Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection

Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection

by John E. Sarno

Paperback(Mass Market Paperback)

View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Friday, July 19


Dr. John E. Sarno's groundbreaking research on TMS (Tension Myoneural Syndrome) reveals how stress and other psychological factors can cause back pain-and how you can be pain free without drugs, exercise, or surgery.

Dr. Sarno's program has helped thousands of patients find relief from chronic back conditions. In this New York Times bestseller, Dr. Sarno teaches you how to identify stress and other psychological factors that cause back pain and demonstrates how to heal yourself—without drugs, surgery or exercise. Find out:

  • Why self-motivated and successful people are prone to Tension Myoneural Syndrome (TMS)
  • How anxiety and repressed anger trigger muscle spasms
  • How people condition themselves to accept back pain as inevitable
With case histories and the results of in-depth mind-body research, Dr. Sarno reveals how you can recognize the emotional roots of your TMS and sever the connections between mental and physical pain...and start recovering from back pain today.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781538712610
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: 02/27/2018
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 60,151
Product dimensions: 4.10(w) x 7.40(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

DR. JOHN E. SARNO is Professor of Clinical Rehabilitation Medicine at the New York University School of Medicine and an attending physician at the Howard A. Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine at New York University Medical Center.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I have never seen a patient with pain in the neck, shoulders, back or buttocks who didn't believe that the pain was due to an injury, a "hurt" brought on by some physical activity. "I hurt myself while running (playing basketball, tennis, bowling)." "The pain started after I lifted my little girl" or "when I tried to open a stuck window." "Ten years ago I was involved in a hit-from-behind auto accident and I have had recurrent back pain ever since."

The idea that pain means injury or damage is deeply ingrained in the American consciousness. Of course, if the pain starts while one is engaged in a physical activity it's difficult not to attribute the pain to the activity. (As we shall see later, that is often deceiving.) But this pervasive concept of the vulnerability of the back, of ease of injury, is nothing less than a medical catastrophe for the American public, which now has an army of semidisabled men and women whose lives are significantly restricted by the fear of doing further damage or bringing on the dreaded pain again. One often hears, "I'm afraid of hurting myself again so I'm going to be very careful of what I do."

In good faith, this idea has been fostered by the medical profession and other healers for years. It has been assumed that neck, shoulder, back and buttock pain is due to injury or disease of the spine and associated structures or incompetence of muscles and ligaments surrounding these structures — without scientific validation of these diagnostic concepts.

On the one hand, I have had gratifying success in the treatment of these disorders for seventeen years based on a very differentdiagnosis. It has been my observation that the majority of these pain syndromes are the result of a condition in the muscles, nerves, tendons and ligaments brought on by tension. And the point has been proven by the very high rate of success achieved with a treatment program that is simple, rapid, and thorough.

Medicine's preoccupation with the spine draws on fundamental medical philosophy and training. Modern medicine has been primarily mechanical and structural in orientation. The body is viewed as an exceedingly complex machine and illness as a malfunction in the machine brought about by infection, trauma, inherited defects, degeneration and, of course, cancer. At the same time medical science has had a love affair with the laboratory, believing that nothing is valid unless it can be demonstrated in that arena. No one would dispute the essential role the laboratory has played in medical progress (witness penicillin and insulin for example).

Unfortunately, some things are difficult to study in the laboratory. One of these is the mind and its organ, the brain.

The emotions do not lend themselves to test tube experiments and measurement and so modern medical science has chosen to ignore them, buttressed by the conviction that emotions have little to do with health and illness anyway. Hence, the majority of practicing physicians do not consider that emotions play a significant role in causing physical disorders, though many would acknowledge that they might aggravate a "physically" caused illness. In general, physicians feel uncomfortable in dealing with a problem that is related to the emotions. They tend to make a sharp distinction between "the things of the mind" and "the things of the body," and only feel comfortable with latter.

Peptic ulcer of the duodenum is a good example. Although some physicians would dispute the idea, there is a fairly wide acceptance among practicing doctors that ulcers are caused primarily by "tension." Contrary to logic, however, the major focus in treatment is "medical," not "psychological," and drugs are prescribed to neutralize or prevent the secretion of acid.

But failure to treat the primary cause of the disorder is poor medicine; it is symptomatic treatment, something we were warned about in medical school. But since most physicians see their role only as treating the body, the psychological part of the problem is neglected, even though it's the basic cause.

In fairness, some physicians make an attempt to say something about tension, but it's often of a superficial nature like, "You ought to take it easy; you're working too hard."

Pain syndromes look so "physical" it is particularly difficult for doctors to consider the possibility that they might be caused by psychological factors, and so they cling to the structural explanation. In doing so, however, they are chiefly responsible for the pain epidemic that now exists in this country.

If structural abnormalities don't cause pain in the shoulder, back and buttocks, what does? Studies and clinical experience of many years suggest that these common pain syndromes are the result of a physiologic alteration in certain muscles, nerves, tendons and ligaments which is called the Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS). It is a harmless but potentially very painful disorder that is the result of specific, common emotional situations. It is the purpose of this book to describe TMS in detail.

The ensuing sections of this chapter will discuss who gets it, in what parts of the body it occurs, the various patterns of pain and the overall impact of TMS on people's health and daily lives. Following chapters will talk about the psychology of TMS (which is where it all begins), its physiology and how it is treated. Conventional diagnosis and treatment will be reviewed and I will conclude with a chapter on the important interaction between mind and body in matters of health and illness.

Who Gets TMS?

One might almost say that TMS is a cradle-to-grave disorder since it does occur in children, though probably not until the age of five or six. Its manifestation in children is, of course, different from what occurs in adults. I am convinced that what are referred to as "growing pains" in children are manifestations of TMS.

The cause of "growing pains" has never been identified but physicians have always been comfortable in reassuring mothers that the condition is harmless. It occurred to me one day while listening to a young mother describe her daughter's severe leg pain in the middle of the night that what the child had experienced was very much like an adult attack of sciatica, and since this was clearly one of the most common manifestations of TMS, "growing pains" might very well represent TMS in children.

Little wonder that no one has been able to explain the nature of "growing pains" since TMS is a condition that usually leaves no physical evidence of its presence. There is a temporary constriction of blood vessels, bringing on the symptoms, and then all returns to normal.

The emotional stimulus for the attack in children is no different from that in adults — anxiety. One might say that the attack in a child is a paranightmare. It is a substitute for a nightmare, a command decisions by the mind to produce a painful reaction rather than have the individual experience a painful emotion, which is what happens in adults as well.

At the other end of this spectrum, I have seen the syndrome in men and women in their eighties. There appears to be no age limit, and why would there be? As long as one can generate emotions one is susceptible to the disorder.

What are the ages when it is most common, and can we learn anything from those statistics? In a follow-up survey carried out in 1982, 177 patients were interviewed as to their then current status following treatment for TMS. (See page 87 for results of the survey.) We learned that 77 percent of the patients fell between the ages of thirty and sixty, 9 percent were in their twenties, and there were only four teenagers (2 percent). At the other end of the spectrum, only 7 percent were in their sixties and 4 percent in their seventies.

These statistics suggest very strongly that the cause of most back pain is emotional, for the years between thirty and sixty are the ages that fall into what I would call the years of responsibility. This is the period in one's life when one is under the most strain to succeed, to provide and excel, and it is logical that this is when one would experience the highest incidence of TMS. Further, if degenerative changes in the spine (osteoarthritis, disc degeneration and herniation, facet arthrosis and spinal stenosis, for instance) were a primary cause of back pain, these statistics wouldn't fit at all. In that case, a gradual increase in incidence from the twenties on would occur, with the highest incidence in the oldest people.

To be sure, this is only circumstantial evidence, but it is highly suggestive.

So the answer to the question "Who gets TMS?" is "Anybody." But it is certainly most common in the middle years of life, the years of responsibility. Let's now take a look at how TMS manifests itself.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

Healing Back Pain 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 63 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I think this book will be most helpful for people who have been suffering with back pain for a long period of time (months to years). Most back pain lasts only a short time, and if it persists, you probably either have a really serious medical problem (that is usually obvious) or there are psychological factors involved.

If you've been through the conventional medical system with your back pain for a long time with no satisfaction, have had many physical treatments (such as heat, massage, manipulation, etc.) with no relief, AND have had serious back pain issues ruled out, then I say it would be well worth your while to at least check out this book. While there are true physical causes of back pain that are not psychological, this book will make you think about any stress related issues that could be a part of your pain. Other self-help books I liked include Treat Your Own Rotator Cuff. Good luck!
kgs72 More than 1 year ago
What can I say that everyone here already has? Protruding L5, couldn't sit at work, sit in the car without pain. Then the lists of couldn'ts just kept growing. This book was recommended by my doctor, read it in a couple hours and decided to change my way of thinking. It works! I sit all day at work, I drive, I ski, I go to spinning, I can do anything! If it starts to creep back in, I become aware of my stress levels, talk to myself, breathe, mediatate, and it's gone. Please have an open mind and get this book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had chronic lower back pain for about five years. During that time, I sought treatment from chiropractors and MD's. Additionally, my mother and brother are both disabled because of back pain. After reading this book, the pain started to subside and now I can say I'm pain free! I highly recommend this book to anyone that suffers chronic back pain.
The-Write-House More than 1 year ago
This book offers very well presented information into the "real" reasons for back pain as expressed by John Sarno. It provides solid information into the instinctive responses our body goes through during physical and/or emotional stimulus (either positive or negative)and the process into pain. Highly recommended.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Don't buy this book if you have had back pain less than a couple of months or so. Studies clearly show that the majority of people with back pain get better in a month or two- regardless of what kind of treatment they get- its just the nature of back pain. On the other hand, if you're a long-term, chronic back pain sufferer, and have tried many different kinds of back pain treatments without relief, then this book will definitely be worth your while to read. There are definitely links between back pain and psychological issues according to the literature and this is an area that could be well worth your time exploring.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I think that anybody with chronic back pain should consider reading this book. The author's approach is somewhat unique, and I was a bit skeptical at first, but as I read it and considered his ideas, believe it or not, my back pain began to lessen. He talks about the mind/body link involving back pain. He attributes ongoing pain to emotional factors, rather than the initial injury. He says that these emotional factors, along with focusing on the pain all the time, keeps your back tense, which keeps it from healing. He advises against back exercises for that same reason: they make you focus too much on your back. He describes personality types that are prone to back pain, which rang a bell with me. If you have chronic back pain it's hard not to focus on it, but it becomes a vicious cycle: anticipating the pain, fearing it, dreading it. I think the basic idea is that your body will heal if you're mind would let it. It's empowering to think that you may have some control, rather than being a helpless victim. That said, old habits are hard to break, and it takes time to "retrain" your brain. I had my back pain return, and rereading parts of his book inspired me and helped to turn it around again. I think it's an ongoing process. When you consider how long it took you to get to this point, it's not going to happen overnight. But from the success I've had so far, I think there's something to be said for this approach. I will say at this point, this book had helped me more than the other books I've read for back pain.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It ia an amazing, life-changing read. Once you can open up your mind and realize that physical pain can manifest itself from unresolved psychological issues, it is quite liberating. It's not as though you need to realize some great psychological scar from childhood...it can be as simple as realizing that an issue or conflict with a co-worker or family member can be triggering physical pain becuase you subconsciously let it. You also don't need to resolve all your problems--but rather simply be open and aware that many common physical ailments can be the result of this subconscious act. It's something you may need to practice and re-read the book if pain should come back but it is quite amaazing to realize that you can control many of the pain issues you experience. Be open to the thought and you'll be very happy with the results!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dr. Sarno uses example after example to convince the reader to overcome skepticism and consider the connection between back pain and the suppression of anger and anxiety. Dr. Sarno's experiences over many years with his numerous patients provide very compelling evidence and made a believer out of me. Two years of chronic back pain ended abruptly when I was about half-way through this book. What more can one say as an endorsement?!
Annereads on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm not even done with this book yet but it's already helped me. The statistic that blew me away was that nearly all severe back pain is found in people between the ages of 30 and 60. Not young people who do a lot of sports, and not old people who have ageing backs. Only in people with maximum stress in their life. Duh ! I'm really impressed, and I don't even find it dry reading as another reviewer wrote. If you have had any back pain in your life, read this book !!!
Pemmy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the only self help book which has really really changed my life. After years of pain I have relief!
quietwaters on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I had excrutiating back pain and sciatica for months. Since I started reading this book the pain has lessened and I'm on the mend. I was carrying a lot of stress around in my back. Now that I'm letting go of the stress and other negative emotions, I'm healing. (Note: I might have given it 4 stars but, to be honest, it's very dry reading and very often the book would put me to sleep.)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the journey of this book. I was looking for more info to help me with regard to my back. I found it. I will be putting it to use. I will also go back and read his other book on back pain.
Kid_LB More than 1 year ago
One must really understand the doctor’s message, which is that a lot of physical back pain comes from psychological issues, as do many other things. This is not to say that all back pain is mentally induced. About a third of the way though the book, I understood where the doctor was coming from. Two-thirds through it, I realized what was causing the pain. I am now about 70 percent better, and still healing. Applied, what the doctor says makes perfect sense, but one must understand how to handle the source of the problem, which is why reading the book is the way to go. This was so good, I am going to read the doctor’s other books.
WritermomHB More than 1 year ago
I will not tell you whether to buy this book or not. Dr. Sarno, the author, describes different character types, mentioning those particularly who are subject to what he calls TMS. His theory is that the TMS is due to suppressed anger and anxiety, and can cause other pain also. As a sufferer of many different types of pain, including daily chronic migraine, I cannot tell you if his theory and “treatment” would help you. I do not believe it will help me. So, if you are interested, go ahead and read. That can’t hurt you, but I don’t agree with his premise for everyone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
ajWA More than 1 year ago
This wondrous book, originally written in the 1980's, shows how all back pain is psychosomatic - in other words, back pain is what our bodies do to distract us from other, more painful things, such as stress, worry, conflict, and so forth. In simple language, the good doctor tells us how to reconnect the mind and the body, and understand that our backs (and knees, and feet, and stomach) are fine - we are just reacting to mental overload.
sifufuow More than 1 year ago
A fantastic book! One must have a very strong, positive mind for this concept to be effective. I purchased this title, Sarno 20 years ago & it helped immensely. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who suffers from back pain, as well as the other symptoms that are sited in it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amazing book, brings you to a new level of living! LOVED IT
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dr. Sarno's life saving book taught me what was going on in my unconscious mind. I was laid up for 2 years before reading this book and within 2 weeks after reading it, I was finally getting better. With in a few months, I was back to doing everything without pain. Thank you Dr. Sarno.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
JD50 More than 1 year ago
My doctor told me about the book. It has been very effective in relieving my neck/back pain. I have purchased extra books for my friends and family!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A good friend of mine who had suffered back probkems, as I do, advised me to read this book. I read it, thought the premise was interesting. but it did absolutely nothing to alleviate my back pain - which confirmed my suspicion that the root cause of many back problems IS joint or disc-related, not muscular like Dr. Sarno suugests.