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!