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Information About Tension Myositis Syndrome

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  Tension Myositis Syndrome
Tension myositis syndrome (TMS) is a condition described by Dr. John E. Sarno in his book Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection (ISBN 0446392308). According to Dr. Sarno, TMS is a condition in which emotional stress causes physical pain in the human body. Most often this pain occurs in the back, neck, shoulders, and buttocks but may appear in other parts of the body as well. The physiological reason for the pain is decreased blood flow causing oxygen deprivation in the affected area(s) of the body, which may involve muscles, nerves, tendons or ligaments. This physical phenomenon, the decreased blood flow, is an aberration undertaken by the autonomic nervous system and causes increased pain and tension in the affected tissues. This results in muscle pain similar to what an athlete might feel after a strenuous workout. Whereas the athlete will feel relief within moments of halting the workout, the person afflicted with TMS continues to feel pain almost constantly.

Underlying Cause

Dr. Sarno claims that the pain is the mind's defense mechanism against unconscious mental stress it does not want to cope with, emotions such as anger, anxiety and narcissistic rage. Rather than be forced to deal with the stress and its underlying causes, the unconscious mind (acting via the limbic system) causes mild oxygen deprivation in muscles, nerves or tendons and thus causes physical pain. The conscious mind will therefore be distracted by this physical pain, thus enhancing the automatic repression process to keep the anger/rage contained in the unconscious. This strategy is designed by the brain to keep such emotional stress from surfacing in the conscious mind, thus assisting in the repression of painful emotions and preventing awareness of them.


Dr. Sarno's book is unusual among self-help literature in that it does not provide a set of instructions for dealing with the described problem. There are no classes, exercises, or life changes described to alleviate the problem. Instead, Sarno claims that simply educating the mind about TMS is the first step in the process to make it go away. The remaining steps include (1) Repudiate the physical and acknowledge the psychological aspect (easier said than done), (2) Drive the concept to your unconscious by repeatedly focusing on exactly what your unconscious mind is attempting to repress - the sources of your anger. The three major sources include (1) your childhood, (2) personality type (perfectionist, goodist, prone to guilt) and (3)life's challenges. The book describes personality types that are prone to TMS, and how TMS works. Once the mind understands the trick that it is playing on itself, the symptoms will usually disappear after daily repetition.

Back Pain and Traditional Medicine

Dr. Sarno is vocal in his criticism of traditional medicine with regard to back pain, which often resorts to surgical methods of treatment. He claims these methods are unnecessary and often ineffective. According to him, most back pain has its roots in emotional stress and thus the mind rather than the body should be treated to address the symptoms.

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