Over 50 million people in the US are suffering with chronic pain, but many of them don’t have to be. Recent studies have shown that often chronic back pain, neck pain, fibromyalgia symptoms, carpal tunnel syndrome, migraine headaches, and many other forms of chronic pain are not the result of structural causes, but of learned nerve pathways in the brain.
John Sarno, MD, was one of the first physicians to hypothesize that many forms of chronic pain are reversible. He referred to this condition as Tension Myoneural Syndrome (or TMS). Working with other colleagues, he developed a protocol to treat chronic pain with a high rate of success. Three formal retrospective studies conducted at the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine at New YorkUniversity found that of 371 randomly selected chronic pain patients, 72% reported being free or nearly free of pain six months to three years after treatment.
As a psychotherapist specializing in the treatment of chronic pain and a board member of the Psychophysiologic Disorders Association, I have worked with a team of physicians and psychologists to further hone this treatment protocol and help pain sufferers eliminate or significantly reduce their symptoms. Because some people do not have access to a practitioner specializing in this model, I’ve used the treatment protocol to create a free online recovery program.
The TMS Wiki, a nonprofit advocacy group that aims to raise public awareness for this treatment model, has posted the online recovery program to help chronic pain sufferers work toward eliminating their symptoms. The program incorporates psycho-education, written exercises, and segments of recorded sessions to help users literally alter their neural pathways and break the pain cycle.
When pain sufferers are initially told about this condition, that their symptoms may not be the result of structural damage, a common response is, “Are you saying that the pain’s imaginary?” The answer is an unequivocal, “No.” The pain is most definitely real. But just as pain can be learned, it can be unlearned.
Having personally experienced years of chronic back pain (diagnosed with a herniated disc), and headaches (diagnosed with high cerebrospinal fluid pressure), I remember the desperate desire for relief. With each new treatment, a feeling of hope; and with each failed treatment, crushing disappointment. I lived with the fear that my pain would never go away and the confusion over how my body could be so fragile.
Having eliminated my symptoms, and working with many others who have as well, I’ve found that most chronic pain sufferers have the capacity to break free from this condition. It’s just a matter of finding the right tools.
Alan Gordon is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), psychotherapist, and the Director of the Pain Psychology Center in Los Angeles. He is an adjunct lecturer at the University of Southern California, has authored publications on the treatment of chronic pain, and has presented on the topic of pain treatment at conferences throughout the country.
Alan served as the chair for the 2010 Mind-Body Conference in Los Angeles and co-created the the treatment outline for the Psychophysiological Disorders Association.
The information in this column is not intended to be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Only your doctor can do that! It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s personal experiences and opinions alone. It does not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of National Pain Report or Microcast Media.