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What is Mind-Body Syndrome?

Updated: Aug 18

Usually, the approach to pain is to treat physical symptoms of pain either surgically or non surgically, depending on the severity of the condition. However, when acute pain becomes chronic pain, the Western healthcare system continues to offer the same treatments to patients, hoping these treatments will eventually relieve some or all symptoms. But, when the pain is prolonged or worsens with no evidence of substantial structural damages or disease, another method of treatment may need to be considered.


Mindbody syndrome, or TMS (tension myositis syndrome), is a term coined by Dr. John E. Sarno of the New York University School of Medicine in the early 1970s. The condition TMS suggests that chronic pain cases that are not associated with diseases are biopsychosocial disorders. In his book, "The Mindbody Prescription," he explains that the subconscious mind deals with trauma and emotional responses that trigger physical pain responses. Then the brain's pain system learns to send pain attacks when it believes it is in danger of exposing these traumas, stressors, and emotions, which ignites the chronic pain cycle.


Keep reading to learn more about how mindbody syndrome occurs and how to reverse this condition.



Why Mindbody Syndrome Occurs

According to Dr. Sarno, when a person allows an event or standard to cause extreme stress to one's life, mindbody syndrome occurs. When a person constantly feels the need to live up to standards set by work, social groups, or family members, the psychological stress begins to build up and cause physical pain.


The reoccurring exposure to stress can cause emotional suppression of anger, rage, loneliness, sadness, and anxiety. The longer the person allows psychological stress to build up without dealing with their circumstances and emotional wellbeing, the more intense the physical pain gets.


The process of mindbody syndrome occurs when psychological stress causes a physical symptom when triggered by a negative emotional state. The autonomous nervous system becomes affected by psychological stress and decreases blood flow to tissues, nerves, and muscles in the body. Dr. Sarno describes that the brain will often restrict blood flow and oxygen to imperfect areas in the body, which allows this psychological disorder to disguise itself as a structural problem.


In mindbody syndrome, blood flow restriction is often chosen in imperfect areas of the body so the subconscious mind does not have to address its true emotional state.



Common Symptoms of Mindbody Syndrome

Mindbody syndrome occurs in many chronic pain patients. Different symptoms may include back pain, neck pain, pelvic pain, fibromyalgia, tension headaches, IBS, and other digestive issues.


Sometimes patients will experience pain in multiple areas, even after undergoing physical treatment. Because the patient still battles with psychological stress, the brain will restrict blood flow to another area of the body, showing signs that the level of psychological stress experienced needs treatment.



How to Reverse Mindbody Syndrome

Most western medicine physicians and pain management specialists do not diagnose mindbody syndrome or TMS, so someone with chronic pain must go to a specialist that understands TMS to diagnose and treat.


A psychotherapist who specializes in TMS can be of great help to those who suffer from mindbody syndrome. During the first evaluation, the patient and therapist will go over the patient's medical history and lab test results together. If the therapist believes the patient may be suffering from TMS, the therapist will ask a series of questions about exposure to traumas as an adult or child and what current life events are causing increased stress. After receiving the patient's feedback, the therapist will determine if psychological stress and TMS caused chronic pain.


Secondly, the therapist will thoroughly explain what TMS is and how it occurs. It is essential that the patient is open-minded, takes radical acceptance of the diagnosis, and understands the diagnosis fully to heal.


And finally, once the patient has accepted TMS as a diagnosis and is interested in continuing treatment, the therapist creates a personalized plan. Personalized plans often include helping connect the patient's emotional state and responses to physical symptoms through mindfulness techniques.



Post-Treatment Options to Avoid Relapse

After psychotherapy treatment, many patients may be thinking about what to do next. Chronic pain patients usually experience pain without relief for several months and even years. It is not uncommon that chronic pain patients develop habits of constantly thinking about pain, if and when the pain will return, and how the quality of life will diminish again when chronic pain returns.


The best option is to partner with a life coach with experience working with people who have suffered from chronic pain, studied Dr. Sarno's methods and somatic techniques. Life coaching can help clients realign their lives with passions and values that matter to them, set and reach long and short-term goals, and stay accountable in practicing mindfulness techniques that will help lower stress and prevent TMS relapse.


Chronic pain coach Amari Dior works exclusively with Chronic Pain Warriors who are ready to live a life beyond chronic pain. Her virtual life coaching programs are personalized to each client's goals, passions, and history with chronic pain. As a fellow Chronic Pan Warrior, she can be empathetic to the process of change, be understanding when trials and tribulations occur, and be a cheerleader to help you move forward and prevent old habits from causing a TMS relapse.


To learn more about chronic pain coaching visit https://www.bodyamorwellness.com/


Sources

Mental health america reports a strong connection between chronic pain and untreated mental health challenges. Mental Health America. (2020, September 22). https://www.mhanational.org/mental-health-america-reports-strong-connection-between-chronic-pain-and-untreated-mental-health.


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