Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Mindbody Syndrome (Tension Myositis Syndrome)

While I have been interested in mind-body issues for many years, and have read widely in the field (such as it is), the immediate trigger for starting this blog has been my close encounter with a condition known as TMS. Originally TMS stood for tension myositis syndrome; there is a movement afoot to rename it The Mindbody Syndrome, which is more immediately understandable, and manages to salvage the acronym.

TMS is the name for the condition in which your mind converts deep emotional content into physical symptoms. The symptoms--and the pain and discomfort attendent with them-- are very real. Emotions can and do have a real, physical impact on the body.

And TMS makes far more sense than the explanations most American doctors offer for the sort of chronic back pain that is one hallmark of the condition. My MRI, for instance, revealed arthritis of the facet joints of the spine. This was therefore posited as the source of my pain.

The fact that arthritis of the facet joints is a degenerative condition associated with aging, and rather common, and not in fact the cause of any pain in most people who have it, didn't seem to matter. Neither did the fact that the pain I was experiencing managed to be in my hip a lot of the time, although it also tended to jump around from day to day, even moment to moment. All they could quantify was the arthritis. That was their story and they were sticking to it.

It would be one thing if medical people here could more readily acknowledge what they don't know. Instead, all too many of us are treated to arrogant--and ignorant--presumption. The first day I was in physical therapy, I made a tentative general statement about how I have had the idea that my back pain was part of something larger, how it was connected to what's been going on in my life for a long time. The physical therapist looked me in the eye and said, with the patronizing tone of a parent talking to a child: "Jeremy. This is a mechanical problem. We will fix it mechanically."

Is it really so outlandish for me to have suggested that my body could be influenced by strong emotional content in my life? Is the suggestion that the mind can influence and control the body in such a way as to cause physical symptoms really that far-fetched?

Haven't these folks ever seen anyone blush? Haven't any of them ever felt butterflies in their stomachs?

As for TMS, whole books have been written on the subject, starting with the pioneering work of Dr. John Sarno. Dr. Howard Schubiner--one of a handful of other MDs who supports this diagnosis and understands TMS--offers this concise description of what TMS is about:

"Your body is producing pain because it's manifesting unresolved stress, possibly from your childhood, or from stressful events in your adulthood, or from your present circumstances, and as a result of your personality traits (which affects how you respond to stress and how much pressure you tend to put upon yourself)."

At a certain level, it's that simple. But of course there's a lot going on within that description. I suggest watching Schubiner's instructive video on YouTube about TMS for more information.

And I promise not to turn this blog into a boring, ridiculous account of my own condition. But to the extent that my struggles with TMS highlights interesting aspects of the incontrovertible reality of the mind-body connection--and the way that informed doctors can actually work with it rather than ridicule the very idea--I will return to the subject as the story unfolds.

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