By Dr. Michael Roth
As a holistic chiropractor specializing in the mind-body connection, many of my patients come to me when they are in physical pain. What is the origin of their pain? Using the model of the Triad of Health, I find that some have a structural cause, some a chemical component, and a good portion of them have pain that originates from an emotional element.
Upon deeper inquiry, I often find that they are experiencing stress in one or more areas of their life. A patient can often run off a laundry list of the stresses they have in their lives: children, aging parents, work, finances, spouse or partner, etc. Sometimes the emotion surrounding one or more of those things is the cause of their pain. However, often the cause is the topic of this article: Tension Myositis Syndrome, otherwise known as TMS.
A medical professional, Dr. John E. Sarno, named TMS in the 1990’s. He suggested that the symptoms his patients were experiencing were a physical rather than emotional expression of anxiety. He found that people who were hardworking, conscientious, responsible, compulsive and perfectionistic were prone to TMS. That is, emotional factors were setting off a reaction in certain tissues in the body that resulted in pain and other neurologic symptoms.
Tension myositis syndrome is a valid medical diagnosis of pain. Let me break down TMS by definition: tension is a sense of conflict or stress; myositis means physiologic alteration of muscles; syndrome is a set of symptoms or a pattern.
What Sarno found, and what I have confirmed in my own practice, is that it is the unconscious, unrecognized emotions of anger, frustration and resentment that are the underlying cause of the pain from which many suffer.
Because we are not aware of those unconscious feelings and therefore cannot control them, and because those emotions are so threatening and frightening, the brain will automatically induce physical symptoms to prevent the dangerous feelings from becoming overt, and thus becoming conscious. Rage seems to be the principle player in the syndrome of TMS. The definition of rage is violent, explosive anger.
We repress anger that violates our image of ourselves. For example, if I have a strong need to seek approval from everyone in my environment and someone does something that angers me, I will automatically repress that anger because it destroys my image of myself as a “nice guy.” Repression is a consistent unconscious reaction that never fails. We get angry inside and do not allow it out.
Let’s use the analogy of a bank: Deposits of anger are made not only during childhood but also throughout a person’s life. Because there are no withdrawals from this account, the anger accumulates. Thus anger becomes rage; when it reaches a critical level and threatens to erupt into consciousness, the brain creates pain or some other physical symptom as a distraction, to prevent a violent emotional explosion.
Anger that is known to a person plays a role in the genesis of TMS when it is suppressed. It is not nearly as important as anger that is generated in the unconscious as a result of:
- Internal conflict
- Stresses and strains of daily life
- The residue of anger from infancy and childhood
TMS is a response to anger/rage generated in the unconscious (in which case you are not aware of it), or conscious anger suppressed. TMS is not a response to conscious anger felt or expressed. We are all programmed to react to inner tensions with physical symptoms. The better we know ourselves, the less feelings like rage will frighten us. Once we acknowledge it, the rage becomes less threatening, losing some of its sting.
In a traditional medical scenario, a patient who goes to his medical doctor for back pain and has an MRI that shows a bulging disc, may elect to have surgery to correct it. Perhaps there is a period of relief from the pain, yet it returns again in the back, or maybe as tingling, numbness or pain in the shoulder, arm, hip, or leg: again, another surgery, and again, another return of pain. Rather than chasing the pain as it manifests in different parts of the body, I use mind-body protocols to get to the root of the unconscious origin of the pain.
This is not psychotherapy. This is a way to safely bring unconscious emotions to the surface where they can be acknowledged and to sever the connection between the unconscious emotion and the physical pain.
If you or someone you know is experiencing chronic pain, whether it is localized in one part of the body, like the back, or whether it moves around and shows up in different parts of the body, please schedule an appointment to meet with me and see if TMS is the culprit. Call Crystal in our Ventura office at 805-644-0461 today and get on the path to pain-free health and wellness!