For several decades I suffered from debilitating back pain. I have several injuries from my teens and young adult years so I thought it was caused by that.
Then I heard Howard Stern speak about the book ‘Healing Back Pain‘ by Dr. John Sarno. I read it and was healed… literally!
You owe it to yourself and family to read it.
So who was Dr. Sarno?
John Ernest Sarno Jr. (June 23, 1923 – June 22, 2017) was Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine, New York University School of Medicine, and attending physician at the Howard A. Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine, New York University Medical Center.
He graduated from Kalamazoo College, Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1943, and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1950. In 1965, he was appointed the Director of the Outpatient Department at the Rusk Institute.
Tension myositis syndrome
Sarno’s most notable achievement is the development, diagnosis, and treatment of tension myoneural syndrome (TMS), which is currently not accepted by mainstream medicine. According to Sarno, TMS is a psychosomatic illness causing chronic back, neck, and limb pain which is not relieved by standard medical treatments. He includes other ailments, such as gastrointestinal problems, dermatological disorders and repetitive-strain injuries as TMS related. Sarno states that he has successfully treated over ten thousand patients at the Rusk Institute by educating them on his beliefs of a psychological and emotional basis to their pain and symptoms. Sarno’s theory is, in part, that the pain or GI symptoms are an unconscious “distraction” to aid in the repression of deep unconscious emotional issues. Sarno believes that when patients think about what may be upsetting them in their unconscious, they can defeat their minds’ strategy to repress these powerful emotions; when the symptoms are seen for what they are, the symptoms then serve no purpose, and they go away. Supporters of Sarno’s work hypothesize an inherent difficulty in performing the clinical trials needed to prove or disprove the diagnosis, since it is difficult to use clinical trials with psychosomatic illnesses.
Sarno wrote about his experience in this area in his first book on TMS, Mind Over Back Pain. His second book, Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection, has sold over 150,000 copies. Sarno’s most recent book, The Divided Mind: The Epidemic of Mindbody Disorders, features chapters by six other physicians and addresses the entire spectrum of psychosomatic disorders and the history of psychosomatic medicine.
Statistical studies of TMS treatment
Sarno’s books describe two follow-up surveys of his TMS patients. The first in 1982 interviewed 177 patients selected randomly from those Sarno treated in the preceding three years. 76 percent stated that they were leading normal and effectively pain-free lives. A second follow-up study in 1987 restricted the population surveyed to those with herniated discs identified on CT-scans, and 88% of the 109 randomly selected patients stated that they were free of pain one to three years after TMS treatment.
In 2007, David Schechter (a medical doctor and former student and research assistant of Sarno) published a peer-reviewed study of TMS treatment showing a 54% reduction in the average pain intensity scores for a cohort of 51 chronic back pain patients, whose average pain duration before the study was 9 years. In terms of statistical significance and success rate, the study outperformed similar studies of other psychological interventions for chronic back pain.
Notable patients of Sarno include radio personality Howard Stern, comedian Larry David, actress Anne Bancroft, filmmaker Terry Zwigoff, 20/20 co-anchor John Stossel and television writer Janette Barber. All six have praised Sarno and his work highly. Stern dedicated his first book in part to Sarno. Howard Stern, Larry David, and John Stossel are both featured in a documentary about Dr. Sarno.
Senate Hearing before the Committee on Health, Education, and Pensions
On February 14, 2012, John Sarno, MD appeared before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, and Pensions to address ‘Pain in America: Exploring Challenges to Relief’. The committee was chaired by Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) who was very supportive of the mind-body connection espoused by Dr. Sarno’s treatment approach to pain. In fact Senator Harkin describes his own successful experience with pain relief from reading Dr. Sarno’s books. Senator Harkin relates how his niece’s chronic pain symptomatology from fibromyalgia resolved after reading Dr. Sarno’s books as well.
A recording of the hearing, with Senator Harkin’s account of his own experience (beginning 101 mins. 15 secs. into the video) can be viewed here: