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Mind over back ache
(An article about how to work with back pain)

David MacFarlane
Well Journal

If you're looking for relief from chronic back pain, the answer may lie in your heart or mind.

Stress, unresolved emotions, anxiety and depression -- not a physical condition -- frequently are at the root of recurring back problems, says Jacqueline Krohn, M.D., author of Finding the Right Treatment (Hartley & Marks).

More than 80% of North Americans will have back pain at some point in their lives, says Dr. Krohn. Yet, physicians will not be able to diagnose the source of 85% of those problems.

As medical imaging has become more sophisticated, researchers have been surprised to find some patients with herniated discs and other physical abnormalities who surprisingly suffer no back pain. Yet, many other patients with chronic back pain present no evident physical problem.

If there's no apparent physical cause, then what's wrong?

Repressed emotions

Many long-suffering back patients are experiencing tension myositis syndrome (TMS), according to Scott C. Brady, M.D., who operates the Brady Institute for Health in Celebration, FL. TMS first was identified in the 1970s by Dr. John Sarno, a professor at the New York University School of Medicine.

For TMS sufferers, says Dr. Brady, their back pain is caused not by a physical anomaly but by "repressed emotions".

Beyond back pain, TMS can cause a variety of other symptoms. "It's really an umbrella diagnosis," says Dr. Brady. "Patients can have symptoms ranging from back and neck pain, to chronic fatigue, to fibromyalgia, to nervous stomach, to irritable bowel syndrome."

TMS is thought to be caused by mild oxygen deprivation to muscles, nerves or tendons when the body's autonomic system "is abnormally increased by your subconscious mind in response to a critical level of repressed emotions," explains Dr. Brady. The autonomic system is the part of the nervous system that automatically regulates such basic functions as heartbeat and breathing.

In other words, TMS is caused by stress. The good news is that the cure lies not in medicine or physical intervention but in an individual's mind and spirit.

Diagnosing TMS

TMS can be diagnosed only after other causes have been ruled out through physical examination, laboratory testing and imaging via x-rays or MRIs. But there are clues that point to TMS.

One feature of TMS is chronic pain that does not respond to treatment. "Massage and injections might help a little," says Dr. Brady, but the problem never goes away entirely.

TMS sufferers often are people who bottle up their emotions. "People who are perfectionists, people who are good and nice all the time - they tend to be more prone to mind-body stress ailments," says Dr. Brady. The key to resolving TMS, he says, is awareness of the underlying, or subconscious, emotions that fuel a patient's condition.

Dr. Brady treats TMS in a series of lectures, exercises and consultations that helps patients identify subconscious emotions and teaches them to control those emotions in the future. Dr. Brady says 8 out of 10 patients achieve significant relief within 60 days. "The real, signed, sealed and delivered proof is that six months later, they are still better," he adds.


Back pain can be a symptom of a serious condition requiring medical intervention. Be sure to consult with you health care practitioners before choosing the treatment that is right for you.

2002 Well Journal Inc.

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