I started experiencing severe back pain in my mid-twenty’s – sometime in the late 1970’s. This was before the days of MRI scans and my family doctor diagnosed the pain as a “pulled muscle” and prescribed muscle relaxants. At first, I would have one of these pain episodes every few years, and then more frequently as time went by. I took the muscle relaxants and lay in bed a few days and the pain would eventually go away.
In August 1994 I began a new career which required much less physical activity but put much more stress on me psychologically. The back pain started occurring more frequently and was much more severe. In the fall of 1995 I went to a pain specialist who ordered an MRI. The results showed a mild herniated disc and he prescribed physical therapy. After several months of no improvement I decided to see a neurosurgeon who ordered a new MRI. He also diagnosed me with a herniated disc and recommended surgery. I had laminectomy surgery in my low back in May of 1996 and it took me about a year before I could walk normally again. I went a few years with only mild back pain, but started experiencing new health problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome in my wrists, tinnitus/bursitis in my shoulder, acid reflux and frequent respiratory infections – all of which I now believe to be related to the same syndrome.
Gradually, the back pain episodes started returning – getting more frequent and more severe each year. I started seeing another neurosurgeon in the summer of 2004. He recommended not having surgery unless the pain became unbearable. In November of 2004 the pain became so severe I was completely unable to work and requested that he go ahead and perform surgery. He preformed a disc fusion at L4/L5 in my low back. The results were very similar to my first experience. It was another year before I could walk without a cane, but I eventually got to a point where I had no back pain. However, the other symptoms of bursitis in my shoulder, carpal tunnel syndrome, acid reflux and the frequent respiratory infections still plagued me on a regular basis.
In February of 2006 the back pain returned suddenly and then rapidly got worse. Eventually, the pain became so severe that I could not get out of my chair or bed without a walker. I used the walker most of the time just to keep from falling. It gradually got a little better but I still had to use a cane to walk and get up out of my chair. I could not sit in my office chair or ride in a car for more than about 30 minutes without severe pain and I spent most of the day in a recliner or lying flat in bed – mostly in bed. I called the doctor who had preformed my previous surgery and made an appointment to see him and was planning to go through back surgery again. I didn’t know what else to do.
Then, on April 18th, 2006 (it was a Tuesday), I attended a doctor visit with my wife whom she was seeing to get some of her prescriptions refilled. She mentioned to him about her own experience with back pain and he started asking her questions about her history related to this. He told her about Dr. John Sarno in New York who was having a success rate of over 90% treating back pain and about something called Tension Myositis Syndrome, or TMS. He also told us about a book by this doctor called “The Divided Mind”. Of course, I listened intently because of my own back pain history.
This doctor told us that some people who suffer from long lasting or chronic pain often experience this pain because their subconscious mind uses it to distract them from unpleasant emotions and stresses of life. He showed us a picture of an iceberg and explained that the mind was very much the same – what we can see is very small, but under the surface is this huge structure that actually determines the course of the iceberg. He explained that the mind was very much the same. Underneath the conscious mind, which is the part of the mind where we think and reason and feel emotions, is a huge reservoir of feelings that we don’t even know exist. This unseen, unfelt (and often unreasonable) part of our mind can actually have more influence on our body than the conscious part.
Now, what was completely amazing to me was that when this doctor described the type of personalities that are prone to suffering from TMS, it was as though he was describing me personally in every detail. As I stated earlier, I had already had two back surgeries and was looking at a third. I was open to anything that would prevent me from going under the knife again.
So, I bought the book that day and had read most of it by that weekend. I had already improved so much by Saturday, just four days later, that I helped my son unload boxes and furniture from his move back home. I was still hurting, but knowing that there was nothing structurally wrong with my back and that the pain was psychological and not physical enabled me to push through the pain and lift heavy furniture and carry heavy boxes up the stairs to my son’s house.
Then, in May of 2006 my wife and I went to see Dr. James Rochelle in Mena, AR. He is an Orthopedic Surgeon and was trained by Dr. Sarno to diagnose and treat TMS. He also wrote one of the chapters in “The Divided Mind”. I was already about 80 to 90 percent pain-free by then, but my wife’s progress had been much slower. I was hoping that her hearing it from another doctor would help her accept it. He conducted an extensive personal interview and performed a physical exam on both of us and determined that we both have TMS. He talked to us at length and we stayed and attend his lecture that night. Since he was trained by Dr. Sarno, I assume that his exam and lecture are similar to what Sarno does. My wife and I both found his lecture and the information he sent home with us to be very helpful and he followed up by phone to check our progress a few weeks later. Since then, he has relocated to Kansas so we have not gone back to see him again.
The last time I had any significant, long lasting back pain was later that summer of 2006. By identifying the issues causing stress and repressed emotions that were current in my life at that time, I was able to ignore that pain and continue a normal life. I will occasionally have a mild TMS symptom, but they quickly disappear once I have identified the true source of the problem – that the cause is psychological, not physical.
Incidentally, I have not had a single episode of acid reflux in the past year; the bursitis in my shoulder has completely disappeared; I will occasionally have a mild episode of pain in my arm (I used to attribute this to carpal tunnel syndrome) or mild back pain – but, these quickly go away once I recognize the recent event causing the underlying stress in my life and deal with it accordingly.
While becoming pain free has been a great milestone in my life, and my reason for writing this is to hopefully help others become pain free, this whole experience has been used of God to draw me closer to Him and to help me identify areas in my life where I had not completely trusted Him and surrendered to His perfect will.
To know Jesus as Savior and Lord is the greatest experience anyone can ever have. The only way to receive complete peace (either consciously or subconsciously) is to place your absolute trust in Him as your hope of salvation and eternal life. According to the Bible in John 14:6 “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”
He offers eternal life in Heaven as a free gift to all who will receive it – but the choice is up to you:
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”