which serve the same purpose for the individual as pain. According to Franz Alexander, one of Freud’s students, emotions plays a role in all illness. He believed that a biochemical formula being needed somewhere in the cortex of the brain will never account for the interpersonal longing that may cause depression for example. The symptom need not be the cause. Treating the symptoms of depression with a prescription drug does not take care of the cause of the problem, it merely masks the problem.



The most interesting observation though in the book is the acknowledgement that if the patient has the ability to heal themselves, what happens to the authority of the doctor?



Many years ago I had a client come in to see me, in so much pain she was bedridden for five years. This client was only in her late 30’s at the time. Her medical doctors and psychiatrist could not get to the cause of her problem. She had some surgery that was required for a physiological problem. Once she healed completely from that surgery, her surgeon told me that there was nothing there to physically cause her pain. He told me that he was out of options and that this may very well be a psychosomatic response. You can read her testimonial (here) .



In this particular case it was indeed feelings of anxiety and rage from the age of 4 that created this intractable pain of which my client was suffering. Once these emotions were released, the pain subsided and the client was able to get back into living a much more normal life finishing up her Ed.D. moving into a professional career in academia.



I would like you to ask yourself if you are finding that you are under much stress, have a history of being emotionally abused and if you are experiencing pain in your body in different places, or perhaps recurring pain in the same place regardless of the course of conventional medical treatment given? If so, you best look into the emotional components of your pain, because that very well may be the solution to your problem.




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