A few weeks ago, on a Saturday afternoon, as I was about to exit the apartment building I live in, I noticed the building’s porter, who happened to be filling in for the doorman on duty, in a great deal of physical discomfort. His left hand was behind him, pressing on his lower back, while his eyes and face were screaming with pain, though he said nothing. “What happen?” I asked. “My back, I don’t know” he replied, in his Venezuelan accent. Given his occupation, I assumingly asked, “did you lift something?” “Well, I threw the garbage, but I think it hurt before that” he said. I instinctively proceeded to mention something about “bending at the knees before lifting,” just as my brain finished processing all that he had just told me. I was starting to suspect a cause of his pain, so I asked a few more questions- “Did you wake up with this pain in the morning? Did you do something yesterday that could have caused this? Did it hurt before today?” The answers were “no,” “no,” and “I don’t think so.” His situation was starting to sound, and look like, those of so many of my other clients, who also experienced lower back pain, seemingly out of nowhere. I did not, at the cost of being late to my brunch, want this man’s pain to become chronic, like so many of the back pain sufferers that have sought me out, looking for help. Many clients came to me after suffering months, and even years, with lower back pain. “Are you worried about something? Are you feeling stressed?” I asked him. “Maybe” he said. The truth is, “maybe” could have meant a lot of things at the time. It could have meant he was embarrassed to say “yes”, it could have meant he really wasn’t sure (because he either hadn’t thought about it, or was knowledgeable enough to know that stress and anxiety can weigh on people subconsciously), or it could have meant “no, but I’m curious to hear what you’re going to say next!”
I probed the porter a bit further, just for good measure. Keep in mind that this guy had no idea I actually get paid by clients to help them “fix” their problems. In hindsight, I’m sure I pushed the limits of the tenant-porter relationship given the level of personal detail we ended up delving into, but it’s in my nature, and partly a natural instinct to want to help people. So, I wasn’t going to let unfamiliarity stop me from trying to help this man in pain. “Could it be something is on your mind, like your kids, your wife, somebody in your family is sick, finances?” “Maybe” he said. There was that “maybe” again. Realizing that I was running late by now and had to resolve this quickly, I said “if you’re not sure, it still could be from lifting the garbage, but a lot of people suffer from lower back pain that is caused by stress, anxiety, worry.” I said, “try to think if there’s anything that can be bothering you subconsciously.” He said, “ok, I think I might go to the hospital if it doesn’t get better by tomorrow.” “Well, you don’t want to be waiting in the emergency room for hours, and pay all that money if you don’t have to. By the way, you know there’s an uprising going on in Venezuela, protestors in the streets, things are bad. Are you worried about your family?” I asked. And that’s when I saw it in his eyes and his facial expression. His reaction to that question was a dead giveaway to me, but he was still unaware. The question clearly hadn’t registered with his conscious (based on the brief history lesson he started to give me on Venezuela), but his subconscious made his initial reaction to that question a big red flag to a trained eye.
As late as I was already, I didn’t have enough time to start explaining the mind-body connection to this pain stricken porter, who was probably already a bit confused by my eagerness to help, the inquisitive personal questions, and what already amounted to a fifteen minute, impromptu “meeting” like the ones I usually have with clients. So, I wrote down the name “Dr. John Sarno” on a piece of paper, told him to “Google it,” wished him well, and went on my way. Sure enough, when I saw him the following Monday, he informed me that he had indeed went to the emergency room on Sunday. “What did they say?” I asked, out of genuine curiosity. “They gave me some pain killers. The doctor said it may be stress.” This wasn’t an “I told you so” moment. Rather, I was truly surprised that the emergency room doctor mentioned stress as the primary cause of his lower back pain. Very often, doctors, not unlike some dentists who are seen for symptoms related to TMJ/TMD, will just prescribe pain killers, muscle relaxers, heat therapy, etc. Why? Because quite simply, they don’t have the time to start explaining the mind-body connection, don’t want to risk getting into an argument with a patient who is too proud, or ignorant, to acknowledge that they may have subconscious “issues” in their lives (that are a source of stress/anxiety), and they definitely don’t have time to start delving into the personal lives of their patients, to uncover the subconscious sources of stress and anxiety (the way I started to with my building’s porter). And really, who can blame them. But in this case, the emergency room doctor did the right thing. I don’t know the extent to which he and the porter actually discussed the porter’s harmful stress that was causing his lower back pain, but I am happy to report that after a few days on pain killers, and a phone call or two to his family back in Venezuela, less than a week or so after the initial lower back pains started, my building’s porter was once again, free of lower back pain. The experience cost him $250 for an emergency room co-pay, and he did waste half of his day-off in a hospital, but in return, he received peace of mind. Literally! Having the stress theory confirmed by an actual doctor, rather than just some tenant on his way to brunch, solidified the possibility of stress as a real cause of his lower back pain. Once he accepted and believed in the stress theory, he probably ran through all the possible sources of stress in his life that were conscious/known to him, at that point in time. Including the ones I had mentioned that initial Saturday afternoon. Only after the acceptance and a bit of thought about his source of stress, was he able to free himself of the pain. Not long after he recovered, he told me in passing, “you know, I think I was worried about what was going on in my country.” To which I replied, “just glad you’re feeling better!”
If you, or someone you know, are suffering from lower back pain, chronic or otherwise, consider the mind-body connection, as a possible source, or cause, of the pain. We all know there are a hundred and one ways to injure your back from a physical perspective. Doing anything from lifting heavy objects, to playing sports, or even sleeping in a bad position can cause back pain. But very few people know about, or understand, how a person’s conscious or subconscious mind can cause lower back pain. Dr. John Sarno (the doctor I told the porter to “Google”) was a pioneer in the field of physical medicine and rehabilitation. He was a doctor at N.Y.U. (New York University) for over 50 years, and was one of, if not thee, first doctors who began to question commonly held beliefs about back and musculo-skeletal pain syndromes. Over 40 years ago, Dr. John Sarno began to realize that some people with back pain had similar X-ray and CAT Scan findings as people who did not have back pain. He started to search for underlying causes that might better explain this discrepancy. Dr. Sarno also noticed that most 88% of his back pain patients had histories of having headaches (both migraine and tension), irritable bowel syndrome, other gastro-intestinal syndromes, bladder symptoms, and other so-called functional disorders (i.e. disorders for which medical doctors have little understanding). He eventually proved his theory that back pain could be caused by psychological processes such as anger, fear, guilt, resentment, worry, sadness, and in particular, stress and anxieties. Dr. Sarno went on to publish best-selling books including “Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection.” Thousands of people have claimed to have been cured by his books, and he has received glowing endorsements from celebrities such Anne Bancroft, Larry David, Howard Stern (who dedicated his autobiography to Dr. Sarno), and John Stossel. Dr. Sarno said most of his patients improved by simply learning and thinking about the psychosomatic connection to pain, and that others recovered by journaling regularly, and in some cases, doing psychotherapy. Dr. Sarno died at the age of 93, but thanks to his life’s work, the rest of us don’t need to spend money on hospital co-pays, or waste half of our day-off from work in the emergency room, to gain “peace of mind”. Dr. Sarno, and his pain free patients, offer the same “validation” that the emergency room doctor provided for the porter in my building. They provide the credibility, and proof, that the lower back pain you are suffering from, could be coming from stress and anxiety. Does the mind-body connection explain why so many people in the world have seemingly unexplainable back pain that just won’t go away? Possibly. Stress and anxiety are pervasive in all aspects of our lives. There are constant sources of anxiety all around us: our jobs, significant others, children, family members, sickness, bills to pay, debts over our heads, cars to fix, traffic to deal with, warring countries around the world (with and without nukes), physical and emotional injuries to recover from, and for some, even issues like global warming!
It’s hard to avoid stress and anxiety, and it’s almost impossible to completely eliminate them from our lives. That is one of the reasons so many people end up with psychosomatic illnesses, that in turn, cause real ailments, and real pain. Do you know anyone who suffers from TMJ/TMD (Temporomandibular joint /Temporomandibular disorder)? There are multiple causes, but one of the leading causes of TMJ/TMD is clenching and grinding one’s teeth. Why do people clench and grind their teeth? You guessed it- stress and anxiety! That is why many of my clients who initially seek out help with either their lower back pain, or TMJ/TMD, not only suffer from both problems, but often improve both conditions by simply treating one or the other. Realistically, as far as the stress and anxiety in our lives, the best we can do is learn to cope with it, learn how to deal with it, and ultimately, how to reduce it. In order to do any of the above, one must first be able to identify the stressors in their lives. Most of the time it’s quite easy. Have a big exam at school next week, or a big project due at work? Issues like that jump right out at us. But, as in the case with the porter, lots of things weigh on us subconsciously. Sometimes it’s a result of our brains trying to simultaneously block them out, and other times, it just doesn’t occur to us, that a particular issue, or situation, is actually a source of stress or anxiety. That’s when it may be appropriate to engage the help of either someone who knows what’s going on in your life really well (i.e. a spouse or partner), or a professional who can work with you to first figure out what your problem is, and then help you deal with it.
As far as coping, dealing, and reducing, I mentioned certain skills and techniques for dealing with stress and anxiety in a previous article, titled “Why Can’t I Find A Cure For My TMJ/TMD?” In that article, I highlight an effective, and simple to do, meditation technique (that only requires a minimum of 10 minutes) that I teach to my clients. I also provide a link to a free YouTube video that will teach the technique to anyone who wants to learn it. For those of you suffering from stress and anxiety, whether it be my technique or another, I strongly suggest you incorporate meditation into your daily life. You can read about the benefits online, or in the article above. If you think you may have a subconscious source of stress and anxiety weighing on you, and you would like help figuring it out, and dealing with it, you can contact me at Cargotts Consulting LLC by CLICKING HERE
Or, if you have problems in your life that you are fully conscious and aware of, but need help solving, please feel free to reach out to me as well. If I can (and I will let you know), I would love to help you. After all, it is in my nature!
Click below to learn more about Cargotts Consulting LLC’s Life Strategy Practice:
J.R. is a Life Strategist at Cargotts Consulting LLC. He helps clients, around the world, define their goals and problems, across all aspects of their life. By providing custom tailored, strategic solutions, clients go on to achieve their goals, and solve their problems, in a time efficient manner.
The Content contained in this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. The information contained in this article is deemed to be correct at the time it was written and was prepared for general guidance on matters of interest only and does not constitute professional medical advice. You should not act upon the information in this article without seeking specific professional medical advice. No representation nor warranty is given as to the accuracy (after the date it was written) or completeness of the information discussed in the article and Cargotts Consulting LLC does not accept liability nor responsibility for anyone basing a decision on the information contained in the article.