At some point throughout their lives, 80% of Americans will struggle with back pain. This amount has increased by almost 10% since 1992 and is expected to continue to grow. In addition, severe back pain is the 2nd most common reason for a hospital visit in the US.
Currently, it is accepted in common medicine that a large amount of these cases are caused by structural abnormalities in the back, which include bulges, herniations, and tears in the muscle. However, one medical doctor, Dr. John E. Sarno, has devoted his career to proving that these increasing cases of back pain are caused almost entirely by psychological factors within the control of the patient.
To support his claim, Sarno sites a study of people with no history of back pain that found only 36% of them had normal discs in their back with the rest having some form of structural abnormalities. In addition, he found early on in his practice that all of the conventional methods he suggested to help his patients get better provided only temporary relief.
Instead, Sarno believes that chronic pain is caused by the various stresses in people’s lives, ranging from subconscious childhood traumas to current stress at work or school. As a result, the brain creates physical pain to distract from the stress and focus attention on the pain. Sarno has been treating patients according to this belief for over 30 years.
Sarno treats his patients’ physical pain simply by talking to them, and in 20% of cases, he recommends psychotherapy for his patients. He informs his patients of what is happening with them, the psychological cause of their pain, and how they can reduce their stress to reduce their pain. Although this approach seems crude and completely counterintuitive to the modern medical community, Sarno boasts a success rate of between 90-95%.
Dr. Sarno’s discovery relates to the IMT concepts of control and proactivity. By increasing their knowledge about their situation, Sarno allows his patients to no longer feel like victims of their pain and realize that they are in control of it. By doing so, the patients take a proactive approach to reducing their pain rather than feeling like it is something out of their control that just happens to them and reacting by taking various drugs.