This blog is about my journey to curing chronic back, neck, and hip pain using the mind-body-soul approach. The modern approach didn't work for me, and I refused invasive treatments. Instead, I fixed how I think and began soothing my nervous system to heal from chronic pain. I still have the same spinal abnormalities today as I did four years ago, but that honestly doesn't matter. Read this blog to learn exactly how I did it!
The Story, Treatments, and Diagnosis
Let's take it back to 2017. I was in my early 20s, working as a retail manager and going to school full time. I had a boyfriend, friends, and family. Life wasn't necessarily 100% great in all areas; don't get me wrong. I definitely had a fair amount of stress, but things weren't terrible either.
On one sunny Los Angeles day, I decided to take a quick break at work to get coffee. Who would have known that a short walk would change the rest of my life?
All of a sudden, boom! A wall comes crashing down on my backside and pins me to the ground. I was lucky, though. My body was still functional, with no broken bones. I just had loads of pain that wouldn't bother to go away for four years!
Later down the line, after loads of physical therapy, acupuncture, massages, and taking it easy, the pain only worsened. My pain traveled from my neck and caused tingling and numbness down my arm. Besides the chronic neck pain, all kinds of pain traveled from my lower back to my hips, legs, and feet. The MRI results showed three bulging discs and a bone spur. In addition, the EMG said I had pinched nerves affecting both legs. And the physical therapists said I had so much tension in my hips and so many muscle knots in my back that I needed to trigger point massages three times a week at least to resolve them before I'd ever feel any decrease in pain.
Moving onto personal suffering (as the courts called it), the acupuncturist said to stop having sex since my legs repeatedly went limp for 45 minutes to an hour after intimacy. And finally, the surgeon told me since the shots didn't work, maybe it's time that I consider surgery. Otherwise, I'd be in pain forever.
The list of suggestions and lack of resolution goes on and on. I even went on a completely anti-inflammatory diet, cutting out all sugars, wheat, and non-organic foods. I'm still on a keto diet today, but that's solely based on choice. I no longer fear foods, relating them to level 10 spasms in my back. Whew! Thank God I've released that belief.
None of the suggestions or treatments above gave me full resolution. At times I would experience partial resolution, but it was only temporary. And being a major in kinesiology, and studying to become a physical therapist, didn't help. I applied all my knowledge and modern treatment suggestions, but nothing worked for me.
Fortunately, I could finally resolve my chronic pain after adopting a more holistic approach. As a result, today, I live 100% pain-free with the same spine I had five years ago. Keep reading to learn more about my journey and how I help others heal chronic back pain and other mind-body symptoms today!
Step 1: Pain Management Books and Diet
Around this next phase in my healing journey, I graduated from university. By the way, thanks to chronic pain that was delayed about two years. My kinesiology studies taught me that chronic pain was forever in most cases. There was no resolution to chronic back pain other than the abovementioned treatments. And if those protocols don't work, patients must learn how to manage life with pain forever. No biggie, right?
Well, I refused to take on that fate. I had so much more life to live, and I couldn't imagine going 60+ more years living the way I was or even worse. I was starting to become a different person. I was constantly drained, irritable, lonely, flaking on plans, and had taken on a low level of self-confidence and self-worth. I couldn't imagine what chronic pain would do to me in another four years, let alone 60!
But I thought, "Well if my only solution is to manage my pain, I'm going to manage the h*ll out of it! So, I quit my job at the retail store and worked as an assistant and post-physical therapy trainer at a physical therapy clinic. I figured being in a healing environment might rub off on me or keep me focused on my healing protocols. It also brought me a sense of happiness and purpose- an essential element in the healing journey, but we will discuss this later in the blog.
I then bought a pain management book. It was called Manage Pain Before It Manages You by Dr. Margaret Caudill. It was an excellent book to start with. This book gave me a deeper understanding of my behavioral patterns and pain triggers. So, I started timing and tracking what things led to pain and what things led to relief. It helped me then, but now, I know that it led me to form rigid belief systems about my ability to truly heal my chronic back, neck, and pelvic pain. However, since these methods were helping me avoid triggers much better than before, I shared the pain and stress management tips within Caudill's book with clients I worked with in physical therapy. It truly made a difference in their physical therapy treatment plan because it gave them a sense of control, hope, and guidance for living a better life. Thanks, Dr. Caudill!
Still, as the months went by, I wondered why healthcare providers and school books only gave the option to manage chronic pain instead of fixing it. If managing stress could affect how I feel, there had to be more to this approach.
Decades and centuries of research and literature from the Bible, famous poets, philosophers, University research studies, medical journals, and associations tell us that the mental state affects our emotions and the body's ability to function. Lack of ability to regulate stress in mind and body comes with physical pain and disease. So the source of my pain had to start with my brain. I just needed to know which part of my thinking was causing it.
Step 2: Adopting the Mind-Body Approach
About two and a half years into my chronic back pain journey, I was still on my healthy anti-inflammatory diet kick. So I went to a Simply Wholesome restaurant in Los Angeles to get some vitamins, healthy snacks, and dinner. There I saw a book on the bottom of their single bookshelf named "Healing Back Pain" by Dr. Sarno as I waited in line to ring up my items. I grabbed it, astonished at the title! I flipped through it quickly and, without a doubt, added it to my tiny green handbasket.
In his book, Dr. Sarno teaches us about the brain's role in pain. He talks about how stress, personality traits, and unresolved big T and small T traumas are all attached to the prevalence of back pain diagnoses! He referred to studies that took MRIs of many people worldwide, all persons having some spinal abnormality. However, you would find that you could compare 100 people with similar types of spinal abnormalities, and half would feel zero pain, and the other half could feel disabled with pain. The difference in pain versus bliss depended on the health of one's mind-body connection. If the subconscious mind was fearful, raging in anger, or sad, it was more likely that the person would be less resilient to pain, stress, and anxiety.
I continued learning about the mind-body method and Sarno's approach through other podcasts, books, testimonials, etc. Practice makes perfect, so I brought the approach into my place of work, and for those patients dealing with medically unexplained chronic pain or stress-induced pain, I would share these ideals. I'd give them homework to direct them in boosting their resilience to stress, anxiety, and repressed emotions; amazingly, this helped them too.
The mind-body approach was the first thing that gave me complete relief in one whole day! My pain started to decrease, and I started doing more activities my body would allow me to do. Sometimes I'd go overboard and push myself hard and forget to do mindfulness techniques, journaling, and set boundaries with loved ones- that's completely normal when making life changes. The Sarno method was working. I understood my nervous system was the source of my chronic pain. But I still struggled now and then with catastrophizing, self-doubt, self-worth, and purpose.
I kept coming back to the idea that the one thing that could keep me on track would be if I could align my faith in this work. How could I genuinely trust this process if I didn't have anything in my spirit telling me that there would be purpose and power from my pain?
Step 3: The Mind-Body-Soul Approach
All the Sarno, TMS expert and mind-body books tell you that pain is fueled by fear. Alan Gordon describes it as Pain= Fear+ Sensation. These books teach us to release suppressed emotions, address the triggers that make our nervous system feel unsafe, and change behavioral patterns to boost resilience and positive thinking. I agree with 100% of all these tips because these are the very tips that led me to my healing.
However, these tips did not keep me from being 100% pain-free and fear-free- that I owe to faith.
When I work with my clients, I ask them to describe their belief systems. What do you believe about yourself and the world? Do you think there is anything that can provide you with unwavering safety, protection, and love?
I come from a family of 7 siblings. Most of us come from different parents/households (long story) and different religions. We prayed differently and had different traditions, but we loved each other the same. We had a different faith because of our parents, personal choices as adults, or married a spouse of another nationality. I mention this because, regardless of your belief, I respect your choice as my client and a fellow human being. Faith provides a sense of safety that no one else in this world can provide, especially when things are going wrong in your life- like chronic pain.
Faith ultimately helped me overcome my fears, habit of catastrophizing (as Dr. Schechter calls it), and self-doubt. Having a belief system in God and being intentional about growing my trust in Him solidified all my work in the mind-body approach. In a way, I had a solid foundation that told me that no matter what, I would be strong enough or be given a helping hand to get through whatever obstacle. And that new belief alone quieted my fears about finance, relationships, self-worth, my future, and more.
When the mind-body healing books say to stop focusing on pain and start experiencing joy, it might sound impossible to do so at first. Instead, you might feel more enticed to say that you will go hiking, go to the movies, date again, or hang with friends only after your pain is gone. However, if you have been depriving yourself of joy, you may have a crack in your foundation of healing.
You must believe in finding meaning in life regardless of your pain! The very act of taking your mind off of your pain will help your brain to become less hyper-vigilant about your symptoms. At least, that's what the books say, and that was the case for me.
The crack in my foundation was having a lack of purpose and power in my pain. So first, I needed to understand who I was, what led me to misalign my core values, and what a harmonized mind-body-soul looked like to me. Once I found a purpose (chronic pain coaching) and power (I can truly get through anything after waking up over 1,000 days in pain), I was able to refocus my attention on something that made me curious and excited about life.
I stopped dwelling on the sensations and my unfair experience. Instead, I started living a life aligned with my values, and that, my friends, is what ultimately restored safety in my nervous system and made the pain go away for good!
If this story resonated with you in any way, I'd love to speak with you! As a fellow chronic pain Warrior, I know what it's like to feel stuck and alone on your journey. Click here to schedule a free consultation with me, Amari Dior. Certified in Pain Reprocessing Therapy, I can help you identify the behavioral patterns keeping your nervous system stuck in fight, flight, or freeze mode and give you expert tips to move forward!