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.
Nobody with chronic pain comes directly to Sarno’s work. But, if you’ve tried conventional treatment and had no success, please watch the documentary and read the book. What have you got to lose?
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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?
Pleasantly surprised to see this topic on your blog. Thank you for your thoughtful articles.
I am a chronic pain physician in California, primarily interventional—injections, minimally invasive spine surgeries, etc. I agree, there is no “one size fits all” solution when it comes to managing chronic pain conditions, but the mind-body connection and mental wellness components are grossly under appreciated. For those individuals who are open minded, introspective, and motivated, this approach can do wonders. Unfortunately, many folks struggle with these conditions for decades, fail conservative and experimental treatments, and waste so much of their time and hard-earned money without great durable results.
Thank you for sharing and encouraging awareness on these aspects of medicine, finance, life in general.
Thanks, BK! We live near a ‘chronic pain physician’ with a sign out front that reads, “Plants are the solution. I forgot the question.” I know you aren’t that kind of physician, I just like the joke and hope it gave you a smile.
I have had eventual success with services that sound like what you offer, injections that reduce inflammation so the soft tissue can begin to heal. My struggle was my own fault; I would start to feel better, bypass the stretch/hot/cold therapy, and eventually reinjure. So I’m happy that a pro like you sees value in what Sarno offers! Thanks again!
Financial Samurai says
It’s fascinating, bc one $15 book by Dr. Sarno at the time more than 10 years ago changed my life for the better. I would have easily paid $200,000 to not feel the pain I felt again back then. Today much more.
I hope more people LISTEN to their body. When it is in chronic pain, something mental is messing them up and it needs to change.
Sarno changed my life. Thanks for sharing your story!
Love to hear that, thanks for reading!
Great post. I have been in the medical field for a decade and a practicing NP for a couple of years now. I have not come across this physician or book. I will now buy and read. I do not suffer from any pain, thankfully, but this may be a good resource to share with patients. Thank you.
Thanks for the comment, Cam. The documentary shows how Sarno worked at the Rusk Medical Institute in a facility with hundreds of doctors and medical professionals, but not a single referral from his colleagues. So not surprising that you have not encountered Sarno, yet. There is a real resistance when there are no surgery, anesthesia, o.r., recovery fees. Every person I’ve encountered with TMS-or-similar has tried other approaches, and comes to Sarno last.
Ryan H. says
Great article. I too have read Dr. Sarno’s book after hearing Howard Stern talk about it for years. You’re absolutely right…you can’t just buy it and stick it on the shelf. You must read it, understand it and make a good faith effort to try the methods to get results.
Wow, you have been with Howard for a long time! If you remember those days, you might remember that Howard gave ‘Healing Back Pain’ to Jackie’s (then)wife Nancy and told her to “put it on the shelf with all the other books you haven’t read, like ‘Living With An Alcoholic’!” Howard is in the documentary, too, and states that for him not to be would be selfish. Thanks, Ryan!
Ryan H says
Yes I have, I’ve listened to Howard since the Jackie days. Haha sounds like typical narcissist Howard regarding the documentary!
Financial Samurai says
“ His patients have high intelligence and are motivated high achievers, who score quite high on the conscientiousness and neuroticism traits scales.”
Good observation. I have a feeling the source of all stress is giving a crap.
The less we care about anything, the less stressed we will be!
Interesting framing! My sixth grade teacher had the class hold a cup of water out front at arm’s length, and continue to hold…until we all eventually put our cups down. She made a point that even though the cup didn’t weigh much, the continued weight on our arms wore us down.
Really admire your ability to generate years worth of fun and educational content, and allowing us readers to share your life’s journey! Clearly you care a lot about the quality, timeliness, and quantity of product you put out under the Financial Samurai brand! Hope your sabbatical is allowing you to ‘put the cup down!’
Thanks for sharing the resource. Can you tell me more about being legally blind? Was it that your best corrected visual acuity was worse than 20/200? If so, what was your visual acuity at the time and how did you adopt to the lower vision?
Thanks, Derek. My vision at its worst was 20/800 in right (power) eye, and 20/700 in left eye. It happened pretty quickly, and my attempts to adapt (different lens solutions, therapies, etc.) led to my giving up things I enjoyed (softball, although at least I then had an excuse why I couldn’t run, throw or hit!) and stopped driving at night. An operation stopped the regression and therapy stopped the inflammation. Today my uncorrected vision is no worse than 20/40. Sarno’s book made me accountable.
NY Money Hawk says
Great post! I actually had really bad back pain (+ hamstring issues related to the back pain) a few years ago and started seeing a sports medicine doctor and doing physical therapy. I couldn’t jog, or lift weights, both of which I enjoy doing sometimes to stay in shape, and couldn’t even do yardwork because of my back pain. Then I read the book Healing Back Pain and tried to follow the principles.
It worked and now I can exercise again, but I have to say I kind of cheated and used a Hybrid approach. According to the book I shouldn’t really see the sports medicine person and do the exercises they recommend for back pain, just focus on the mental. But I figured it wouldn’t hurt so I did some of both, plus I have a bad knee related to an old football injury (most of the cartilage in my knee was removed in a surgery long ago) and the sports medicine exercises help for my knees.
I actually have a screenshot on my phone from the book, from the page “What Dr Sarno Tells His TMS Patients”. Sometimes when my back acts up (usually after stressful days) I look at the screenshot/advice, then I verbally express all the complaints I had been repressing inside myself, and then tell myself the back pain is mental and ask my brain to stop doing it.
This probably sounds insane to people, but honestly it helps. I am normally kind of a stoic that doesn’t complain and internalizes things, and I think the back pain I get periodically is related to stress and internalizing things.
Not insane at all, NY Money Hawk, and you would have to be stoic to get your knee cleaned out and not complain! Like you, I also incorporated professional medical help and regular therapy practices. You sound like an accomplished athlete, and I just read that Marc Lobliner is halfway through the book and is going to incorporate the mental techniques for his own training and his students. Sarno’s word is still spreading!
Thanks for sharing your story! Dr. Sarno’s research changed my life as well. I had a period at work when I was in severe pain all day – back pain, neck pain, carpel tunnel. It was awful and I was incredibly stressed. I went to the chiro who convinced me I needed to buy this stupid foam realignment kit to fix my spine. My spine was totally fine, but he made me believe that it was not. And that ridiculous foam alignment process didn’t work and was a total waste of time.
Getting desperate I decided to finally sit down and read Healing Back Pain thanks to Sam’s story. And it was like lightbulbs starting turning on. I ended up reading two more of Sarno’s books. And within weeks I started to feel improvements. I still had pain for another 1-2 months, but then it completely disappeared.
I’ve had a couple flare ups in the years since then – all during very stressful times in my life. And when that happened, I went back and revisited Sarno’s research. And low and behold my pain disappeared in about 1-1.5 weeks.
There is undoubtedly a mind body connection. And the more we are aware of that, the better we can feel and be.
Thanks for reading it, Untemplater, glad you have found effective relief with your flareups. Sam’s been recharging with a long-earned sabbatical, and unless he told us readers it wouldn’t be apparent. The reason I submitted this guest post is because I have had over 10 years of fun and enjoyment reading Sam’s education, adventures, life-experiences, financial and motivation. When Sam wrote he was looking for some respite, my thought was that it would be the least I could do to provide a day-or-two-or-three break for Sam to recharge and enjoy his wonderful wife and children. Thanks! P.S. – holiday gift time is coming up, so here is a chance for us to support our satisfactions, and check out t-shirts and hoodies for Financial Samurai here: https://financialsamurai.myspreadshop.com/