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My First Post - Looking For Confidence

Discussion in 'Support Subforum' started by LRrunner23, Apr 11, 2017.

  1. LRrunner23

    LRrunner23 Newcomer

    Hi all,

    I first found out about Dr. Sarno in late August of 2016, after about 6-8 months of struggling with what I thought was a herniated disc. I found the TMS Wiki a few months later and have loved reading everyone's success stories and seeing the support from so many people in the same boat. I'm making my first post today and I hope that eventually it will become a success story of it's own! Right now it feels like that day is still far off, every time I've gotten significant reductions in symptoms they have eventually returned, I think it's because I haven't quite managed to break the cycle of being fearful. Fair warning, this will be a long post!

    Back in January 2016 I had my first run in with "back problems". I was 25 and a bit obsessed with working out. I was the kind of guy who always ate healthy, rarely missed a workout and stuck to a routine for years and years. I loved it though, I like pushing my body to do more and more, I liked feeling "strong", and I liked that no matter how stressed I was I could always go blow off some steam at the gym. It felt good to be so good at something. Seeing the constant progress I was making along with the comments of friends and family really made me feel good. Plus the strictness of my routine always helped me deal with work or any other general life stress as counter intuitive as that might sound.

    A few weeks prior, after my back workouts I was noticing some tightness and pain that seemed a bit out of place but it always went away in at most a day so I thought nothing of it. I did a couple of lighter sessions just to feel things out and my back felt fine. I think the seeds might have been planted here though, I remember I started to feel afraid and anxious before my back workouts that I might "injure" myself. One night after work I went for my usual back routine (and by this point anxiety had become a part of the routine) and started my workout with heavy deadlifts (315 lbs at a 165lb body weight), then heavy rows and then some supporting lifts. There was no grand pop, or sudden onset of pain like many people describe. I felt great, hit a few new personal bests and was ready to go have dinner. About 1-2 hours after finishing up I noticed pins and needles down my entire left leg. I was pretty concerned at this point but there was absolutely no pain...yet. I should also include that I am a complete hypochondriac, not one of my better traits but for as long as I can remember I've always had a tendency to assume the worst and run directly to the doctor.

    The pins and needles got worse and moved all over my left leg, after the first day it never really stuck in one place. The pins and needles continued for a while but eventually it got to the point where at certain points in the day I wouldn't notice it or it would fade to be barely perceivable. I thought I might have escaped the worst so after about three weeks I went back to the gym, being extremely careful. The pins and needles sensation would always flare up after the gym but it still didn't turn into pain. About two months after the pins and needles started I remember doing very light machine rows to try to get my back "into" it again, I don't think I could have been lifting more than 60-80 lbs at the time (on a machine with very limited lumbar involvement). About three hours later I had a full on burning sensation down my left leg that I am still dealing with to this day.

    A few days after the sciatica started I went to the doctor in a state of panic, I hadn't heard of TMS at this point so I was envisioning surgery and no longer being able to do the things I enjoyed. The doctor said I had a herniated disc, performed the straight leg raise and sent me for an X ray just to make sure it wasn't anything like a tumor. The X-ray came back clean, in fact the doctor said that my spine looked "amazing", it certainly didn't feel it. I asked about an MRI but my doctor said that I would eventually make a complete recovery and an MRI wasn't necessary. Generally he said that he would only suggest an MRI where epidurals or surgery would be an option and he said as I have no muscle weakness or no numbness that either of those options would likely do more harm than good. He said surgeries are only helpful when there is noticeable weakness of the affected muscles, otherwise the pain would eventually go away on it's own, though he did stress this could take years.

    I left his office feeling great, the doctor was completely unconcerned and is sure that I'll be fine! I proceeded to develop other symptoms around this time, tension headaches, extreme tightness in my neck and shoulders, it felt as if my head was too heavy for my neck! I still however got on a plane for 6 hours and took a small vacation to visit family out of state (this should have been my first clue that maybe something didn't add up) and for the most part I felt great. Very little sciatica, though it was there it really didn't affect me flying and I had a great time on vacation regardless.

    I continued working out, though no where near the extent that I was, it was more to just stay in shape while I healed. I did have a constant fear that I would "make things worse", and sometimes the symptoms would flare up after a workout (though not every one, even if I did the exact same routine...another clue?). I had assumed I was "injured", how could I not considering my symptoms started after lifting something heavy. I continued to see small improvements, which were always accompanied by a flare up shortly after. It was like two steps forward, then one and a half steps back.

    Fast forward a few months of the same two steps forward then flare up, in July of that year I took another vacation...to Thailand. All in all it was about 21 hours on a plane...each way! And that whole time, I had very little, if any pain. Upon coming back home and going back to work, I immediately had a flare up. My neck locked up and the sciatica became bi-lateral that evening. At this point I was pretty terrified, now it was in both legs! I went back to the doctor and he did a few more tests, tested my reflexes (which after he hit a little too far to the right and my leg didn't jerk, he found the spot) which were fine, tested my muscles, still no weakness. He said take 4 Aleve a day, I must have tweaked something in the gym, but he still asserted I would make a complete recovery and surgery would be a bad choice. He said once you have surgery you will always be a "back patient", there will always be a piece of the spine missing and it will cause problems later. He also gave a great analogy about professional athletes "they have access to the best insurance and healthcare around and these guys still get sidelined for an entire season or more with an injury like this, trust the process you will eventually be fine". The pain started to die down after that but it would always seem to come back.

    Shortly after in my hypochondria induced madness, I discovered a post referencing "the book" that has helped so many people heal. After some more digging I found "Healing Back Pain" by Dr John Sarno, I ordered it immediately and read it cover to cover a few days later. It made perfect sense, how I could have "symptom free (or close)" days and then for no apparent reason be back to square one. I saw how I certainly have a perfectionist and anxious personality type that could cause these symptoms, it even made sense to me how the mind could take a physical incident as a "trigger" for pain and not the cause of the pain. I then realized my back pain (in a significantly reduced capacity) started much earlier (also following a workout) at a point of heightened stress. I wasn't "cured" by the book but I felt hope for the first time (I especially liked the thank you letter from the gentleman who went to Thailand), felt like I wasn't "broken" and maybe I could be the person I was again someday. My symptoms did start to diminish, they also started to jump a bit to different parts of my left and right legs (although my left leg would always have sciatica, just in different places). I also developed TMD, tinnitus, burning in my left arm (which thankfully left as quickly as it came), and some allergy related problems. But I actually still felt hopeful, TMD and tinnitus are annoying but I got the all clear from a doctor who said there's nothing visibly wrong with my ears (though he did say I must have "hurt them from a loud noise"), it felt like the more I learned the harder my subconscious was pushing back.

    Since then I have traveled to several cities in Europe (with 95% reduced symptoms) and almost fully accepted and believed the TMS diagnosis. The one issue I continue to have is constant fear of "making things worse". I can't seem to fully rationalize my symptoms into the realm of the subconscious. As I type this I am in the middle of the worst flare up I've had in months, both my legs feel like they're on fire (though I can still walk fine!). This flare up I've noticed happened a few days after going to, of course, the gym. It's like my subconscious knows I never fully broke the fear or rejected the structural. I read "Pain Free For Life" by Dr Scott Brady, I really liked how he introduced the spiritual aspect as well and a lot of what he wrote made sense. But the one thing that cast doubt in my mind was a line he wrote that went something like, most of my patients who complained of intense back pain and had documented disc herniations weren't even lifting anything heavy. This all started when I was lifting something heavy...quite heavy.

    I know this is exactly the wrong way to think. I've always tried to rationalize it by realizing, my symptoms just aren't that bad. I've read about some people on this forum who were completely disabled, much less flying to the other side of the world, and they were doing every day tasks when their pain started. Yet here I was taking vacations and mostly continuing life as normal, wouldn't it make sense for our positions to be reversed? If the injury really did cause the pain then wouldn't the circumstances of my pain cause me to be the one in worse shape? I've also noticed that in the past when I would deal with a flare up at night I would take two Aleve and my pain would be gone within minutes, there's no way the NSAID could work that quickly. I think my subconscious caught onto this because now NSAIDs don't seem to work at all, but I suppose that's progress.

    Extremely long winded origin story aside, how have some of you overcome the fear barrier? I've noticed a lot of posts around that always go back to something like "I realized the pain started around a very stressful time", there are none that are, I was lifting a 300+ lb heap of iron and my legs started to burn. That alone seems to be my barrier to full acceptance, my hypochondria always says "well what if I'm the exception? Even Dr Sarno said that most herniations don't cause pain, what if you're in the small bucket that does?". It's almost silly because I don't even have confirmation of a disc herniation, just an assumption and probable cause.

    Up until a few days ago I thought this whole thing would eventually be in the past, I have written some journal entries (realized I have a ton of inner anger, more than I realized and have dealt with depression or TMS equivalents for a long time), begun meditation and have generally become a more mindful person. All in all I thought TMS was actually a good thing because it was going away and I seemed to be better off than before. But now I'm back where I started, fearful, in pain, and back to thinking maybe it was a placebo, I must have "hurt myself" in the gym again. I hate thinking this way, I hate the hopeless feeling and quite frankly I'm tired of the constant fear. Any advice on how to quit the physical mindset?

    Regards,
    LRrunner
     
  2. healingfromchronicpain

    healingfromchronicpain Well known member

    Welcome! From what I read here, your situation is classic TMS. It's great you've gotten cleared from your doctor to know nothing structural is going on. And just because you were lifting something heavy and some people weren't, doesn't mean your brain didn't use that in the same way--to make you believe it's a structural problem. In fact I think it's even easier for our brains to jump on the band wagon when we start feeling pain or other symptoms after a physical event. Classic TMS.

    Just remember that there are times when you don't have pain/symptoms, so it really can't be a structural thing. Like I said, it just makes it easier for your brain to blame something else rather than the likely buried emotions fueling your symptoms.

    I personally have had a long relationship with my psychogenic pain, but I know its all psychogenic. For me it has taken a lot of work to get to where I am--I significantly reduced my once nearly completely debilitating pain by recognizing buried emotions--but I still do have lingering pain (not nearly as bad as it used to be) that I feel my subconscious still has a hold on. But I know at some point it (I/my brain) will let go of it all.

    (If you're interested, I share my story, of collegiate gymnast to chronic pain patient to healing survivor, on my website: www.healingfromchronicpain.com. I also provide a list of books I've found helpful in my journey.)

    Also, if you haven't read Steve Ozanich's book, I highly recommend it. He talks about getting back to physical activity after fear-induced pain was holding him hostage.

    Of course I'm not a doctor, but given that you've been to doctors and they haven't found anything, I'm confident it's TMS. I personally would explore the fear and anger that you mentioned. And maybe why you see yourself as a hypochondriac. I'm also not a psychologist, but those items stuck out to me when I read your post.

    I'm sure others have wise words. I'm pretty new to the forum, too, but wanted to share my thoughts.

    Best of luck to you as you let go of what's not serving you anymore :)
     
    eskimoeskimo likes this.
  3. MindBodyPT

    MindBodyPT Beloved Grand Eagle

    Hi there,

    welcome to the forums! You're in the right place! My story is VERY similar to yours...initially "hurt" my back dancing a lot time ago, then recurrence in the gym about a year ago...then the chronic pain and sciatica ensued (probably fueled by the fact that I know too much as a PT!), I too developed neck pain and headaches as part of the symptom imperative, then finally was saved by Dr. Sarno's wonderful books!

    Here's the thing- you might in fact have herniated a disc lifting in the gym. But so what? Like Sarno says, these are minor injuries that heal and shouldn't cause CHRONIC pain. They certainly could cause a bit of pain initially. Remember that a minor injury can turn into TMS pain easily...that is the story for many of us. The way the brain works, the neuroplasticity involved in changing your acute pain into chronic pain, is TMS in a nutshell. Your back is perfectly fine and we all have herniated discs sooner or later...remember they are just "grey hairs of the spine!"

    Feel free to ask any other questions to help further your TMS beliefs/knowledge and get away from the physical explanations!
     
  4. LRrunner23

    LRrunner23 Newcomer

    @healingfromchronicpain Thanks for taking the time to read and reply. I've ordered Steve Ozanich's book and started reading, I really enjoy it so far. I also read your story and found it very encouraging, I hope that you too are able to fully let go of whatever is keeping your TMS around. It's funny now that less than a week after posting and reading your reply I am sitting here typing this with only minor muscle tightness and little to no sciatic pain, sometimes it really just helps to talk to someone else who "gets it"! I'm looking forward to reading about how Steve and others have overcome the fear and gone back to full activity, I miss the old TMS free days but now I can say with a little more confidence I will get back there again!

    @MindBodyPT Thank you as well for your reply. I laughed at the "grey hairs of the spine", so very true! I think it's spot on, at best a minor injury fueled by fear and worry into something larger. If it was something "serious" I wouldn't have had so much variance in symptom location and severity! After reading your replies I've gotten a slight better handle on my TMS, I've even managed to eliminate a new symptom! It's also getting easier to simply ignore what remains, I know that a tension headache isn't going to kill me, just some stress that will go away eventually. It's very interesting how the mind works in ways that we just don't fully understand yet, how we can just be aware of TMS (and fully believe it to be the cause) and be able to disarm the symptom entirely. It also helps talking to other people who have been through the same thing and don't immediately say "you should think about cortisone".
     

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