MIND-BODY APPROACHES

Note: This content is not intended as and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. (See full Disclaimer.)

Reading About Mindbody

My Personal Experience:

The Mindbody Prescription by Dr. John Sarno


I ruptured a disc in my neck in 2005 and had surgery a month later. Yet I continued to experience unbearable pain for nine straight months. After I tried everything my surgeons suggested (pills, shots, and traditional physical therapy), and my debilitating pain remained, I read the book The Mindbody Prescription by Dr. John Sarno. It addresses how the mind can influence physical pain in the body.


I knew my pain wasn't “all in my head” but I was desperate. If the non-invasive and inexpensive approach of reading a book might help, I was ready to try. I admit I was skeptical at first. As a health scientist, and someone living with real physical pain, I wondered if just reading about the mind-body connection could really help me. But when I read the book, for the first time in nine months I felt some of my pain lift without the use of drugs or shots. At that point, I didn't care how or what was happening, I was simply ecstatic that I was feeling slightly less pain. 


I was able to walk for ten minutes; I was able to take my kids to the local pool and sit at the edge of the pool and hold my head up! The intense pressure pain at my neck and upper back had eased up a bit. Instead of ten- to fifteen-minute increments of vertical time, I could withstand thirty minutes!


Unfortunately, the relief only lasted a couple of days. But if reading a book about how emotions can affect physical pain could provide me with some relief (there were no other confounding factors that I could identify—except the placebo effect), I was slowly becoming a believer. And even if it was the placebo effect, I was thrilled it helped to reduce my pain. But when the relief only lasted a couple of days, I put Sarno's mind-body theory aside, conceding that it did not “cure” me. Yet I acknowledged that there seemed to be something to this mind-body thing.


Healing Ancient Wounds by John F. Barnes


After reading Sarno’s book and spending many more months trying trigger point injections, Lidocaine patches, seizure medication, traditional physical therapy, and heat patches, a friend who had endured two years of chronic back pain suggested I read John F. Barnes' book (Healing Ancient Wounds) and look into John F. Barnes' myofascial release (JFB-MFR) method of physical therapy.  


I read Barnes' book, which discusses the physical nature of how our minds affect our bodies and how releasing the tension in tight and restricted fascial tissue in the body can help ease pain. He talked about how past events (both micro- and macro-traumas) are stored in the body and can cause physical pain. His book made sense so I ultimately sought out JFB-MFR treatment and finally began my true healing.


Initially when I read Sarno’s book and dismissed his mind-body theory as not being the “cure” for me, I probably wasn't ready to face the emotions I'd hidden for a very long time. But after I started receiving JFB-MFR treatments, I was finally ready.


Sarno explains that simply acknowledging emotions can eliminate physical pain for some people, but others of us require digging deeper (through psychotherapy). Sarno also says that you need to understand that your pain is not an irreversible physical problem, and when you realize that, you can slowly become physical and active again. He says that if you do physical therapy or focus on the physical problem, you are distracting yourself from the underlying psychological causes that perpetuate pain and prevent healing. 


However, I found that through JFB-MFR physical therapy, I experienced direct pain relief by expanding my understanding of the mind-body connection (see My Journey and JFB-MFR treatment for more details). Although Sarno says you have to eliminate or stop any physical therapy and denounce any physical explanation of your pain, JFB-MFR physical therapy isn't like traditional physical therapy. It addresses the mind and body, and thus is consistent with Sarno's approach (as long as a patient doesn't focus on the trigger points as an irreversible physical abnormality, but instead as tissue that can be physically affected by processes in the mind).


In sum:
I continue to be inspired by books that espouse the importance of the mind-body connection (see Mind-body explanation of chronic pain under the Resources tab). At times when my pain flares up, I have been able to calm it down by reading these books (e.g., The Great Pain Deception by Steve Ozanich).

Rating: (+++)

BOTTOM LINE:  Very helpful.


My Ratings Key:

-----------------------------

(+++) Most effective

(++) Effective

(+) Somewhat effective 

(-) Not effective or hardly effective 

(--) Not effective or partial negative impact 

(---) Not effective and negative impact 

(+/-) Unsure or some positive and some negative impact 

(?) Don't know because I haven't tried at all or enough

------------------------------


Note: Described here is one of the many approaches I've tried or considered trying for healing my chronic myofascial pain.


This content is not intended as and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. (See full Disclaimer.)

John F. Barnes Myofascial Release (JFB-MFR)

My Personal Experience:

John F. Barnes myofascial release (JFB-MFR) is a whole-body approach to MFR physical therapy (PT). Note that many JFB-MFR trained therapists are licensed physical therapists, but there are also highly skilled therapists trained in JFB-MFR who are licensed massage therapists. In my experience, medical insurance only covers this treatment when performed by licensed physical therapists (and even then sometimes with a fight for coverage).


Through this bodywork, therapists use their hands to apply light pressure to your muscles to help you release restricted fascial tissue in your body. This method also can help release subconscious, habitual bracing patterns and muscle tension that are influenced by emotions. More details are available at www.myofascialrelease.com and in John F. Barnes’ book Healing Ancient Wounds.


In 2007, two years after I initially ruptured the disc in my neck and had already tried several traditional treatments for my chronic pain, I began this treatment. At first, my JFB-MFR therapist worked on structurally releasing the tight tissue throughout my body (concentrating around my neck and upper back, but also working my entire body). After about four months of twice-a-week treatments, I had dramatic improvement in my range of motion and modest reduction in my pain. However, I'd hit a plateau.


Next I attended a JFB-MFR two-week intensive consisting of three treatments each day, delivered by multiple therapists. During that intensive, as therapists repeatedly applied pressure to the restricted fascial tissue surrounding my muscles, I could feel my body become dramatically more fluid and mobile. Through this bodywork, I also began to understand how my subconscious bracing patterns and beliefs were helping perpetuate tension in my body's fascia and muscles. 


Thoughts and beliefs that were once buried in my subconscious rose to my consciousness. As the collagenous material in my stuck fascia was breaking down under the light pressure of the therapist's hands, memories and thoughts would come to my mind. I began to feel first hand that many of these bracing patterns were based on past trauma and subconscious beliefs


Yes, believe me, it all seemed pretty wacky at the time. But when memories and related negative thoughts surfaced, and my pain began to truly lift—and remain that way—I finally realized the true power of my subconscious mind and its ability to affect my physical well being.


After my first JFB-MFR intensive, my pain fell dramatically. I went from wanting to be dead to having hope. That was when my life turned around. Risking hyperbole, it saved my life.


I was shocked to learn that the body is directly affected by the mind. I certainly wished there were a simple pill, crutch, or brace to heal me, but I finally had to face the reality that there was more going on inside me than I ever knew.


Even though I'd made such great progress after my JFB-MFR intensive, I still had layers of pain to shed, so I've continued receiving this treatment over the years. Since I started JFB-MFR in 2007 (and through 2016), I have been to 281 sessions (but who’s counting?). I've gone twice a week for months. I've attended three different two-week intensives of three sessions per day. I've gone once a month for months. I've also taken time off between treatments, ranging from months to over a year off, while sometimes trying other things.


JFB-MFR continues to help me process my trauma-linked physical pain and it curbs my pain when it flares up. It still is very helpful in allowing my body to process past and current trauma. In fact, I went for treatment a few days after a trip to the emergency room in 2016 for a kidney stone. My body was holding tension from that trauma and affecting my myofascial pain levels. The JFB-MFR helped me release much of that tension and reduce my spiked-up myofascial pain.

Rating: (+++)

BOTTOM LINE: Very effective.


My Ratings Key:

-----------------------------

(+++) Most effective

(++) Effective

(+) Somewhat effective 

(-) Not effective or hardly effective 

(--) Not effective or partial negative impact 

(---) Not effective and negative impact 

(+/-) Unsure or some positive and some negative impact 

(?) Don't know because I haven't tried at all or enough

------------------------------


Note: Described here is one of the many approaches I've tried or considered trying for healing my chronic myofascial pain.


This content is not intended as and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. (See full Disclaimer.)

Somatic Experiencing

My Personal Experience:

Somatic Experiencing (SE™) was developed by Peter Levine and I highly recommend his book:


The book was invaluable in helping me understand my body's physical reaction to past trauma. Levine explains that after trauma our bodies sometimes hold in energy and tension, causing physical pain. Our bodies need to release that energy, similar to how an animal shivers after a close encounter with a predator. Without dissipating the energy and tension, we can get locked in chronic pain. Other books I’ve read of his have also been very helpful, for example:


In November 2015, I started seeing a therapist who offers SE™ therapy as well as eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR). These two methods so far have helped expose some of my deeply hidden emotions and both methods (independently) have miraculously brought down spikes in my pain on a couple of occasions.


I don’t know if these therapies would have resolved my physical pain had I continued, but I had to stop seeing that therapist after ten months because my husband got a new job and we moved to another state. I felt we addressed important issues and I was able to understand some of my body’s automatic reactions better, but full resolution of my symptoms didn’t happen after ten months of therapy. I may try to continue this therapy, but it will take time to get a new therapist up to speed to where I was with the first therapist. 


Through this therapy, I discovered that deeply learned reactions to overwhelming circumstances from the past are still driving my body’s physical reactions today. For example, a symptom that started in 2011, six years after my chronic pain started, is losing cognitive function while driving. 


Sometimes when my neck pain is high, I’m unfamiliar with the roads, and I have to drive for more than ten or twenty minutes, my brain starts to shut down. My mind feels confused and my head starts to feel numb. Tension in my neck is high and I begin to lose the ability to comprehend the rules of the road and how to operate the vehicle I’m driving. I’ve had to stop the car and pull over on the side of the road. When that has happened, closing my eyes and taking a short nap has helped.


Through the EMDR and SE™ therapies, I began to understand that when my body feels overwhelmed (like in the driving scenario above), my learned response is to shut down. It seems similar to how my body continues the cycle of chronic pain. My body presents pain in response to some overwhelming sense of danger from past trauma. I try to use this knowledge to avert the cognitive deficit feeling I get when driving, or the pain I feel on a daily basis; however, it’s often too late once I realize it while driving, or it hasn't penetrated my ongoing daily pain (yet).


I tell myself I’m safe and I can handle whatever overwhelming feelings my body is experiencing. When I'm driving, this helps me make it home safely. I also try to use this knowledge to combat my daily physical pain, but it hasn’t eliminated my pain. I do believe, however, that understanding the roots of my pain and physical reactions to trauma are what have brought my pain down significantly since I first developed chronic pain. In addition to Levine's books listed above, 


are extremely informative (also listed under Trauma and Pain Resources in the Resources page).

Rating: (++/?)

BOTTOM LINE: Reduced spikes in my physical pain. 


My Ratings Key:

-----------------------------

(+++) Most effective

(++) Effective

(+) Somewhat effective 

(-) Not effective or hardly effective 

(--) Not effective or partial negative impact 

(---) Not effective and negative impact 

(+/-) Unsure or some positive and some negative impact 

(?) Don't know because I haven't tried at all or enough

------------------------------


Note: Described here is one of the many approaches I've tried or considered trying for healing my chronic myofascial pain.


This content is not intended as and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. (See full Disclaimer.)

Other Mind-Body Treatments

My Personal Experience:

In addition to John F. Barnes' Myofascial Release (JFB-MFR) therapy, Somatic Experiencing (SE™), and Dr. John Sarno's mind-body approach, two other mind-body modalities I have come across include:

This of course is by no means a comprehensive list, but what I’ve been introduced to through my years of chronic pain. (Note that I have listed Yoga under the "Exercise" heading within the Treatments page, but it is indeed mind-body treatment as well).


I have not tried dedicated sessions of cranio-sacral therapy (developed by John E. Upledger an osteopathic physician) or energy work such as Reiki (a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation). However, I have had this work done within some JFB-MFR sessions. Since I did not spend much time receiving these treatments, I cannot say if they alone would be effective for me. I do believe, however, that anything that helps move and release energy that is stuck in our bodies could be beneficial.


Many mind-body or alternative treatment methods, unlike “traditional” treatment methods (e.g., painkillers, shots), have been criticized for not having adequate research to back up their claims of effectiveness. However, whichever approach is undertaken, some chronic pain sufferers benefit, some do not.  I believe “non-traditional” methods are worthy of consideration as I have personally experienced pain reduction through mind-body based manual therapy (bodywork), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and SE™, and because they are far less invasive than many traditional approaches.  


Since many mind-body methods require paying for a trained professional, I also strongly advocate low- and no-cost self-healing approaches when possible (for example, exercise, rest, reading, writing, community, meditation/quiet time, self-treatment). But oftentimes we need the guidance and expertise of trained professionals to support us along our healing journeys. I certainly have. 

Rating: (?)

BOTTOM LINE: Likely very effective if one is ready to treat mind and body.


My Ratings Key:

-----------------------------

(+++) Most effective

(++) Effective

(+) Somewhat effective 

(-) Not effective or hardly effective 

(--) Not effective or partial negative impact 

(---) Not effective and negative impact 

(+/-) Unsure or some positive and some negative impact 

(?) Don't know because I haven't tried at all or enough

------------------------------


Note: Described here is one of the many approaches I've tried or considered trying for healing my chronic myofascial pain.


This content is not intended as and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. (See full Disclaimer.)