Column: Dr. John Sarno healed my back pain

sarno, back pain, heal
(This is how my back felt. Coincidentally, I own those same shaggy boots. Photo by Podknox/Flickr)

Two years ago I injured my tailbone. Alcohol may have been a factor, which is to say, alcohol was a factor. I went to a concert. Then I went to a friend’s place. I was feeling good. I was feeling so good, in fact, that while walking down the stairwell of my friend’s apartment building I leapt down the last five stairs to the floor of the lobby.

Unbeknownst to me, the rug in the lobby was not attached to the concrete beneath. I landed, the rug slipped and I fell on my tailbone.

Agonizing pain followed. I went to a doctor. X-rays were taken. The doctor said the injury was minor and would heal in four to six weeks. Eight weeks later I still was in pain. Ten weeks later I was visiting a chiropractor – a real-life Dr. Nick Riviera. He electrically stimulated my lower back, but the relief lasted only a few hours.

Sitting for more than 15 minutes was more painful than the (yes, I am still bitter) officiating in the Steelers’ Super Bowl win over the Cardinals.

I had this gnawing feeling. How would I write if I could not sit for long periods? How would I drive? How would I sit on a plane for four hours? Was this injury permanent?

Months after the fall, in which time I should have been fully healed, I remembered that radio host Howard Stern once suffered from unceasing back pain. He was healed by naked lesbian stepsisters. No, wait, not even naked lesbian stepsisters could ease his pain. He was healed by a 1950s-looking doctor named John Sarno.

dr sarno, john sarno, sarno, back pain, healing
(The good doctor. Photo by Virgorama/Flickr)

I bought Dr. Sarno’s book, The Mindbody Prescription: Healing the Body, Healing the Pain. A week after I read it I was cured. I am trying not to sound like an infomercial, but I am not kidding. Reading a book healed my back pain. And hey, check out my sports coat covered with yellow question marks. Can you believe this blanket has sleeves? It’s ShamWow!

Why am I sharing all of this? The economy stinks. Times are tough. And I am guessing some of you are experiencing pain. I figure maybe my readers can take small joy in picturing me soaring through the air to my demise. Or maybe Sarno can help you.

Sarno is the originator of tension myositis syndrome, or TMS. TMS is a psychosomatic illness that causes chronic back, neck, shoulder and limb pain, gastrointestinal problems and dermatological disorders, among other things. TMS says that chronic physical pain is an unconscious distraction from emotional issues.

For example, you hate your job and your back hurts. You think the pain comes from an old sports injury. According to Sarno, the problem probably is psychological. The back heals quickly. It is resilient. Your pain, especially if you are a perfectionist or Type-A personality, might be the physical manifestation of job hatred.

I know. It sounds New Agey. Bear with me.

shamwow, shamwow guy
(This is how I felt while writing this week’s column. But I swear, Sarno is the ShamWow of healing back pain.)

According to Sarno, your subconscious mind reacts to certain stresses by reducing blood flow to the most vulnerable part of your body, causing a painful distraction. Only when you acknowledge the cause of your stress does blood flow return to normal.

How this personal acknowledgment is achieved depends on the individual. For me, I had to read the book. For others, healing is achieved after a physical examination, lectures and group meetings. Do not blame me if you read the book and your health does not change. You might have more work to do.

My emotional issue was the pressure I placed on myself to succeed. I think my brain directed this stress to the most vulnerable part of my body, my recently-injured tailbone.

While reading The Mindbody Prescription: Healing the Body, Healing the Pain I acknowledged to myself that I was angry that I had yet to achieve massive success as a writer. My back pain, which was intense, went away overnight.

Many individuals are legitimately sick or injured. But according to Sarno – and until someone offers a better explanation for chronic injuries, I am going with his diagnosis – many of our maladies are psychologically driven. They are distractions that keep us from confronting our problems.

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