Prenote: I’m not comfortable with vulnerability (especially public vulnerability!!), but I have learned much from Brene Brown’s work and think that vulnerability is part of healing, so here we go…
My pride pushed back on the idea of a mind-body syndrome such as tension myositis syndrome (TMS) causing my pain. I’m a mind body psychologist! How could my back/glute/hamstring pain be related to the mind-body? Well, it's a thing called blind spots...we often don’t see the things in ourselves that are so seemingly obvious in others! The premise of TMS is that inner tension caused by repressed emotions (namely, anger and guilt) or an inability to be present with and express current feelings causes tension that creates oxygen deprivation which manifests as pain. The most common location…you guessed it, the back and glutes. In addition, pain can manifest in the neck, as plantar fasciitis, acid reflux, anxiety, depression, tinnitus, vertigo, IBS, and the list goes on.
I ordered Dr. Sarno’s book, Healing Back Pain: The Mind Body Connection, and eagerly awaited its arrival. In the meantime, I perused websites and read book reviews of the treatment that sounded, quite honestly, too good to be true. This is coming from the person who teaches mind-body techniques!! The evidence was mounting. The list of characteristics of individuals who are most commonly diagnosed with TMS looked like a report card of my personality characteristics:
Perfectionistic (Check, although I’ve really been working on that)
Striving (Check, but isn’t that a good thing?)
People pleasing (Check)
Stoic (not so much)
Anxiety (sometimes Check)
Hostility/aggression (I don’t think so)
Dependency (Ummm…not really)
I stopped all treatments and spent a few days really delving into what I might be repressing or what I might not be expressing. I started journaling, and although I didn’t think I would have anything to write, I was surprised that my pen moved with relative ease until my timer chimed. I didn’t have a miraculous release of pain that I had read journaling could bring about, but I did feel a bit more like myself. I decided to find out the extent to which TMS might be contributing to the pain, so I had a session with a TMS therapist. She explained her personal experience and confirmed that my history and personal characteristics were consistent with TMS; however, she was not a doctor so she could not definitively say if TMS was the root cause. I left feeling a mix of relief and confusion. The action steps (in a nutshell) were to continue writing about feelings and move on with life.
Several weeks prior to finding out about TMS, I had scheduled an appointment with an orthopedic doc (or at least his PA) and hesitated about attending the appointment when it finally arrived. I had done lots of research and found that back and disc issues are not necessarily correlated with pain (Brinjikji et al., 2014). In fact, some research indicated that outcomes were actually worse for individuals who had had an MRI because doctors treated the results of the MRI rather than treating the person. So, when I overheard the PA ordering the MRI and a prescription anti-inflammatory outside the room before he even saw me, every instinct in my body told me to leave, but the good little patient inside me (see do-gooder in the checklist above) stayed. He pushed on my legs for a minute, dismissed the idea that muscles such as the piriformis or any other muscular or emotional issue could be contributing, and told me to return after the MRI. The MRI experience sucked…for lack of better terminology.
While waiting until the next week for the results of the MRI to be discussed with the arrogant orthopedic PA, I went back to researching other options and found Foundation Training. I watched a long interview of the founder of the Foundation Training, Dr. Eric Goodman, a chiropractor who was told he needed back surgery in chiropractic school. I was definitely intrigued. My local library had the Foundation Training book and DVD. I walked to get it the next day. I started the exercises which seemed way harder than they looked. Within a few days, I was standing straighter, but the glute, hamstring, and foot pain remained. I continued on with the exercises and kept searching for other potential contributors.
I found a book called the Permanent Pain Cure by Ming Chew. I was fascinated at the connection between tight fascia and pain. And because my Amazon prime account is the only part of me that has been getting a workout, I clicked “Add to Cart” and awaited its arrival. The exercises are complicated…no doubt about that. It took over 20 minutes to get into the correct position and complete the first exercise. I definitely felt muscles/tendons/ligaments/etc. that I hadn’t felt while doing the list of more standard stretches that I had accumulated from my visits to PTs, chiropractors, and docs. However, my intuition told me that this, too, was not the silver bullet. I added two of the most relevant stretches to my growing routine and kept looking for help.
Brinjikji, P.H. et al. (2014). Systematic literature review of imaging features of spinal degeneration in asymptomatic populations. American Journal of Nueroradiology, Published online: November 27, 2014, doi: 10.3174/ajnr.A4173