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The Mind-Body Cure for Chronic Pain Helps Headaches, Back Pain and More

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From backaches and headaches to wrist pain caused by carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic pain continues to be an enormous problem in this country. Why is that? Because the average doctor persists in the mistaken belief that pain is a structural disorder.

It’s now quite clear that most chronic pain is the result of an emotionally induced physical condition—which, in turn, is the result of hidden conflict between our conscious and unconscious minds.

This mind-body cycle of pain is known as tension myositis syndrome (TMS).

THREE-STEP SEQUENCE

Chronic pain typically occurs as a result of a three-step sequence…

1. You’re under pressure. It might be psychological stress caused by perfectionism or another self-induced pressure…or an external pressure, such as a demanding boss.

2. Growing pressure gives rise to rage and frustration. These feelings lie within the unconscious mind only. That’s because they’re simply too frightening to be acceptable to your conscious mind. You’re not even aware of their existence—despite the fact that they can be very intense.

3. To keep angry feelings from spilling over into consciousness, your subconscious mind directs your attention to your body. It does so by activating your autonomic nervous system, which controls digestion, respiration, circulation and other involuntary functions. Upon activation, the autonomic nervous system reduces blood flow to a particular muscle, tendon of nerve. Exactly which part of the body is affected varies. The decrease in circulation deprives the tissues of oxygen. That causes pain.

STOPPING CHRONIC PAIN

To stop pain caused by TMS, you don’t need painkilling medication…or surgery…or physical therapy. What you need is an understanding of the three-step sequence. Once you acknowledge that pain stems from the subconscious mind’s efforts to protect your conscious mind from troubling emotions, you can get on with the cure…

Have a doctor rule out physical causes. You must be absolutely certain that there is no serious disease causing your pain—cancer, for example.

Important: Despite what many doctors believe, spinal disc abnormalities are rarely the cause of back pain. In a 1984 study, back-pain sufferers proved to be no more likely to have spinal disc degeneration or bone spurs than people who did not have back pain. In a similar study, researchers detected disc abnormalities in 64 people—none of whom had back pain.

“Talk” to your brain. This sounds silly, but it works. If you feel a twinge of pain, silently tell your brain that you know what it is doing—you can even tell it to increase the blood flow to the painful area. Put your brain on notice that you’re no longer going to let yourself be affected by its efforts to shield you from negative emotions.

Accept that pain is caused by repressed emotions. It can be very hard to admit that emotions are causing your pain—especially if a doctor has told you that the culprit is a slipped disc or another structural problem…or physical stress, such as that caused by typing for hours a day. Of course, your conscious mind is desperately trying to deny that emotions are the cause. It doesn’t want to experience those emotions—or even admit they exist.

Make a written list of the possible sources of your psychological stress. In making the list, remember that most distress is internally generated. Two common examples…

Example #1: Perfectionism. Because you’re so eager to excel at everything you do, you’re highly critical of yourself—and overly sensitive to criticism from others.

Example #2: The need to be liked. You try to be good and nice to everyone—because you want everyone’s love, admiration and respect. “Goodism” is just as stressful as perfectionism—and just as likely to cause frustration and rage.

External causes of distress might include a mean boss, an argumentative spouse, a meddlesome relative or another person with whom you have a difficult relationship.

It could also be serious financial trouble or simply a sense of having too little time to get things done.

Even happy experiences—marriage, job promotion, a new baby—create pressure. And pressure creates unconscious rage.

By reading and rereading your list—and reminding yourself of the true cause of your pain—you’ll “cure” the pain. Most people who use this technique become pain-free within eight weeks.

Review your list on a daily basis. Spend at least 30 minutes a day thinking about each item on your list and how it could be causing pressure in your life. Resolve to take action to defuse the pressures you can change…and to accept the pressures you cannot change.

Visualize your rage. Imagine yourself in a blind fury. That is the experience your unconscious mind is having to cope with on a continuing basis. Now consider what might happen if you gave free rein to your rage. You could ruin your marriage, lose your job—even wind up in jail. Your conscious mind is as frightened of these experiences as you are. That’s why it chooses to hide your rage from you.

Resume physical activity. Once your pain has largely subsided, go back to exercising, lifting heavy objects, using a computer keyboard, etc. Start slowly, and build up over a period of weeks.

If you’re afraid to resume normal activity, it means that your unconscious mind is still in charge. You’ve got more mind-body work to do.

Understand “location substitution.” Say you’ve just gotten over a bad case of back pain—and now your elbow has started to hurt. Chances are that the brain has simply picked a new spot in your body to cause pain to distract you from your rage. Realize the same pain process is happening once again—only in another part of your body. Once again, the pain should disappear.

STAY PAIN-FREE FOREVER

To keep pain at bay, you must continually remind yourself that pressure causes unconscious, frightening rage…and your brain distracts your attention from that rage by creating pain. Tell yourself this again and again, and you should stay pain-free for the rest of your life.

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Source: John E. Sarno, MD, who died June 22, 2017, was professor of clinical rehabilitation medicine at New York University School of Medicine and an attending physician at The Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine, both in New York City. He was author of several best-selling books, including Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection and The Divided Mind: The Epidemic of Mindbody Disorders. Date: June 1, 1998 Publication: Bottom Line Health
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