What if everything I’ve been told about my back injury- from its cause, to the dizzying array of treatment I’ve deployed to the lifestyle I’ve chosen in order to protect it for the last 20 years – has been completely wrong?
This is the troubling, yet liberating assertion gleaned from reading Mind Over Back Pain, by Dr. John Sarno, in one sitting two nights ago. He says traditional diagnoses of everything from ruptured discs (my diagnosis – L5-S1, in 1990) to scoliosis make a flawed, unscientifically-based connection between these so-called structural problems (he calls them normal) and debilitating back pain.
So what’s really causing this life-wrecking chronic leg and glut pain? It’s tension and stress that can be addressed – thereby relieving the pain – simply by acknowledging the fact that you are, in essence, thinking yourself sick.
I know what you’re thinking: Barker’s into the Flexoril – or he’s gone off the deep end wrapped in a touchy-feely life preserver. Perhaps, but my instinct tells me Sarno’s onto something.
First of all, he makes a physical connection between stress and the lower back (also neck and shoulder) pain. His claim: stress robs certain big muscles of oxygen, depriving of them of the ability to transport away waste and thereby making them painful. This pain is only exacerbated by gloom-and-doom, superlative diagnoses offered up by orthopedic surgeons and neurologists – backed up by the high-tech diagnostic tools of the surgery mill (see my MRI post).
It’s not really much of a leap to get that a doctor with 8 years of medical school and residency under their belt telling you your life will be forever altered as your spine crumbles from within, might just stress you out a bit.
But instead of going for that surgery, or that injection, or that traction, or that bed rest, or that muscle relaxant, or that religious devotion to Pilates or biking (ouch, that one hurt to write!) – Sarno says you’d be better off addressing the stress in your life and acknowledging its effect on your physical well-being. He does this with one-on-one and group therapy for his patients, thousands of which he says have been cured of life-changing pain within weeks.
Some reasons this counter-intuitive approach strikes me as plausible include:
1. The placebo effect: again and again this powerful reaction demonstrates the powerful mind-body connection
2. I always feel physically better when I’m treated by doctors who I can relate to – no matter what they prescribe I walk out feeling like I’m not alone
3. I keep surprising myself with what I can do – from bike riding to lifting to gardening to mountain climbing – despite the fact I have this “destabilized spine” dragging me down
4. When I started researching back issues to begin writing this blog, I could actually feel the pain hit me as I read about others in pain
5. When my back hurts the most, there is huge stress in my life, whether it be from work or relationships or money
6. My back feels really good since I read that book – I’ve been experimenting with envisioning my injury as non-serious and muscular as opposed to disk nuclei ready to explode against my sciatic nerve…