Chronic Pain and the Mind-Body Connection



Everyone experiences pain at some point in his or her life, and some people endure it more chronically than others. Doctors may prescribe bed rest, pain medication, MRIs, or physical therapy. Surgery or cortisone shots may also be suggested, along with the application of heat and cold, and there can be a wide range of diagnoses for why people hurt. There is a huge and profitable industry built around pain management and, while certain measures help temporarily, pain often returns in the original location or in a new one.

In the 1970s, sports medicine physician John Sarno, M.D., began to realize that the location of the pain his patients were exhibiting, such as with herniated or slipped disks, did not seem to correlate to the diagnoses they had been given. As he began talking to his patients about what was going on in their lives, he started to see a pattern emerge. It indicated that their pain might be related to the stresses of life. As Sarno shared his findings with patients, many began to recover. While he did not then fully understand the physical mechanism of how emotions create pain, he was certain there was a connection.

Sarno called the condition Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS) because he believed the condition affected the muscles. He later came to understand that TMS could also affect tendons and nerves as well as the gastrointestinal system, skin and other parts and systems of the body. Sarno saw fibromyalgia, for example, as a very painful and common TMS condition. While the idea that the mind and brain can create pain in the body is difficult to accept, Sarno believes that nearly 80 percent of the pain we develop is emotionally based but physically felt.

The true purpose of TMS pain is to keep emotionally painful thoughts from coming to consciousness. We can be triggered in the present by an unconscious memory from the past. If this memory or emotion is distressing, our brain will distract us quickly with the best preoccupation there is—pain. As people become focused on getting relief from the physical pain, the emotional pain is pushed to the background. The usual emotional culprits are rage and fear, although low self-esteem or trauma may be involved. In addition, someone with certain personality traits, such as perfectionism and people pleasing, may be more likely to experience chronic pain. One does not have to change their personality in order to relieve their pain.

The first step in treatment is acceptance of the TMS diagnosis. This is the most difficult part of therapy as the client has likely seen many practitioners and has been given many physical explanations for the pain. There are physicians in Massachusetts and elsewhere trained by Sarno who can determine if the patient has TMS or a strictly physical situation. Another step in treatment is understanding the concept of conditioning. If we expect pain in a certain situation, it will be there. The client needs to learn skills to reverse the conditioning process. Treatment also includes helping the client be ready to allow the underlying emotional issues to come to consciousness. This part can take time and cannot be hurried.

Michele Lowenthal is a TMS practitioner and counselor who works with clients via Skype. For more information, visit BackPainCounseling.com or email MLowenthal0625@gmail.com

Edit ModuleShow Tags

More from Natural Awakenings

The Secrets Your DNA Holds: Genetics 101

Because DNA variants can impact an individual’s ability to make and use different nutrients critical for circulatory, immune and even emo­tional health, everyone is susceptible, in their own unique way, to potential health implications.

Floatation Therapy in Boston

Balans Organic Spa and Wellness Studio and Float Boston help people let go and float away.

A Daily Dose of Herbs

A healthy diet of organic whole foods combined with anti-inflammatory and detoxifying herbs helps the immune system to recognize and eliminate microbial invasions and cell mutations.

The Anti-Cancer Kitchen

There are many delicious, satisfying and nutritious foods that help defend the body against the invasion of cancer by reducing inflammation, detoxifying, boosting the immune system, inhibiting tumor growth and/ or promoting the destruction of cancer cells.

Reiki Supports Individuals Living with Cancer

To offset the emotional storm that comes with a cancer diagnosis, patients can engage in mind-body practices, such as reiki, to relieve stress.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Archive »This Month

Voice Workshops for Emotional Health

Singer and voice teacher Barry Harris will be offering his popular voice workshops in December to individuals interested in learning how to experience spiritual surrender through studying voice.

The Revolution of Consciousness Expo Features Film Festival and Author Baptist de Pape

Spend the day with Natural Awakenings Boston at The Revolution of Consciousness, a day-long event from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., November 1, at the Westin Waltham Hotel.

Feeding Our Community

Get involved with helping to feed those in need in Boston.

Shamanic Journey Guided Meditation for Thanksgiving Season

Jodi RedHawk, founder of The Healing Community Centers, will host a Shamanic Journey Guided Meditation Healing Circle from 7 to 9 p.m., November 19.

Public Hearing to License Naturopathic Doctors in Massachusetts

Action Alert
A public hearing to license naturopathic doctors (NDs) in Massachusetts will take place on the afternoon of November 17 at the State House.

Natural Living Expo in Marlborough Features Dan Millman and Sonia Choquette

Event Spotlight
The 9th Annual Natural Living Expo, New England’s largest holistic health and wellness expo, will return on November 14 and 15.