Dr. John Sarno is a recently retired American doctor and professor of Rehabilitation Medicine at the New York University School of Medicine. He contends that a whole host of chronic pain conditions are the result of mild oxygen deprivation. The unconscious brain starts to limit oxygen levels through the autonomic system provoking a “real” physical sensation (which he labels TMS). By partially restricting blood flow to specific regions of the body, the autonomic system deprives that region of sufficient oxygen and this results in numbness, pins and needles and pain.
He contends that the unconscious brain will bring on such conditions as a way of limiting exposure to harmful situations or emotions. Severe RSI or back pain will, for example, effectively remove you from many stressful work environments. It’s important to emphasise that he doesn’t imply that people “want” to suffer from chronic pain, or that it’s “all in the mind.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. The psychosomatic process occurs at an unconscious level, i.e. we are not aware of it. And even though there is a psychosomatic root, it creates a physical manifestation of very real pain.
What do I have to do?
TMS can be cured simply by reprogramming your thought processes. This can be achieved by a mixture of meditation, journaling and addressing your conditioned pain responses. Meditation allows you to reduce stress levels and to become aware of your though processes. Journaling simply involves writing on a daily basis about things in your life that have caused stress/anger/pain. This allows introspective analysis and helps to address unresolved tensions. Addressing your conditioned pain response simply means breaking the positive feedback pain cycle. We fear an activity because it causes pain, so the next time we do it our stress levels and awareness are heightened, leading to greater pain sensations and greater fear of that activity. This cycle can be broken by reconditioning our brains through gradual reintroduction of that activity.
What does this cost?
Nothing! You already have all the tools you need for success. There is a great deal of free information out there about all the techniques you need to use. The TMS Wiki has over 600 pages with resources and information about TMS. The TMS discussion forum allows you to read threads and post comments to get advice and information. If you don’t mind spending a few pounds, then you can pick up Dr John Sarno’s The Mindbody Prescription for about a fiver. If you feel that you need professional support then you can contact one of the medical professionals listed in the “links and resources” section.
First you need to accept that there is a psychosomatic root to your condition, and that as a result the pain is not symptomatic of structural damage. This on its own is the biggest hurdle to overcome as it allows you to do activities without the fear of further injury. It is of course important to note that Dr. Sarno stresses that you must have been through regular medical check-ups to rule out any serious structural causes of the pain. (Though as you will see in the “medical evidence” section, sometimes structural diagnoses can be misleading).
You should start journaling every day with a diary of what stresses you have/have had in your life. Set aside 10 minutes somewhere quiet. Write about your personal life pressures both past and present. Who are you angry with? Guilty about? What fears do you have? See if you can link your emotional state to your symptoms. What was going on emotionally when they first started? Does the pain get worse when you’re stressed? Journaling will force you to become more introspective about your own emotions.
Put aside another 10 minutes a day for meditation. This simply means sitting somewhere quiet and trying to clear your mind of other thoughts. If (and when!) thoughts do appear, simply acknowledge them and then release them. During the day you can also do mindful mediation, which simply involves becoming hyper-aware of your surroundings – smell the air, notice what the touch of the steering wheel feels like, focus on the wallpaper patternc. This allied with deep breathing can be very relaxing.
Set yourself goals – both small and large. For example my long term goals were to type 1000 words without voice recognition software, to play badminton, to write freehand without any pain and to play guitar without any pain. My short term goals were associated with these targets – eg. To start typing without voice recognition, to play the guitar for a few minutes a day etc etc. Your pain will be partially generated by positive feedback -an activity appears to causes pain, so the next time you attempt that activity your stress levels rise, heightening pain awareness and worsening the pain experienced. This conditioned fear response can only be overcome by setting small term goals to recondition yourself to activities without pain.
Adopt visualisation techniques – in the same way that Olympic athletes use visualisation techniques to improve their performance, imagining doing activities that cause pain actually helps reduce the conditioned pain response.
6) Positive attitude:
Write yourself a number of positive mantras or positive sayings:
“TMS is real, the pain is just emotional.”
“It is ok to not succeed in everything I do.”
“The pain is just caused by a lack of oxygenated blood, there is no long term damage.”
Say these to yourself whenever you feel an onset of pain
Start doing exercise – this will make you feel better, and will also get your blood flowing. You should notice that your pain diminishes when you do this.
Embrace the above suggestions. Take things slowly and give yourself a month of genuine application. It won’t work if you’re half hearted. Ask yourself how much you would be prepared to pay to be cured of your chronic pain. If you’re anything like me, it will be every penny you can afford. Say you would be prepared £15,000 – well, 30 minutes a day for a month values your time at £1000 per hour – not bad! Ultimately there is nothing to lose – if after a month you’re no better off, well you’ve given it a go, if it works then you have your life back. I think that those are odds worth taking.
It would be wrong to suggest that every physical condition can be cured using these techniques. I am not a doctor – and therefore you should certainly seek professional medical help as a first resort. This site is intended for those (very large) number of people who have gone through the whole medical cycle of specialists, tests, diagnoses and treatment, and yet for whom their chronic pain remains. If you are lucky enough to be a relatively short way through that medical cycle I would strongly recommend contacting a trained medical professional who already understands the TMS and mindbody concept. You can see a list of some of those professionals here.