Between the ages of 18 – 32, I experienced chronic back pain, sciatica, tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow, and TMJ. It was only after reading Dr. Sarno’s book, Healing Back Pain, did my chronic pain eventually went away. Now, at 44, I hardly have any chronic pain. And when some ailment does flare up, I review my notes about Dr. Sarno’s book to heal.
If you’re unfamiliar with Dr. Sarno, he is a pioneer in treating back pain. He practiced for 50+ years at the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation at NYU. His research and treatment program are featured in four bestselling books which instruct patients to address their emotions to break the cycle of chronic pain.
The following is a guest post from JayCeezy, a regular reader who experienced his own bout of chronic pain. Dr. Sarno also helped him overcome his persistent ailments and feel healthy again.
Cure Your Chronic Pain To Get On With Your Personal Finances
One thing stands out to me, as I consider Sarno’s work. His patients have high intelligence and are motivated high achievers, who score quite high on the conscientiousness and neuroticism traits scales. The readers here are not just a cross section of people with aching backs. Many of you fit the profile of Sarno’s clients.
Have you ever missed a day (or more) of work because of an unspecified back injury? A physical ailment that prevented you from getting out of bed? Never mind the hours missed, let us consider the cost to our reputation of reliability and consistency.
“Don’t get sick at crunch time!” is pretty real. At the very least, everyone knows someone who is hindered by recurring back pain.
Keep in mind I’m not selling anything or stand to gain from this post. But like Sam, I had a very real struggle with chronic pain that I was able to cure thanks to Dr. Sarno.
And since I’m sure some of you out there are also suffering from chronic pain, I wanted to share my thoughts and experience. If you find this of interest, please watch the documentary All The Rage: Saved By Sarno and/or check out the book Healing Back Pain which I highlight below.
It’s truly worth it if you are struggling with painful ailments. Not only will your lifestyle likely improve, so can your work and personal finance goals as well. Everything is easier without chronic pain.
Pain That Is Felt But Can’t Be Seen
Now, let’s talk soft-tissue injuries – whiplash neck pain, tendonitis, fibromyalgia, joint pain, etc. These type of injuries don’t show up in x-rays. However, the pain suffered from them is quite real and specific. But, the source of the injury is not always so definite.
Dr. John Sarno’s ingenious research into Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS) reveals how stress and other psychological factors can cause chronic back pain and other painful ailments. There is a mind-body connection that traditional medicine overlooks. Our minds are not only highly complex, but are also highly powerful. The brain can actually manifest real physical pain as a “coping” mechanism for stressful, repressed emotions.
What’s life changing is Sarno’s suggested treatment can make patients pain-free without drugs, rehabilitation exercises, or surgery. It all starts with unraveling and acknowledging the triggers and stresses that our brains are struggling to deal with.
How My Own Chronic Struggles Lead Me To Dr Sarno
My own connection to this subject involves difficulty with my eyes, eventually resulting in Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis (GPC). At that time in my life, I had some frustrations and the problem(s) seemed unsolvable.
I was living at home, trying to save money to buy a house and start investing. My scholastic record was undistinguished, qualifying me for no occupation in particular. The U3 – Unemployment Rate we are all familiar with was 10.8%. And I was competing with a several-year backlog of graduates that had also ‘failed to launch.’
I was in a relationship with a good person, but it seemed she wanted to stay home and raise kids while I went to work for 40 years. She grew impatient, but not impatient enough to get a job herself. I recall asking her “am I your retirement plan?” which she thought was rude. But I didn’t hear a ‘no’ and that ended. There were years of roommates, and ‘maybes’ that never turned into ‘yes.’
I wanted to be a musician, and then a comedian, but audiences weren’t cooperating with my big dreams. My friends all moved away and had job-and-family obligations. So they weren’t available to hang out (which I would have been happy to do for the rest of my life). My tennis and softball teammates were no longer geographically convenient, and the time spent just driving to meet them could have been better utilized.
Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS) Manifests
It took a few years, but my frustration manifested in Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS), mainly inflammation with my eyes. My vision declined dramatically. Within two years I became legally blind. I couldn’t wear contacts anymore because they triggered a conjunctivitis reaction.
I got so frustrated that I spent tens of thousands of dollars trying to find a medical solution. And at one point was recommended to undergo a surgery that would alter my tear ducts.
My -8 diopter nearsightedness caused me to wear glasses so thick I incorporated them into my comedy act. “My glasses are so thick, I went to Sea World and the dolphins tapped on the glass!” I also wore out my friends with the same old complaints, thinking that somebody would hear me and present an idea or job or solution. But no, I was just boring them and not helping myself.
The worst part of accepting accountability, was that I didn’t have anyone to blame. Right? So, I had to face facts and make changes. I went back to school at night and got an MBA. I took up running, which you can do by yourself with minimal equipment. And I sold my musical equipment which was too good for me anyway, and walked off the comedy stage for the last time to a handful of 20s and a “maybe we’ll have you back.”
Ugh. My eyes are itching, just thinking about it!
The Mind-Body Connection
But then I heard Howard Stern recommend Sarno’s book Healing Back Pain and the mind-body connection intrigued me. A friend also recommended it. Reading the book, several times in my case (because the person who recommended it said that would be helpful), allowed me to think and ruminate on my frustration.
Doing this worked out for me, though it took a while. It was a hard lesson to learn.
I started to notice others all around me that also seemed to have a built-in excuse like TMS or GPC to stay in the same life place. One friend of mine from high school and college had back problems that left him lying on the floor most of the day and night.
He declared himself unable to work and watched television constantly. Then he began to take his meals while lying on his back. His lack of physical exertion resulted in weight gain that left him unable to exercise and round-and-round, you get the picture. However, I’m happy to report today that he applied the Sarno methods over years, and now is a successful business owner and family man.
The bottom line for Sarno’s solutions involve addressing inflammation and the perceived inability to make progress towards one’s goals. The Sarno material uses ‘the back,’ and in my case it was my eyes.
It was a useful distraction to have physical discomfort and be able to blame this condition for my lack of progress in the areas of my life that were frustrating. The discomfort and lack of action resulting in no progress is circular.
Further Reading: Do You Have The Right Money Mindset To Get Rich?
Making Positive Changes And Progress
There is an old Russian saying, “the issue is never the issue.” Well, my eyes weren’t the issue. Once I confronted the frustrations in my own life and applied Sarno’s method, I began to see results over time.
A big part of the change for me was putting aside my fear of failure, and simply trying. I tried new living situations, occupations, relationships. And I started using positive physical and mental outlets like martial arts and reading philosophy.
Over time, my discomfort moved from primary to secondary to tertiary. Until today there is no more inflammation and no discomfort in my eyes. This is why Sarno means a lot to me. I’m really grateful for his methods and work, and the change it brought for me.
You Too Can Become Pain-Free
It can be a little scary to confront some ugly memories, acknowledge life choices that haven’t been optimal, a work or living situation that brings unhappiness, etc. Giving up a dream that isn’t realistic, or an enjoyable hobby because the time required could be directed towards serious obligations like family and work is a hard pill to swallow.
Just the idea of ‘growing up’ involves accepting responsibility and committing to behavior that isn’t relaxing and stress-free. Quite frankly, life isn’t fair. Maybe some traumatic things have occurred in your life. But those events don’t have to define you or seal your fate.
As Ragnar Lothbrok said, “don’t look back, you’re not going that way.”
Lots of doctors had this very ‘thing’ happen to them, where they had excruciating back pain and various therapies and medication were ineffective. These people really want to change. They have moved past the great mass of people who claim to want to get better, but won’t change their eating, sleeping, working, or thinking habits.
Sarno predicted in the early ‘80s that the medical profession was diagnosing back pain at increasing rates, and the rates would continue upward unless this issue was addressed as a public health challenge. Disc bulges, cracked vertebrae, etc. There is supporting data in the film and book which I introduce below.
All The Rage: Saved By Sarno – Michael Galinsky
Filmmaker Michael Galinsky co-directed a 93-minute documentary entitled All The Rage: Saved By Sarno about Sarno’s impactful research. Galinksy’s own experience as well as those of several celebrity patients including Larry David, Howard Stern, and John Stossel are featured in the film.
The documentary opens with a quote attributed to Sherlock Holmes, “There is nothing so deceptive as an obvious fact.” Another quote follows. Movie writer/director Billy Wilder says, “if you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.”
The premise of the work by Sarno is that frustration, anger and rage can result in very real physical pain to soft-tissue areas, most often in the back region.
Sarno enthusiasts like me all have a story. Sam has one, which he has told in the past. And those featured in the film share their true stories of healing as well.
Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection
In Sarno’s book, we discover why self-motivated and successful people are prone to Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS). We also learn how anxiety and repressed anger trigger muscle spasms.
People “train themselves” to experience back pain, in order to avoid thinking about the horrific thoughts that circle back to the ‘issue’ that brings about anger and rage.
Those who put the book’s material into practice may get relief from back pain within two to six weeks by recognizing TMS and its causes. It certainly did for Sam four weeks after reading.
With case histories and the results of in-depth mind-body research, Dr. Sarno describes how patients recognize the emotional roots of their TMS and sever the connections between mental and physical pain.
Just by reading this book, you may start recovering from back pain today. But you have to actually read it. Don’t buy it and put it on a shelf.
TMS causes our unconscious thoughts create pain to distract us from unthinkable thoughts. Here’s a spoiler for the book: the tip-off is the word “Syndrome” indicating the importance of mind/mental and cognitive causes resulting in physical pain.
Pain that manifests physically, but isn’t caused by injury or structural problem with the skeleton and connected nerves/soft tissue, is what Sarno is addressing here.
The Syndrome indicates the symptoms are physical, but the root of the problem is in the mind. Repressed memories from childhood, anger, rage, frustration, powerlessness, abandonment, failure, betrayal. Go ahead, add a few of your own and get into it.
Sarno encourages journaling so that patients can become used to thinking the unthinkable thoughts. When patients become used to this new thinking, eventually those painful thoughts lose their power.
Related reading: The Ultimate Source Of Financial Security: Your Strong Mind
Repetitive Stress Injury Example
Here is an example, not absolute, where the reality of the Mind-Body connection caught up with the theory. RSI – Repetitive Stress Injury (carpal tunnel) – took several decades, and multiple alternative explanations (typewriters changed to computer keyboards, ergonomic chairs, longer commutes, etc.).
These explanations turned out to be illusory, and RSI was a fad. Stop. Think. How many people did you used to know who wore wrist braces and had special padded keyboards? And now? Exactly.
Some famous people that were directed, and found their way, to the material Sarno made useful include Larry David, Howard Stern, Jonathan Ames (“Bored To Death” “You Were Never Really Here”, John Stossel of ABC News (slapped to the ground by pro wrestler “Dr. D” David Schultz), pro golfer Ben Crane, U.S. Senator Tom Harkin, integrative medicine specialist and author Andrew Weil, etc.
All of us human beings believe we are rational, first. Emotions, psychology, psychosomatic injury, etc. would all come in second, at best. However, the patients who successfully utilize Sarno’s ideas are able to reframe their pain. And when they attempt to live an ‘examined life’ they can identify some moments of trauma in their life.
We would all like to believe that we can compartmentalize that trauma, and ‘get over it’. Many people can. But sometimes the unresolved rage will manifest in symptoms that turn into physical pain.
The Skeptics Of Dr. Sarno
Sarno himself says that most people can’t accept his concept. And that there is no point in trying to convince individuals of the concept. How do you prove the existence of unconscious emotions? How do you demonstrate them? Quantify them?
Many doctors who practice traditional medicine steer away from the mind-body connection. It goes against their training, could offend patients, and isn’t profitable. A lot of doctors are uncomfortable attributing causalities that can’t be proven in blood work, x-rays, or other diagnostics.
It’s a problem that the medical profession makes quite a bit of money on surgery, recurring physical therapies, and prescription drugs. A surgery may take six to eight weeks to recover. And if the patient were to just lie in bed for six to eight weeks, would the symptoms and pain dissipate? Sometimes yes.
The Fans For Life
But those who have experienced the positive results from understanding the mind-body condition are fans for life. Sarno, and his book, have been mentioned in several tv series, “Billions” and “Bored To Death” are two.
Howard Stern dedicated his #1 bestselling book ‘Private Parts’ (1993) to Dr. Sarno, and it has a credit in the 1997 movie. His books are published in over 25 countries, and over 1,000,000 total copies sold.
NIH Study On Chronic Back Pain
In addition, the National Institute of Health released a study about back problems and back pain in 2011, and the conclusions seem to bolster Sarno’s conclusions. There are three points in this report that stand out:
- No treatments for back pain currently in use are effective (drugs, surgery, steroid injection, implantable drug delivery).
- 100+ million people are affected by back pain.
- Costs have exploded. This is good for doctors and medical industry, but bad for consumers.
Dr. Sarno passed away in 2017 at age 93. His work wasn’t widely appreciated during his lifetime, but it does continue with specialists who treat TMS through the U.S. and Western Europe.
Readers, do you suffer from chronic pain? Have you tried using Sarno’s method to reduce and eliminate your symptoms? How has your life changed?