Chronic Pain: As in Music, so in Health!

As the theme of this blog is creativity, creative potential and staying in tune, I would like to share my experience and hope with you on the topic of chronic pain.

Nothing can discourage your creativity chronic pain. It's difficult to be creative, enjoy life and feel healthy when doing battle with chronic pain. The following is a brief history of my experience with chronic pain and what worked for me.

My story of chronic pain started back in the mid-eighties. I was unhappily married, financially depleted and angry at the world. I was working in a high-stress commission sales job and spent hours a day battling the freeways of Los Angeles.

One day, I noticed that my back seemed unusually tight. The tightness turned into a mild spasm and eventually the pain moved in permanently. What ensued was a fifteen-year engagement with daily back pain. 

Several years into my plight, life presented me with an opportunity to leave Los Angeles and move to a smaller city in central California. Then my six-year marriage dissolved and my life took a radical turn. I moved to a small resort town in Arizona.      

Even though many positive changes were happening, my back pain followed me like a shadow. It was always there in the background, annoying and constant. 

I sought  the help of a chiropractor. I remembered the protocol from when I was a teenager and my mom took me to see a chiropractor: first the x-rays and then the diagnosis. I was told, “One leg is shorter than the other causing pinched nerves and undue pressure on your hips from the shortened leg, resulting in chronic pain." After several months of adjustments, I had a few brief intervals of relief but the pain always returned. 

I later heard of a chiropractor who adjusted discs, something no one else was doing. Of course, he convinced me that the problem was discs, that somehow they get out of alignment and therein lay the answer to my chronic pain. After several months, no improvement. 

On to Rolfing. “Ah ha!” the practitioner announced. “Your pain is because of your structural misalignment.” I was out of there in less than a month, feeling no better. 

Next stop, yoga classes for back pain.  After a few weeks of this, I can honestly say I felt as bad, if not worse, than when I started. 

I finally went to see a medical doctor who could find nothing wrong and suggested visualization. “Visualize the pain moving out of your body and send it into that mountain,” he instructed, pointing out the window. Somehow the energy of the mountain would absorb the pain. (“That will be $100, please.”) 

Next up, an osteopathic examination ($130), which concluded with no explanation of the pain, just the suggestion to come back for further tests (which I never did). 

At this point, I had become constantly on edge with the pain, always unsure of what the day would bring. Maybe a full-blown spasm or perhaps the “normal” annoying tightness would follow. In any case, I was frustrated, scared and angry. In addition to the stress of the pain itself there was worry over the amount of money I was spending (no insurance). There were times when I felt that at the age of thirty-five, I might have seen my best years of my life and would need to accept a lifestyle of limited physical activity. For me, that was just shy of a death sentence. 

I remember one day driving home from a chiropractic visit, I was writhing in pain. I pulled my car over and burst into tears. I felt like I couldn't take anymore. Here I was in one of the most beautiful places in the world on an adventure of a lifetime, but everything was being filtered through the pain. It was always a consideration, a daily nuisance. 

One day a friend of mine who was going out of town asked if I would take care of the house. I was checking out his bookshelf to see if anything looked interesting. A little paperback fell off the shelf and landed at my feet. The title. . .Mind Over Back Pain, by  John Sarno, M.D. 

I remember sitting down at the dining room table and reading the whole book. My story was on every page—my personality traits, perfectionism, my trying to please the world. . .I was blown away! I had never heard of anything remotely resembling the words in this little book. 

As a medical doctor, Dr. Sarno had examined thousands of patients over several decades. He started noticing something very interesting going on. After years of examining a wide range of patients and using MRI's, CT scans and X-rays, he noticed that many patients that came to see him for reasons other than back pain had pinched nerves, scoliosis and herniated discs.

What was going on? Everything that caused chronic back and neck pain according to the medical community was present, yet there was no pain in these areas. He went on to describe the profile of a person with particular traits that consistently aligned with those experiencing back, shoulder and neck pain. All were high achievers, perfectionists; all were “Goodists” (people with a need to be recognized as good, doing good, being good and performing good acts.)

He said that as a result of this self-imposed pressure and the pressure of our daily lives in general, large amounts of internal rage build up and manifest as a condition he called TMS or Tension Myositis Syndrome. TMS is a condition where blood flow is cut off from any group of muscles, tendons or ligaments. This reduction in blood flow creates what is termed ischemia, an extremely painful condition. 

But here’s the turning point: Even though the pain is undeniably physical (resulting in spasms, etc.), it is actually caused by repressed emotions, tension and rage. He makes an interesting observation that we rarely hear of ulcers anymore yet it was commonly agreed upon that ulcers were caused by stress and worry. Sarno makes the point that we have simply replaced ulcers with the new “in vogue” epidemic of back pain. It seems that everyone has had some experience with back pain. Billions of dollars a year are spent on Workers’ Compensation claims and absenteeism from work, due to back pain. 

Dr. Sarno goes on to explain that the purpose the pain is serving is to keep our attention focused on the physical and divert us from feeling the deep emotions (such as inner rage) that are rumbling around inside of us. The short of it is, he says, the cure is in the acceptance of this diagnosis and the immediate repudiation of all physical treatment. 

That's what I did and that’s what did it for me. The first thing I did was to resume all physical activity. This was extremely difficult at the beginning because of the conditioning around my pain. The common treatment prescribed by many professionals was to “back off” physical activity so as not to aggravate the problem, which no one was really clear on. 

Whenever the pain would show up I would ignore it. I didn't need to know the “why” of everything. I wasn't aware of the rage or deep-seated resentments, etc., but I didn't have to be; I only needed to accept the fact that nothing was physically wrong with me and get on with my life. 

It took about six weeks for the shift to occur in my consciousness and I was free from years of pain. Over the following years, I would have recurrences of pain. I learned to immediately look at what was going on emotionally rather than the old habit of seeking pain relief on the physical level. Sure enough; with practice, I could track down an event that upset me or threw me into anger, redirect my thoughts from the physical to the emotional and feel better within an hour. 

Using this incredible information to transform and probably save my life, I continue to feel immense gratitude for the work of John Sarno and all health practitioners who demonstrate that physical symptoms are only barometers of our emotions. 

I believe all chronic pain starts as a vibration, a discordant thought that manifests in the physical body. We can then make a choice to jump on the treadmill of seeking a physical remedy or check into where we might be emotionally out of tune.


For specific guidelines and treatment of TMS, I highly recommend Dr. Sarnos’ book, The MindBody Prescription: Healing the Body, Healing the Pain.