Dr. Sarno and spinal stenosis patients often have a love/hate relationship, since many readers misinterpret his writings, while others have found true and lasting cures using his valuable teachings. Dr. Sarno is no longer in medical practice, but his legacy continues to help many people overcome the ravages of chronic pain using the power they already possess in their minds. Although controversial, Dr. Sarno’s TMS theory of pain has gained considerable support in the mainstream medical community, although it is clear that many of his philosophies are limited in scope and not fully formed.
Dr. John E. Sarno is a true pioneer in modern medicine and has suffered much criticism due to this fact. People who forge new paths often come under scrutiny and Sarno’s work has certainly received its share of positive and negative press. However, there is no denying the power his writings possess in ending pain for so many people with an exhaustive range of diagnoses, including spinal stenosis.
This fascinating topic is close to our hearts at The Cure Back Pain Network, since Dr. Sarno embraces the mindbody medicine approach that we seek to promote as an alternative to drug and surgery-based care protocols. Sarno remains a hero to millions and a villain to a select few; particularly those who view his work as a direct threat to their financial future practicing traditional medicine.
Dr. Sarno and Spinal Stenosis Relationship
Spinal stenosis is a normal part of getting older. Virtually everyone who reaches middle age will begin to demonstrate central and foraminal stenosis, especially in the mid to lower cervical and lower lumbar regions. After all, stenosis results from the completely normal and anticipated aging processes that affect every human on the planet. Some medical doctors have vilified spinal stenosis to the point where it is no longer considered normal. Instead, it is often blamed for causing pain when the degree of stenosis is certainly not of the symptomatic variety. Dr. Sarno is known for his outspoken voice of reason that educates patients to the simple fact that many structural diagnoses are baseless and incorrect. He further explains that this misdiagnosis is the primary reason why they can not ever find lasting relief from their pain.
We see the complete validity of this teaching, since so many structural spinal issues are misdiagnosed as the causative origin of pain. We witness this clinically on a daily basis. However, Sarno then groups virtually everyone into an umbrella heading of people who are therefore suffering from TMS, which is obviously not the case. This has been Sarno’s undoing in many circles. Objective critics see his life’s work as an oversimplification of a more widespread problem. We tend to disagree with Sarno’s view in some instances, since many people with chronic pain do not have a psychogenic origin explaining their symptoms. However, unlike his major critics, we also tend to agree with Sarno more than not in his belief that a large percentage of people with chronic pain do have a definitive mindbody source of this suffering. We go one step further to say that everyone who has chronic pain or illness demonstrates a mindbody component to their symptoms. Doctors generally call this “psychological overlay”, but it permeates way deeper than this terrible oversimplification.
Dr. Sarno and Spinal Stenosis Teachings
Dr. John E. Sarno postulates that people who have spinal stenosis that is not definitively causing some variety of neurological dysfunction, and are not suffering from some other obvious structural issue that may be responsible for their pain, are likely to be suffering from tension myositis syndrome. He reports that the diagnosis of spinal stenosis (or any structural condition) can actually feed the mindbody pain syndrome by giving it anatomical credibility.
Sarno speculates that TMS is basically a universal human phenomenon, relating to the way we are raised and develop in society. We can not argue with any of these teachings, but find them a bit limiting in some patient profiles. Much of the problem comes from the extremely limiting diagnostic label of TMS itself, but this is a completely different topic that we discuss elsewhere on our websites in many different articles.
In essence, Sarno teaches that although stenosis might be present, along with other structural imperfections in the spine, such as disc degeneration, intervertebral herniation, atypical curvatures and vertebral misalignments, these atypical findings are not always (and in fact are seldom) the cause of pain. Sarno steps into taboo territory by also suggesting that a major reason why misdiagnosis occurs daily in the back pain arena is not due to care provider ignorance, but instead simply to further the financial aspirations of doctors. We can not argue with this theory at all, since virtually all doctors recognize the fruitless efforts of stemming the growth of chronic pain through traditional methods of care. However, few physicians will think or act outside of the box, since working “within the system” is simply too profitable to pass up, even though it leaves a disturbing hollowness in the soul. It is for this very reason that we have been propagating the truth of the failures of modern medicine, as well as its triumphs, over the past decade.
Dr. Sarno and Spinal Stenosis Observations
To summarize a very complex topic, Dr. Sarno teaches that most cases of stenosis are not pathological, nor are they the reason for the pain that is blamed on them. Instead, he speculates that the origin of the pain comes from within the person’s own mind and that the symptoms serve as a defense mechanism against particular subconscious stresses and sensitivities. This is the heart of the TMS diagnosis. Herein lies the real problem with Sarno’s teachings: He is following in a misguided path by labeling people with a diagnosis that also causes nocebo effect and might not even be accurate in many of his patients. In our opinion, the very worse thing he ever did was to name TMS and then apply this diagnosis to his patients. It has been a great injustice to many, although in general, Sarno’s work is nothing short of brilliant and game-changing.
Furthermore, his approach is so one-sided that it has actually alienated many people who are obviously suffering from what Sarno calls TMS, yet his voice simply does not “speak to them” and actually pushes them farther away from the truth. This is a problem that we have tried to address here on The Cure Back Pain Network with our approach to mindbody medicine. We are still refining our philosophy and learning from the mistakes of the past, many of which have been made by Dr. Sarno.
Despite our critique, Dr. Sarno is one-of-a-kind and deserves a place in medical history with the greats. His work is no less important than any other pioneer and hopefully will eventually be elevated to the position of worth it justly deserves. If the man himself was just a little less divisive, then his teachings could help many more people than they already have. If you are seeking a solution for pain that has been blamed on spinal stenosis, but has not responded to treatment, we can not help but recommend Dr. Sarno’s literary works as the next logical step in your care plan.
Note: Dr. John E. Sarno left this world, one day short of his 94th birthday, on June 22nd, 2017. The void left by his absence will never be filled…