I am so excited to finally share with you how I healed my chronic back pain. This is going to be a 30,000 foot overview, but I am going to share what helped me heal this debilitating pain AND what I do now if I ever feel like I’m going to have an episode. Please keep in mind I am not a doctor, this is just my own story of what I found to work after doctors couldn’t help me!
Check out the video or continue reading below.
Back Spasm History
I have struggled with back spasms and back pain since I was in college, and I don’t mean just a sore back. I mean the type of muscle spasms that make you lose your breath and keep you in bed because you can’t figure out how to get out. If you’ve ever had this type of pain in your body, you know what I am talking about!
The first time it happened I was in college, and my mom took me to the doctor; I left with 4 prescriptions – a muscle relaxer, an anti-inflammatory, an anti-anxiety med (I had never struggled with anxiety), and something else! The next couple times I had an episode and tried the medications, they DIDN’T WORK! They only made me sick and left me in worse shape than I already was.
Fast forward through marriage, babies, toddlers, and older kids, and the back pain episodes continued. I even had a horrible episode that lasted for months when I was pregnant with my son AND trying to take care of my 18 month old baby girl, it was AWFUL! I would probably have 1-2 of these episodes a year, and when I was down, I WAS DOWN. Sometimes for 3 weeks, sometimes for 2 or 3 months. At the initial onset each time, I was virtually helpless and in tears with pain. That initial trauma would subside a bit until I could at least move around, but I couldn’t do basic things like clean the house, do laundry (bending down to get the clothes from the hamper?! Yeah, right!), or pick up my kids, and often I couldn’t even drive for a few days.
This lead me down the path of more doctor visits, chiropractor appointments, and multiple rounds of physical therapy each time my back would go out. NOTHING helped, and eventually the pain would subside on its own, so as the years went on, I didn’t even do anything about the pain but stay on the couch for multiple days when I was experiencing an episode.
Sometimes these episodes would seemingly come on because of a trigger (once when I was picking up a laundry basket?!!!), sometimes they were clearly due to something upsetting (a frustrating appointment with a prospective orthodontist comes to mind one of the times!). And sometimes I would just be sitting, and I suddenly couldn’t get up.
One day while I was down with another episode, I was looking up books on Amazon about back stretches, and I was reading reviews. One of the commenters mentioned it wasn’t until he read a different book, Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection by Dr. John Sarno, that his back pain was completely cured. I immediately read the amazing reviews and bought the book!
WOW did this book change EVERYTHING for me! Dr. Sarno ran a pain clinic, and in a nutshell, he came to the conclusion that the vast majority of back pain (and also other chronic conditions) people experience is due to psychological factors, not physical factors. What?!!! This is the first time I had ever heard anything of this sort.
Even when a doctor sees, for instance, a bulging disc on an x-ray, he believes that is a normal sign of aging, not a cause for back pain. He said 2 people can show the exact same thing on an x-ray, but one has no pain and the other has chronic pain. He says this shows the anomoly is a normal part of aging, not the cause for pain, otherwise both people would be experiencing it.
One of the things that was very eye opening was when he talked about the femur bone, the largest bone in the body, only taking 6 weeks to heal, with pain subsiding after about the 2 week mark. If the largest bone in the body can heal so quickly, us believing an injury from 6 months, 2 years, or even 10 years ago doesn’t make sense. Our body is so amazing at healing itself that old injuries simply can’t cause pain. But WE THINK they do, so we CONTINUE to feel the pain and attribute it to the injury. If this makes you mad, you’re not alone! I was mad, too! Was he saying all the pain was in my head?
Dr. Sarno has a name for this condition called TMS, or Tension Myositis Syndrome. In a nutshell, the actual physical symptoms (muscle spasm, muscle pain, nerve pain, etc.) are due to a temporary lack of oxygen in that area. But this is all caused from EMOTIONS, not because something is wrong in the body. The most common emotions that cause TMS are anger and anxiety.
The reason for TMS is that our mind decides that it is preferable for us to have a physical pain to distract us from dealing with the emotional stress or pain.
People who tend to get TMS usually have a very strong sense of responsibility, both in business and in family matters. In general, they may be success oriented, self-motivated, self-disciplined, achieving, and may be very accomplished. They are accustomed to putting a great deal of pressure on themselves and still feel like they haven’t done enough. Well maybe a few of those things applied to me! Ha!
The way to cure TMS is to think psychological, not physical. In many cases, just LEARNING that the pain is being caused from some psychological stress and not a physical problem is enough for people to stop experiencing the pain. Incredible.
One other thing to note and something that can also be a hallmark of TMS is that the pain may move around. For me, the pain almost always starts in my lower back. Sometimes it stays there. But sometimes, maybe it moves to the right side. And then my lower back feels decent but my upper back hurts. In one of my more recent episodes, it morphed into sciatica, which was AWFUL! It’s not uncommon when you have TMS for the pain to move to different areas in your body, I wanted to share that tidbit. ;)
What Helped Me Heal My Back
- Reading Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection by Dr. John Sarno. Highlighting sections and rereading those until the information really sunk in that I was NOT having a physical problem.
- Watching the old Dr. Sarno segment on 20/20 and seeing the truth of this method in other people’s lives.
- Getting a journal and writing in it. What were all the things causing pressure in my life? Anything I was angry or anxious about? Literally getting the thoughts out of my head and body and onto the paper. Experiencing a reduction in pain from journaling can take time, or it can be very quick.
- Realizing that my mind was trying to protect me from dealing with uncomfortable emotions, but there was a part of my brain ‘bullying’ me by distracting me. Dr. Sarno talks about ‘yelling at the bully in your mind’, so that’s what I would regularly do. Tell it you won’t be intimidated by the pain. Know that sometimes it’s like a 2-year-old throwing a tantrum, and occasionally the pain can get temporarily worse before it gets better. But nearly every time I ‘yelled at the bully in my brain’, my pain dropped significantly (!).
- I spent a lot of time reading through the TMS Wiki – basically a place to read about other people’s experiences who had once been in as much pain as I was. It was so helpful to spend time reading about their experiences with TMS and how they overcame chronic pain (and other conditions). The TMS Success Stories Forum was particularly helpful, and the Success Stories by Symptoms section shows how Fibromyalgia, Sciatica, Plantar Fasciitis, Neck Pain, Migraines, and much MUCH more can also be TMS. You can also find a TMS Doctor or Therapist.
- I stopped giving my back pain attention. Severe pain can almost become your identity, and I had to stop identifying with it.
- As Dr. Sarno recommends, I resumed as much normal activity as possible. Again, because there was nothing wrong with my back physically, there was no reason to avoid specific activities. At the beginning this was obviously hard, but I just did as much as I could and would close my eyes and envision myself moving as unrestricted as possible. Pretty soon it WAS possible.
What I Do Now If I Feel My Back Tightening
If I start feeling any sort of twinge in my back, it is a sure sign to me that something emotional is going on. I stop and grab my journal, and list out all the things that might be causing me frustration, stress, or pressure. I try to identify it right away and get it out of my mind. EFT/Tapping is another powerful tool I have since discovered that helps you get the emotions out of your body. Click here to watch this Intro to EFT I did with my practitioner friend if you want more info on this.
I also pull out my ‘Healing Back Pain’ book and read through a few key sections I have highlighted. Reminding myself my back is fine, it’s not physical but psychological, and that I don’t have to fear having an episode helps me nip a would-be episode in the bud right away!
I will say a few months ago I had an episode out of nowhere. My back wasn’t acting up; nothing. I went to stand up after sitting in a chair, and I couldn’t walk! There was an extreme amount of stress happening at the time, and I thought I was dealing with it fine… but in reality I wasn’t dealing with it at all, and so it manifested in my back spasms! However, I was able to be completely done with the episode after only 4 days by using the above techniques! (acknowledging it was emotional, journaling, tapping, dealing with and talking through the emotions, and trying to give it the least attention possible <– this is the hardest part)
Common Sense :)
Obviously see a doctor to rule out that there is not something else going on (like a tumor in your back or something!), and use your good common sense. But if you HAVE been to doctors and they just keep wanting to treat your pain or chronic condition, consider that you may be experiencing TMS and learn more about this condition to see if it fits what is going on!
And for further reading on other chronic conditions that Dr. Sarno believes to be TMS manifestations, check out his book The Mindbody Prescription. It contains a lot of the same information as Healing Back Pain, but it expands on other conditions and doesn’t just focus on the back.
I hope this helps someone!