You don't have to be a profoundly intuitive person to understand the link between emotional problems and physical pain. You only have to think back to that bad day you had at work in your recent past and the stress headache you experienced as a result. Dr. John E. Sarno takes this basic premise to make a bold claim in his books, Healing Back Pain and The MindBody Prescription. His claim is that most (not all) back pain is caused by a syndrome he calls TMS or tension myositis syndrome. According to his books, he argues that most back pain can be attributed to this excruciating, yet harmless condition. 80% of Americans will experience back pain at some point in their life, and I have experienced my share. (Disclaimer: I do not offer any medical advice, have no medical background, and the purpose of this writing is for entertainment purposes only. Please go to the doctor if you are in pain or have a medical condition. This is not an anti-medical establishment article.)
The author argues that if most back pain were due to aging, as most people believe, it would decrease significantly in the elderly. However, according to his data, this actually declines after retirement - when daily responsibilities decrease. He writes that the majority of back pain occurs during the ages when responsibility is greatest (approximately between ages 30 and 65).
Furthermore, he argues that TMS is a harmless, yet extremely painful condition that arises as a defense mechanism so that the mind does not experience overwhelmingly painful emotions such as grief, anger, rage, or memories of past trauma. The pain of TMS is a highly effective distraction from emotions we may fear would be destabilizing. Sarno argues that once you do the important psychological work of looking into those repressed emotions, the TMS will disappear, sometimes quite quickly, sometimes quite slowly. Sometimes, it will move its location, from the neck to shoulder or knee. This is proof that you are making progress and you should continue looking closely at those repressed emotions. Because, Sarno contends, once you are paying attention to those uncomfortable and overwhelming emotions, your defense mechanism is no longer needed, and according to Sarno, the pain will disappear when you treat the underlying psychological (emotional) reasons for the discomfort.
So next time you are reaching for the heating pad, you may just want to dim the lights and sit quietly in the arm chair instead; to ponder those situations that are wreaking havoc on your unconscious, and not just your back.
DISCLAIMER: This blog is not intended to substitute professional medical or psychological advice. Please see a professional if you think you may need help.