Posted by: Mike Ferruggia | January 30, 2011

Herniated Disc–The Mind-Body Connection

So, the results of the MRI are in and the report says I have a large herniated disc between L5 and S1, that’s the last vertebra of the lumbar spine and the first of the sacral spine. My doctor wants me to see a specialist, a neurosurgeon, for him to look at the MRI and make recomendations. I’m setting up the appointment tomorrow, and will go to hear him out. I assume he will recommend some conservative measures first.

In the meantime, I have been practicing the McKenzie method for one week now, and I must say I have significant improvement, but I am not totally pain free. Another week of extension exercises is normal and perhaps warranted. I have looked up physical therapists credentialed in the McKenzie Method in my area so that if the neurosurgeon recommends pt, I will ask to go to one of these therapists.

Now to Dr. John Sarno, who has written a book called Healing Back Pain The Minf Body Connection. I first heard of Dr. Sarno many years ago on the Howard Stern show back when Stern was on the regular radio. I am reading the book and playing with some of the concepts in it, but I’m not ready to go this route until I’ve given the McKenzie Method a fair shot. Why? Because Dr. Sarno asserts that the pain in my back is a physiological reaction to repressed emotions. That is, I have repressed emotions that are trying to make it out of my subconscious mind and in order to defend against these unsavory characters, my mind has set up a defense mechanism of physical pain to distract me and take up all my time and thoughts. Ha!

I’m not ready for the Sarno method yet because it requires resuming all physical activity, including the most strenuous, give up all physical therapy, think psychological, not physical, and have no physical restrictions whatsoever.

The book has provided some amazing food for thought, and I am encorporating a lot of his views in my process.

So, here are some quotes from the book I have found to be fruitful:

“…herniated discs are rarely the cause of the pain.”
“…stress leads to tension(repressed, unacceptable feelings).”
“Many people with TMS are aware of posessing conscientious personality characteristics.”
“The unconscious is the repository of all of our feelings, regardless of their social or personal acceptability.”
“But he doesn’t know about any of these feelings–they are deeply buried in his unconscious; and to make sure they stay there he gets back pain.”
This quote is from Peter Gray’s biography of Freud: “Rather, the inconscious proper resembles a maximum-security prison holding ant-social inmates languishing for years or recently arrived, inmates harshly treated and heavily guarded, but barely kept under control and forever attempting to escape.”
“TMS is created in order to distract the attention of the sufferer from what is going on in the emotional sphere.”
“It is in order to prevent the conscious mind from becoming aware of the unpleasant emotions that they are repressed…It must be that something in the mind is fearful that they will not remain repressed, that they are trying to come to consciousness, for it is decided that a defense mechanism is necessary…that will distract the conscious mind from what is being repressed.”

Dr. Sarno also points out that the back is a rugged structure capable of taking a lot and then some. Degeneration of the disc between L5 and S1 is almost universally common in all of us by the age of 20! The evidence shows the extruded disc material is not resoponsible for the pain one feels. It’s just there. It’s a convenient ecuse to blame. Most spinal abnormalities we see in x rays and MRIs are normal aspects of aging.

So, does Dr. Sarno’s solution involve years of psychotherapy to figure it out? Acording to him, only in maybe 2 to 5 per cent of the cases. For the rest, knowledge and awareness and accepting his diagnosis are enough. I personally am not ready to begin lifting, bending twisitng, slouching, and sleeping without lumbar support, but I have taken a look at some of the things going on in my life when I’ve had these episodes(this is the third and longest), and I am ready to expose some of the bad guys that are trying to come to the surface. They don’t have to make their way through my back anymore. I’m not intimidated by it. Which is what your defense mechanism wants. Once you blow the cover and see through the camoflouge, the jig is up and according to Dr. Sarno, the pain departs.



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  3. I also heard many years ago on the Stern show about Dr. Sarno. I thought he made some really good points in the book you mentioned but I wasn’t ready myself to try what he wanted you to do.

    I’ve since had 2 failed surgeries & many trips to my doctor and PT.

    I am very curious now to give it an attempt. I am going to buy his third and final book which I heard is the most helpful in trying to beat TMS.

    I noticed you wrote your blog back on Jan. of 2011. Since, it’s at least as I am writing this, december 5, 2011, I was wondering if you ever decided to try Dr. Sarno’s way and if you have, how did you make out?

    • Hey Reggie. In the end, I did not do the Sarno concept fully. My main breakthrough was with the McKenzie method. Once I had the diagnosis of herniated disk, I found this physical therapy on line, got the book, found a certified therapist, and after years of suffering, fixed my back with three easy exercises in about two to three weeks. Parts of what Sarno says has efficacy, but maybe not fully for the reasons he states. The most important thing was keeping the curve of the spine at all times to allow the tissue to heal. If you do Sarno, you will just go about life as if everything is fine, but you may continue doing things wrong like bending incorrectly or sitting and standing in bad posture.

      I’ve posted more about Mckenzie, my only concern for you is that now that you’ve had the surgery, I don’t know how it would work for you. But I certainly think it’s worth finding a certified therapist in the McKenzie method in your area and discussing it. What I also like about the method is that you take responsibility for your own recovery; that is you don’t have to go see the therapist 3 times a week for the next 5 years. You just make sure you do the exercises right and you do it on your own. Good luck. I’d also like to know if you are able to follow up on it and if this methos might work for you.




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