My Healing Journey

I first learned about neuroplastic pain by sheer serendipity. After having suffered from midback pain for nearly three years, I came across Dr. Sarno’s book, “Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection”, while browsing the front bookshelves in my local library. On the front cover, the book made bold claims such that back pain could be cured without surgery, medications, or exercises. Although I was suspicious, I was equally curious, so I checked the book out and began to read.

My back pain started while I was in nursing school and working as a CNA (certified nursing assistant). While I was transferring a patient I felt a sharp pain in my back. Although I had experienced back pain at work before, usually the pain would go away within minutes or rarely by the next day. 

This pain was different.

By the next morning, even picking a sock up off of the ground caused excruciating pain in my back. Due to the severity of the pain, I ended up quitting my job and went to a chiropractor for treatment. 

At first, the treatment seemed to work and I was nearly pain-free for a few months but the pain returned. Over the next few years, the pain would go away for a while but then come back.  I always came up with a physical reason for why it was aggravated (I lifted too much at work, I lifted my niece over a holiday, I sat too long). 

After about a year and a half since the original injury the pain came up this time accompanied by tingling in my legs and feet. These new symptoms were alarmed me…espicially after a few google searches served to increase my anxiety. 

I decided to go to a new chiropractor who specialized in chronic back pain. He sent me for an MRI that confirmed sneaking suspicions that I had over the years. I had two bulging discs in my thoracic spine. 

Although the imaging confirmed my worries, my chiropractor was optimistic and claimed that I could be fully healed. With this new optimism, I was dedicated to this new therapy. I followed every recommendation to the T including icing my back every hour, wearing a muscle stimulator, doing a myriad of exercises and stretches, and coming to see him three times a week. 

This continued for a year until I became frustrated by how much effort I was putting in and the lack of progress. Not only would my pain come back with a vengeance after brief periods of relief, but I was starting to have other pains come up when the chiropractor mentioned that other areas seemed tight, alluding to other potential problems. 

It was at this point that I found Dr. Sarno’s book.

As I began to read the book, I realized how much my situation resembled other people who had been successfully cured by Dr. Sarno. In his book, he spoke of how neuroplastic pain (he used the term “TMS”) can be caused by repressed anger and is often associated with people who are high achieving and hypervigilant.

Since his book is mostly focused on back pain, he also went through the common abnormalities of the spine that pain is often attributed to (including bulging discs) and how the majority of them are actually “normal abnormalities” of the spine associated with aging that should not cause pain. 

Although, as a physician, he made a good case for his claims, I was still skeptical. I wondered, especially with a medical background myself, how this could be true when the prevailing message is that spinal stenosis, bulging discs, and disc herniations are responsible for pain. 

After some research online I found another book, “The Way Out” by Alan Gordon, that offered more evidence for the mind-body approach. Alan’s book showed current research, including a recent clinical trial proving the effectiveness of a mind-body approach to treating pain. 

I realized that my pain did come on during a time of stress, my pain was worse at certain times of the day, and it improved during times of less stress—all of which are signs of neuroplastic pain. The personality traits associated with neuroplastic pain—conscientiousness, people-pleasing, and hypervigilance—were also a match. 

With new confidence in the mind-body method, I decided I would give it a try. After all, what did I have to lose? Thanks to a combination of journaling, meditation, yoga, psychoeducation, and working with a coach, I am now nearly pain-free and have been for the longest duration since my original injury.

During the process, I also learned that the migraines I had been having my whole life and repetitive stress injuries I attributed to running could also be treated the same way. All of these pains are virtually nonexistent now. When I do get pain, I now know what to do about it, and it never lasts long. 

Not only is my pain gone, but I have noticed other side benefits since beginning this journey. I’ve learned how to better deal with and prevent stress, be present, and find more enjoyment in my life.

After my recovery, I decided that I wanted to help others overcome their chronic pain. Through the Pain Psychology Center, I completed a certification in pain reprocessing therapy and offer coaching rooted in the principles taught in “The Way Out”. 

If you have chronic pain and would like to learn more I would highly recommend checking out the books mentioned or to schedule a free consultation by clicking on the link below.

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