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Fibromyalgia and the Dr Sarno connection

Discussion in 'General Discussion Subforum' started by mike2014, Oct 23, 2016.

  1. mike2014

    mike2014 Beloved Grand Eagle

    Interesting, but like most fibromyalgia groups he doesn't agree with Dr Sarno's findings. It may be worthwhile signing up and supporting Dr Sarno's theories...

    It is discovered that the true meaning of Fibromyalgia is not as simple as is usually believed, but for proper elucidation requires the combined efforts of academicians of varying critical persuasion
    Posted by John Quintner on 14 June 2016, 10:04 am

    Have you struggled with chronic pain or another medically unexplained symptom for a long time? Have you tried everything to alleviate your pain, but nothing worked? Have you had doctors tell you they “just can’t find anything wrong?”

    Then you may have Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS). TMS is a condition that causes real physical symptoms that are not due to pathological or structural abnormalities and are not explained by diagnostic tests. In TMS, symptoms are caused by psychological stress.

    http://www.tmswiki.org/ppd/An_Introduction_to_Tension_Myositis_Syndrome_(TMS) (An Introduction to Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS))


    People with fibromyalgia who are desperate for pain relief might well be tempted to read on to find out more about Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS). At face value it does appear to be a genuine medical condition. But when they delve into its origins, there may be some unwelcome surprises.

    Tension Myositis Syndrome, also known as Tension Myoneural Syndrome and Mind Body Syndrome, was originally described in 1981 by Dr John Sarno, a retired professor of Clinical Rehabilitation Medicine at New York University School of Medicine, and attending physician at the Howard A. Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine at New York University Medical Center.

    This article will trace the development of Dr Sarno’s ideas over the past four decades and will show how he and his followers have tackled the vexed problem of the relationship between mind and body by inventing a psychologically based condition (TMS) together with an imagined musculoskeletal lesion. As an aside, their strategy bears more than a passing resemblance to that of those who pioneered the now discredited concept of the “myofascial trigger point”.

    What is TMS?

    According to Sarno (1998) TMS is “a benign (though painful) physiologic aberration of soft tissue (not the spine) and it is caused by an emotional process.” He suggests that this process is the result of “specific, common emotional situations”. The various soft tissues that can be affected in this peculiar disorder include muscles, nerves, tendons and ligaments (Sarno, 1998).

    As Coen and Sarno (1989) explained:

    “Of approximately 4000 patients with neck, shoulder and back pain seen by physiatrist author (JES) over 15 years, over 95% were diagnosed as having TMS. What stands out most from our clinical material are the contributions of tension and chronic character defences to musculoskeletal symptoms, and then the uses made of pain (for dependency, defence of narcissistic preoccupation with the pain, for punishment, and to express anger against caretakers (internal and external).

    We emphasise the relative ease of helping patients out of their back pain syndrome … Empathic explanation of the role of anxiety and defensive states in causing back pain, together with reassurance that this is a reversible self-limited process, usually leads to recovery.

    The capacity to tolerate one’s affective life seems, in effect, to preclude the back pain syndrome. We believe that the more able patients are to tolerate what they feel, including their anxiety, vigilance, mistrust, anger and depressive feelings, the less troubled they will be by back pain.”

    To further confuse the issue of nomenclature, Sarno proposed that TMS syndrome be relabelled “the mind body syndrome,” which includes the musculoskeletal disorder now referred to as “musculoskeletal mind-body syndrome (MMS), as well as a large variety of other psychophysiologic conditions involving other systems (Rashbaum & Sarno, 2003).

    What is the postulated mechanism?

    Physical symptoms are said to occur when the unconscious mind senses that repression of emotions may fail and an “emotional eruption” is imminent. The conflict is between “the reasonable, intelligent, moral, conscious mind and the childish, primitive archaic mind that continues to have a strong influence on the unconscious” (Rashbaum & Sarno, 2003).

    Repressed unconscious emotions (e.g. rage) can trigger abnormal autonomic nervous system activity, apparently resulting in mild ischaemia (i.e. lack of blood supply) and mild oxygen deprivation that can adversely affect muscles, nerves & tendons. These changes in physiology are supposedly manifested by muscle pain, nerve pain, tendon pain, paraesthesias (“pins and needles”) and muscle weakness.

    There is of course no scientific evidence whatsoever to support these wild guesses.

    TMS & fibromyalgia

    Sarno (1998) decided to characterize fibromyalgia as a severe form of “musculoskeletal mind-body syndrome” with multiple ischemic foci involving muscle, nerve, and tendon. Rashbaum and Sarno (2003) chided the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) because although the diagnosis required the identification of 11 of a potential 18 tender points in the trunk, arms, and legs, it did not make the connection between the emotions and clinical findings.”

    Resorting to psychoanalytic theory, Sarno made the connection by proposing that fibromyalgia was caused by “the psychosomatic avoidance of psychic conflict.” He even gave the pain a purpose, which was “to distract attention from frightening, threatening emotions and to prevent their conscious expression.” Fibromyalgia therefore signified the person’s abject failure to resolve his or her own psychic conflict:

    Physical symptoms occur when the mind senses that repression of emotions may fail and an emotional eruption is imminent. The conflict is between the reasonable, intelligent, moral, conscious mind and the childish, primitive archaic mind that continues to have a strong influence on the unconscious.

    Current status of Sarno’s ideas

    Schechter et al. (2007) published outcomes of a “mind-body” treatment offered to a convenience sample of 51 patients with persistent low back pain and a diagnosis of TMS (note that Sarno is referenced in relation to making this diagnosis). The primary goal of this program was “to raise patient awareness of how emotional issues, including repressed emotions, affect their physical pain” by counseling and educating patients on “how psychological factors can manifest as physical pain” and learn to begin “thinking psychologically,” instead of “structurally,” about their pain.

    The authors conceded the many limitations of this study, with financial and logistical constraints forcing them to conduct a case series study instead of a randomized clinical trial. The authors’ lack of specific criteria for a diagnosis of TMS and their inability to precisely standardize the program for all patients makes interpretation of this paper impossible.

    However, Dr Howard Schubiner and his co-workers are others who continue to advocate John Sarno’s ideas. As he informs those who visit his blog site:

    Your body is producing pain because it’s manifesting unresolved stress, possibly from your childhood, or from stressful events in your adulthood, or from your present circumstances, and as a result of your personality traits (which affects how you respond to stress and how much pressure you tend to put upon yourself).


    In a more recent publication, Lumley et al. (2015) have restated these views:

    We view the key pathological process in both unresolved trauma and internal conflict to be the avoidance or suppression of one’s primary or adaptive emotions, which then activates neural pathways that trigger, augment, or maintain pain and other symptoms.

    In the meantime, Hsu et al. (2010) reported the results of a randomized controlled trial of Dr Schubiner’s program of intervention – Affective Self-Awareness (ASA) – developed at Providence Hospital.

    Without going into details, the 24 of the 45 participants who attended Dr Schubiner’s three 2 hour small group sessions over three weeks and had read one of Dr Sarno’s standardized texts (Sarno, 1998) reported less pain and improved physical functioning compared to those in the 21 wait-listed control group. Members of the latter group were “free to engage in any interventions on their own, as recommended by their providers …”

    It comes as no surprise that the authors reported:

    Individuals with fibromyalgia in this study appeared to accept the central message of the intervention: that the experience of pain in fibromyalgia is real, that fibromyalgia pain is processed in the central nervous system, that unrelated emotional experiences can initiate and perpetuate physical symptoms, and that the mind-body link can be tapped to empower individuals with fibromyalgia to more effectively diminish pain and associated symptoms.

    The authors conceded that they had no idea as to the mechanisms responsible for the benefits of the ASA intervention. But at least they did acknowledge the possible contribution of various contextual factors.

    The pivotal research question posed by Schubiner et al. (2012) is to “determine if targeting unresolved stress and emotions offers an advance in the treatment of chronic non-structural pain.”

    Hsu et al (2010) do intend to conduct a larger study that will “not only assess the efficacy of this type of intervention in comparison to an active control group, but will allow for assessment of mediating and moderating variables to help determine mechanisms of action and subgroups of patients that respond best to this intervention.”

    There can be no doubt that this formidable (and impossible?) task will continue to tantalize future generations of researchers who have embraced Dr Sarno’s ideas.


    It is indeed unfortunate that Dr Sarno’s outdated theories, which were always highly speculative and heavily influenced by insupportable psychoanalytic theory, continue to influence some clinicians in their approach to patients with fibromyalgia. Their laudable aim may have been to close the mind-body split but in effect they have only succeeded in widening the gap and, in so doing, have inadvertently shifted the blame for their pain onto their patients.


    Coen SJ, Sarno JE. Psychosomatic avoidance of conflict in back pain. J Am Acad Psychoanal 1989; 17(3): 359-376.

    Hsu MC, Schubiner H, Lumley MA, et al. Sustained pain reduction through affective self-awareness in fibromyalgia: a randomized controlled trial. J Gen Intern Med 2010; 25 (10): 1064-1070.

    Lumley MA, Schubiner H, Carty JN, Ziadni MS. Beyond traumatic events and chronic low back pain: assessment and treatment implications of avoided emotional experiences. Pain 2015; 156; 565–566.

    Rashbaum IG, Sarno JE. Psychosomatic concepts in chronic pain. Arch Phys Med Rehabil 2003; 84 (Suppl. 1): S76-S80.

    Sarno JE. The mind-body prescription: healing the body, healing the pain. New York: Warner Books, 1998.

    Schechter D, Smith AP, Beck J, et al. Outcomes of a mind-body treatment program for chronic back pain with no distinct structural pathology – a case series of patients diagnosed and treated as tension myositis syndrome. Altern Ther Health Med. 2007; 13(5): 26-35.

    Schubiner H, Burger A, Lumley M. P02.147. Emotions matter: sustained reductions in chronic non-structural pain after a brief, manualized emotional processing program. BMC Complement Alt Med 2012; 12 (Suppl 1): P203.

    Source: http://www.fmperplex.com/2016/06/14/fibromyalgia-and-the-sarno-connection/#comments (FIBROMYALGIA AND THE SARNO CONNECTION – The Fibromyalgia Perplex)
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2016
  2. pspa

    pspa Well known member

    Dr. Quintner does walk back his criticism somewhat in his comment:

    [​IMG] John Quintner
    June 16, 2016 at 4:59 pm

    In case this article gives the impression that psychological stressors may not be important in the pathophysiology of fibromyalgia, I refer readers to the summary article by Dr Pamela Lyon. She makes it clear that perceived physical and/or psychological stressors are equally capable of activating systems of stress response. The “stress response” hypothesis suggests that it is the inability of these self-regulating systems to switch themselves off when the stressor that evoked them is no longer present. Link: http://www.fmperplex.com/2013/02/12/evolution-stress-and-fibromyalgia/
    mike2014 likes this.
  3. pspa

    pspa Well known member

    It's always an interesting philosophical question how one can "prove" a proposition. Dr. Quintner seems to be very much in the school of thought that discounts or even disregards so-called anecdotal evidence because successes could be placebo responses, or a return to health that would have happened anyhow (regression to the mean), or the result of confirmation bias. The difficulty of course is that while it may be relatively easy to test certain simple hypotheses in a way that will exclude these effects (e.g. does drug X treat condition Y), it's much harder if not impossible to do so for other more diffuse hypotheses such as does a particular mindbody approach treat chronic pain. But as some who critique the "evidence-based medicine" approach like to say, absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence. So for Dr. Quinter to say, in essence, that TMS theory is wrong because there is no scientific evidence to support it has to be seen in the context of his philosophy, which only accepts as valid certain types of evidence in the first place.
    mike2014 likes this.
  4. pspa

    pspa Well known member

    Dr. Quinter, by the way, is a very accomplished clinician and scientist who is the leader of the movement that challenged and debunked Travell and Simons' notions of myofascial trigger points and referred pain that had become orthodoxy. So it would be a mistake, in my opinion, just to dismiss him out of hand as another tool of the corrupt medical establishment or whatever.
  5. Tennis Tom

    Tennis Tom Beloved Grand Eagle

    What is unfortunate, is that the current "pain industry", prefers test-tube results over the real world results proven by thousands of real people, who overcame TMS/psychosomatic pain, by talking to Dr. Sarno in person, attending his lectures, or by solely reading his books.
    Ryan and mike2014 like this.
  6. BeWell

    BeWell Well known member

    [Deleted at BeWell's request]
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 2, 2016
    mike2014 likes this.
  7. pspa

    pspa Well known member

    You guys should comment on the thread and educate Dr. Quintner and his readers, instead of just preaching to the converted. It looks like he responds to comments.
  8. BeWell

    BeWell Well known member

    [Deleted at BeWell's request]
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 2, 2016
  9. mike2014

    mike2014 Beloved Grand Eagle

    I think it's a great idea to sign up to his forum and have a healthy discussion.

    These are the types of sites we should be raising awareness and championing Dr Sarno teachings.
    pspa likes this.
  10. pspa

    pspa Well known member

    Have the courage of your convictions and challenge him then. Don't make excuses.
  11. BeWell

    BeWell Well known member

    [Deleted at BeWell's request]
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 2, 2016
  12. BeWell

    BeWell Well known member

    [Deleted at BeWell's request]
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 2, 2016
  13. pspa

    pspa Well known member

    I imagine many people read Dr. Quintner's site as he is very prominent in his field, and as Mike pointed out, it is a great opportunity to educate them. Laughing at him doesn't advance the cause.
  14. BeWell

    BeWell Well known member

    [Deleted at BeWell's request]
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 2, 2016
  15. Tennis Tom

    Tennis Tom Beloved Grand Eagle

    Be my guest, I have a tennis match to get to. Didn't know doc quinine existed until a few minutes ago, not enough time in the day to be a TMS/goodist and "fix" the whole planet, chopping wood and making rice in my own sphere is keeping me pretty distracted as it is.
  16. Tennis Tom

    Tennis Tom Beloved Grand Eagle

    I had the courage of my convictions and challenged you--results: LOCKED THREAD!--that's my excuse.
  17. pspa

    pspa Well known member

    I know and respect that you have the courage of your convictions, and you are a strong advocate, that's why I thought it would be good if you would defend Dr. Sarno against Dr. Quinter, and interesting to see the discussion if he replied.
    Tennis Tom likes this.
  18. BeWell

    BeWell Well known member

    [Deleted at BeWell's request]
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 2, 2016
  19. pspa

    pspa Well known member

    How so? On one of the threads you started your headline was that Dr. Sarno "shall not prevail."
  20. BeWell

    BeWell Well known member

    [Deleted at BeWell's request]
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 2, 2016

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