Thursday, May 20, 2010

Possible Relief From Chronic Pain and Unexplained Illness

The following is a re-post from July, 2009.  Many of you were not following this blog at that time, and I thought it might benefit some of you who suffer from nagging health problems.  See what you think - and give it a try. 

For many years (twenty at least) I struggled on and off with back pain. I am not alone. Very few among us have escaped some sort of back, neck or shoulder pain at one time or another. A variety of doctors and chiropractors had, in my case, made a variety of different diagnoses from: one prescient chiropractor suggesting it was psychosomatic and if I got out of the restrictive, fundamentalist religion I was in, the back pain would go away; to another saying my legs were not the same length and that caused the back pain; to another saying I had early onset arthritis in my back; to of course the ever-predictable diagnosis of a slipped disc which was also proffered.

I rejected the first treatment suggestion back then (making my escape later from a rigid religion :), and other treatments seemed soothing for the moment, but never truly relieved the nagging pain, nor prevented occasional episodes where the pain was so bad I was bed-ridden.

Then several years ago I stumbled across the book, The Mindbody Prescription, Healing the Body, Healing the Pain by John E. Sarno, M.D. (I recalled seeing television health reporter John Stossel, from ABC's 20/20, talk about Sarno and how he (Stossel) had rid himself of debilitating back pain by following Sarno's "prescription".) So I read the book, agreed with Sarno's theories and conclusions, tried out his "prescription" (which is nothing more than reading and applying his theory and self-talk exercise) and the pain went away!

If the slightest tremor of pain returns, I return to Sarno's book, re-read and re-apply the self-talk prescription, and the pain goes away. It is like a little miracle. It costs nothing but the price of his book (I got mine on sale for $5.00!). You do not have to go anywhere, adhere to any group, subscribe to any newsletter, take any supplements, buy any exercise equipment, etc. Nothing - except read, understand and apply his theory about the reason for all kinds of chronic pain.

Because Sarno is Professor of Clinical Rehabilitation Medicine at New York University School of Medicine and attending physician at the Howard A. Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine, New York University Medical Center, and a long-time specialist in back, shoulder and neck pain, his theory was first applied only to that problem. Now, however, it is being applied to many conditions, such as: gastric reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, tendinitis, migraine headaches, joint pain, unexplained chronic conditions and even certain recurrent infections, etc.

As Doctor Sarno (now a medical practitioner for over 50 years) gained experience he came to believe his patients' pain originated in their muscles, not in their spine. He also noticed that there was a common personality profile in the patients that came complaining of back pain. He developed a theory that the mind was basically divided against itself, and to prevent the conflict from rising to the surface of consciousness and disturbing the patients life, the mind decides to distract the person from the inner conflict by causing physical pain. He further theorized that the mind/brain caused the pain by restricting the amount of oxygen that went to the muscles in the area where there was pain. As well, the mind, being a savvy plotter, often caused pain at the sites of previous injuries where it would make perfect sense to the person that they would experience pain.

Sarno says that many of us have repressed emotions that our unconscious feels are unacceptable, especially anger and rage. At some point some of this rage threatens to break through the barrier of repression, and the unconscious mind fears that we will act out our rage and, thereby, threaten our safety and security in the family and community, and decides to distract us from the emerging rage by causing physical pain that demands our full attention.

Many think, "well I'm not an angry person, so this could not apply to me". Not so. It is the anger we have repressed that is the factor here - and repression is an unconscious process. We do not know we are doing it. And we have all had disappointments, slights, wounds, failures, barriers that have made us angry. Much of our unconscious anger is justifiable. Anger is not, however, an "acceptable" emotion in Western society - thus the high level of repression among us.

Interestingly, the outward qualities most evident in Sarno's patients with back pain were perfectionism and what Sarno calls "goodism". So if you are known far and wide for being "nice" and "good", and if you are a perfectionist, Sarno's theories may apply to you. Just try his method, you will see.

Sarno's "prescription" is supremely simple. He says all you have to do is become aware of the reasons for rage in your life (past and present reasons), and then talk to your unconscious mind letting it know that you know there is a well of rage threatening to bubble up and disrupt your life, and you know that it is causing physical pain to distract you from these unconscious emotions threatening to rise to consciousness. In a nutshell that's it. Once the bodymind knows you are aware of its strategy it stops using it.

So once Dr. Sarno has ensured that the patient has no physiological basis for the pain (which you should do with a physician as well before you try out his plan), he encourages them to come to a couple of his free group lectures so that they really grasp the theory and understand how to apply his self-talk prescription. Once that is done, in most cases the pain goes away. Of course, he says, if you don't believe the theory - the prescription doesn't work. The mind will not apply what you do not believe.

Working in the field of psychology I saw immediately that Sarno's grasp of the unconscious and of the ego defense of repression was sound. And I thought I had nothing to lose so why not try his "mindbody prescription". He suggests you write out all the past reasons you might have to feel rage. This is quite an interesting exercise in revisiting your past. By the way, you do not have to feel or emote the rage. All you do is recall the events that could have caused you to be angry and that you may have repressed part or all of that anger. No 1960s-ish cathartic pillow-hitting or anything like that is required in Sarno's technique.

The next part of the written exercise is to write down current things that could be sources of rage that you are also repressing, e.g. pressure at work, discontent in relationships, economic woes, etc. This is an illuminating exercise as well. Once you become aware of the very legitimate reasons you may have to be enraged - you then begin to talk to your unconscious, letting it know that you are aware, that you can handle any rage that comes up, that you are an adult and you have impulse control, and you are not going to do anything socially unacceptable with any rage that emerges. You tell it to stop trying to distract you from the rage by causing pain. You tell yourself this over and over.

You tell your mindbody not to divert the pain to some other area of your body to distract you either. You let it know that you know it is trying to protect you, but it's efforts are sabotaging your life and it must stop now. You have to be willing to do this sort of talking to yourself for a period of time. One little chat with yourself will not do it, in my opinion. Then again maybe you could be the lucky one. I have tried to share here, briefly, what Sarno has written several books to explain. If you are suffering from any kind of chronic pain issue, or even chronic unexplained illness why not find this book and read it. Not a big investment for the possibility of a lifetime of relief!



  1. I owe this post to Jazz of Haphazard Life! I accidentally deleted it after it had been published for only about 5 minutes. I was bemoaning the fact in my previous post and Jazz let me know that she had it on Google Reader and sent it to me. She saved me so much work and I am so grateful. Do check out her blog "Haphazard Life".

  2. Bonnie,
    I am soooo onboard with the power the mind has over the body. Anatomy of the Spirit by Carolyn Myss was a great book and when I read it I totally agreed with the concept. The book you recommend sounds just like just the right "medicine"...I will pick the book up! Thanks for the recommendation.

  3. I think I'm going to have to buy this book. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  4. I'll definitely be having a look at it.

    Oh, and thanks for the heads up; it was my pleasure getting the post back to you. It would have been evil of me to keep it to myself. ;-)

  5. There are many who have held to this idea. I am a believer, too. When I am stressed my back goes.

    That said, the biggies (exercise, proper nutrition, meditation, drinking in moderation) help us get in the right space for healing.
    We have come a long way in the west- still light years behind those in the East who have embraced these philosophies years ago!

  6. I am a big believer that the mind of man is a powerful thing. Thank you so much for sharing this with is. I'm so glad you found relief from your back pain. :)

  7. Bonnie, thank you for this information, I've put two of his books on hold at the library. I have curvature of the spine and while I'm still quite mobile, I'm frequently in pain and I do so believe in the mind/body connection. I'm so glad you have found relief!

    Enjoy your weekend!

  8. My Mother used to say 'Mind over Matter' and I've applied it all my life. If something aches, I think of my big toe. Don't laugh, it's amazing how it does work!

    Thanks for the book referral.

  9. Thank you all for your feedback. If Sarno's method can help any of you, I will be so happy. Follow his technique to the letter to get it to work!

  10. Fascinating but not surprising! The power of the human mind is amazing.

  11. hi bonnie, this is a really cool and informative post. the connection between mind and body and the idea that the mind places pain in the body makes lots of sense to me. when i was young i "knew" the various difficulties my body would face - most relatively minor - a couple requiring surgery - and i have often wondered where that knowing came from, how much that knowing played in the actual problem arising and why i couldn't reverse it or stop it. this seems like a really valuable book. so thankyou! have a peaceful evening. steven

  12. Hi Bonnie

    You have done a splendid job of summarising the work of Sarno and presenting it to us in such a clear fashion. As I read it I could tell that you would be a great counsellor...

    I agree with the hypothesis 100%. The mind, body and spirit work as a team. Drawing the area of pain and finding suitable imagery and symbols for the pain and the anger may also help come to terms with the rage. Also visualising symbols or images for the release often help to keep your focus.

    Recently I was thinking of you and wondering if you knew of the book 'The Body Remembers' about The Psychophysiology of trauma, by Babette Rothschild. It too is a fascinating look at how the mind lays down memories and distorts or represses trauma...and offers ways to deal with it in the therapeutic setting...

    Thanks for a very interesting post Bonnie

    Happy days

  13. Holy crap. I NEED that book!!! I just popped over here now because my name is also Bonnie (I don't use it on my blog adventures!) , and also I was flattered that you got a giggle out of my comment on drollgirls "schlong" post :D I was pretty pleased with myself for being so witty- I had to go have a lie down after the effort and brain drain. :)
    But seriously, I'm glad I decided to rock on over, as psychology stuff kinda fascinates me, and i really do want to get hold of this handy sounding book!
    have a cool weekend!

  14. Julie: That's so true - it is not really surprising. Once we have lived for a while, we have certainly noticed the effect our mind has on our body and vice versa.

  15. Steven:

    Yes, our own inner knowing. We could probably "know" so much more about our own interiors if we would but pay attention. Clearly you do.

  16. Delwyn:

    Thank you for your comments and suggestions.

    I do have Babette Rothschild's book! Funny, not too long ago I was thinking I should pull it off the shelf and give it a second read. Another I love is "The Body Speaks" by James L. Griffith and Melissa Elliott Griffith. They talk about "the unspeakable dilemma" and how often the body speaks what cannot be spoken.

    Have you read "Theaters of the Body", by Joyce McDougall? Very informative with fabulous case examples. It is from a psychoanalytic approach, which is not so popular these days, but I learned so much from that read.

  17. One Little Simitopian:

    So glad you dropped by and that you found the post and suggested book something you may want to check in to. Do come back again.

  18. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  19. Hi Susan, from KARMINA:

    So glad you dropped by and enjoyed some of my posts. I'll be looking for you.

  20. Hi Bonnie! Thanks so much for coming to my blog and following. I have to tell you, I have had the exact same problem...and I'm going online tonight to look for this book. As I agree, that the mind, body do work together, and that we can do so much more with our thinking...if only we knew how to tap into the power we hold. This is something I am not very good at, and not at all sure how. Lately it seems I have been finding, hearing, and reading a lot about how our minds work. I will most certainly be finding this book.

    Thanks you so much for this informative post!

    Have a great weekend!


  21. Hi Bonnie, first let me say that your art is just gorgeous. Second I have to say that this is a thrilling post and applies to me very much, more at this time than ever before in my life probably. So I am very grateful that you posted it. Thank you thank you thank you. :-)

  22. Thank you for joining my blog! I never thought I would find such useful information when I visited yours. I will definately be returning. Thank you!

  23. This is interesting, thank you. I often find funny things like, I have a pain in the neck, and ask who is being a pain in the neck, once I find out who I'm in conflict with the pain goes. Ears burning is another one, I discovered through my hubby that someone really is thinking about me.
    Ah there are more things than we know.

    have a lovely Sunday,


  24. Hi Bonnie. I also believe in the power of the mind. Very interesting concept.

    Thanks for joining my blog. It will be nice to have you along for the ride.

  25. Good afternoon! First, I must tell you that I'm a HUGE believer in "things happen for a reason" - not just "by chance".

    Thank you for visiting my blog and becoming a follower today. When I have finished this comment, I am going right out on Amazon and purchase this book.

    Thank you for being "my reason" today :) xoxo

  26. Debra from Sixpence & a Blue Moon:
    Let me know if you try Sarno's technique and if it works for you.

    Thank you for great feedback and so glad you found this post helpful.

    Thanks for dropping by - I'll keep an eye out for you.

    Sarah from Selchie:
    Thanks for visiting. Yes, there is so much more than we know.

    Ellen Abbot:
    Glad I joined - hope you will consider joining here too.

    Sherry Goodloe:
    Hope you find the book. Perhaps Amazon if not in a bookstore. Let me know if it works for you.

  27. Thanks so much for all this great information! I'm heading to the book store tomorrow.

  28. This is a very important post, Bonnie. Some terrific information here. It reminds me of Marcus Anthony's Sage of Synchronicity in that he talks about healing the broken parts of ourselves, and making friends with the ego. I know we have control over pain because I used the Bradley Method in childbirth. I was literally able to control and "go into" the pain during contractions. We have only just begun to explore the frontiers of the mind.

  29. Bonnie, I have just -in the last few days - refreshed my knowledge and use of hypnosis as a 'mind tool', for lack of a better expression. It is truly remarkable how powerful the mind/body connections is and how effective it can be to use techniques such as you describe. I will look for a copy of this book - thank you for re-running the post.

  30. Bonnie- Deborah sent me your way. Totally agree with the body mind connection. Something you might find facinating is: German New Medicine-just google it and you can watch videos. It was developed by a Dr. whos son died unexpectly and not long after he got cancer and began to wonder if it was tied to his son's death. He started to question his cancer patients and found there was a definite link to trauma. His way of looking at the body, mind, health, treatment just resonnates for me. Thanks for your post. I see we read a lot of the same books. I studied Hakomi -body centered Psychotherapy, I wonder if you know of it.

  31. Hi Maggie: So nice to 'meet' you! I just checked out your blog and you are an amazing photographer! I will be following.

    You are the second person to mention 'German New-Medicine' and I will definitely check it out. My daughter developed cancer after a difficult separation and child-custody 'battle', so my thinking is definitely geared that way.

    I do know Hakomi ... read the books a long while ago - Ron Kurtz - if I recall correctly. Wonderful approach. I am about to go on a little trip and was wondering what I would bring along to read. You have settled that for me ... I will dig out a Kurtz/Hakomi book and reacquaint myself with his body-centered - taoist approach. Thanks!


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