I have to believe that John Sarno's book cured my chronic pain

November 9, 2021 Whenever someone tells me that their back has caused them problems, I lower my voice before launching into my spiel: “I ...


Whenever someone tells me that their back has caused them problems, I lower my voice before launching into my spiel: “I swear I’m not woo-woo, but …”

Let me go back a bit. For over a decade, I had an almost constant throbbing in my left piriformis, a small muscle deep in my butt. I tried treating it with physiotherapy, ultrasound, and Botox injections. At one point, I even considered surgery to cut the muscle in half to decompress the sciatic nerve that runs underneath.

Then, in 2011, I purchased a library copy of the 1991 bestseller “Curing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection.” He claimed that in order to distract the patient from anxiety, anger or repressed feelings of inferiority, the brain creates pain in the neck, shoulders, back and buttocks by decreasing blood flow to them. muscles and nerves.

The author of the book, Dr. John Sarno, was a rehabilitation physician at New York University and something of an evangelist, praising a methodology supported by anecdotes from his practice and passionate testimonials from patients such as Howard stern or Larry David, who describes his recovery back pain like “the closest thing I have ever had in my life to a religious experience”.

Almost all chronic pain, according to Dr. Sarno, is caused by pent-up emotions. By going through psychotherapy or keeping a journal about them, he said, you could get them out of your subconscious – and heal yourself without drugs, surgery, or special exercises. I chose to keep a journal and started writing multi-page lists of anything that made me angry, unsure of myself, or worried.

I liked the tidy logic of Dr. Sarno’s theory: emotional pain causes physical pain. And I liked the reassurance it gave me that while my pain wasn’t from a staggering gait or sleeping position, it was real. I does not have so no one in the medical community seemed to side with Dr Sarno, or that he had no studies to back up his agenda.

But I couldn’t deny that it was working for me. After exorcising negative feelings from a newspaper for four months, I was – despite my disbelief – healed.

I didn’t think much of Dr Sarno after that until May of this year, when I ended up in physiotherapy for pain in my inner thigh. My physiotherapist assigned me a handful of exercises and I did them every day. The whole time I was worried: if physical therapy failed again, should I start exhaustively cataloging my woes again? Did Dr. Sarno’s claims even hold up?

“The idea is now widespread that a substantial proportion of people can be helped by rethinking the causes of their pain,” said Tor Wager, professor of neuroscience at Dartmouth College and director of its cognitive and affective neuroscience lab. “But that’s different from the idea that your unresolved relationship with your mother is manifested in pain.”

Dr Wager said that most scientists now think that pain is not always something that starts in the body and is felt by the brain; it can be a disease in itself.

Approximately 85 percent back pain and 78 percent of headaches have no identifiable trigger, yet few scientists would say that all or even most chronic pain is purely psychological. “There are also social and biological reasons for pain. In most people, it’s a confluence of the three, ”said Daniel Clauw, professor of anesthesiology, medicine and psychiatry at the University of Michigan and director of its Chronic Pain & Fatigue Research Center. “I’m sorry, there are a lot of people for whom Sarno’s method won’t work.”

Today, an approach similar to Dr Sarno’s method is emotional awareness and expression theory, in which patients identify and express the emotions they have avoided. It has not only been shown to significantly reduce pain in people with fibromyalgia and chronic musculoskeletal pain, it is also considered a best training for treat chronic pain (with massage and cognitive behavioral therapy) by the Department of Health and Social Services.

But how does the brain cause chronic pain in the first place? Dr. Sarno’s theory that our brains use pain to distract us from negative emotions by cutting off blood flow to muscles is not supported by science, according to Dr. Wager.

Instead of the bloodstream, scientists are now looking to the nervous system to understand chronic pain that is not caused by nerve or tissue damage. Basically, your brain circuits are malfunctioning, prolonging, amplifying, and possibly even creating pain.

Dr Wager said we don’t fully understand the mechanics of this, but “we do know that stressors can promote inflammation in the spinal cord and brain, which is linked to greater pain sensations.” . Early adversity, such as child abuse, economic hardship, violence and neglect, has also been linked to chronic pain.

To complicate matters further: pain can cause more pain. For example, an injury can increase the volume of your painful response to future injuries. Stress can cause pain to persist long after an injury has healed. And if your back hurts and you start to imagine all the ways it could get worse, that fear can amplify your pain, which can cause you to avoid physical activity, which then makes the pain worse. Experts call it the pain cycle.

Here, Dr. Sarno’s notion that the brain triggers pain was partly correct. Research shows that catastrophism can turning acute pain into chronic pain and increase activity in areas of the brain related to anticipation and attention to pain. This is one of the reasons clinicians are starting to treat pain disorders the same way as, say, anxiety disorders, by encouraging patients to exercise so that they can overcome their fear. some movement. While a socially anxious patient may take small steps to talk with strangers, for example, a patient with back pain may start jogging or cycling.

The bottom line, according to Dr Howard Schubiner, a protégé of Dr Sarno, is that “all pain is real and all pain is generated by the brain.” Today, Dr. Schubiner is Director of the Mind Body Medicine Program in Southfield, Michigan, and Clinical Professor at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine.

“Whether the pain is triggered by stress or a physical injury, the brain generates the sensations,” he said. “And – it’s a mind-blowing concept – it’s not just about reflecting what one feels, it’s about deciding whether to turn the pain on or off. “

So, according to this reasoning, all pain is both in the body and in the brain. That’s why when my adductor stopped hurting in July after eight weeks of physiotherapy, I didn’t spend too much mental energy trying to figure out what had worked: the exercises themselves, my physiotherapist. giving me the green light to continue exercising, the opportunity once a week to talk to her about my recent move and other stressors that may be contributing to my pain or (most likely) all of the above .

Ultimately, Dr Sarno was right that exercise helps, not hinder, recovery and the connection between emotional and physical pain. But not all chronic pain is psychological. Dr. Sarno’s Freudian treatment is far from the only one that works. And few scientists would say that our brains use pain to distract us from negative emotions (and certainly not by cutting off blood flow to the muscles).

I still regard Dr Sarno as a savior and continue to recommend his books to my friends and family; some read them – and were successful – while others politely declined. Yes, Dr. Sarno almost certainly oversimplified and exaggerated the psychological origins of pain. But he also helped me see that the mind and body are responsible for our physical suffering. And that we are not powerless to change it.

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Newsrust - US Top News: I have to believe that John Sarno's book cured my chronic pain
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