Reading and Writing to Heal Pain
Self exploration heals chronic pain caused by Tension Myositis Syndrome
Chicago resident Anna Chapman had suffered from a mysterious pain for ten years. It started in her jaw and spread to her head, neck, and shoulders. Over time, the pain shot down her legs. She visited dozens of doctors and specialists, endured a number of tests and was misdiagnosed a handful of times. Just as Chapman thought she exhausted all other means of treatment, something clicked and she remembered hearing about TMS, Tension Myositis Syndrome, also known as mind-body syndrome. It was an epiphany that ultimately put Chapman back in control of her health and changed her life.
“The pain was awful. It forced me to give up on so many of the things I loved like gardening and playing tennis. Plus, on top of all the pain, the act of going to multiple doctors just to hear they don’t know what’s wrong with me was exhausting. It really took a toll on my life,” said Chapman.
Chapman found John Stracks, MD, a family and integrative medicine physician with Northwestern Memorial Physicians Group who specializes in TMS. Stracks diagnosed Chapman with TMS affecting the muscles, ligaments, and nerves of the back and neck. The pain experienced with TMS is triggered by tension and, in most cases, can be eliminated by a mental process that involves focusing on the emotional, rather than the physical. Research increasingly supports the link between emotional and physical conditions, and scientists are now revealing how emotional signals can translate into physical pain. Back pain, neck pain, arthritis, migraine headaches, skin rashes, fibromyalgia, and many other conditions are caused or worsened by emotions such as tension, anger, fear, and grief.
Stracks has studied this mind-body connection for more than a decade and has trained with renowned physician Dr. John Sarno, who first conceptualized the TMS diagnosis. Stracks is currently the only doctor in Chicago who practices this style of mind-body medicine.
“The underlying cause of the pain is the mind’s defense mechanism against unconscious stress and emotions such as anger, anxiety, fear, or guilt. The mind then gets distracted by the physical pain, but when a patient recognizes that the symptoms are only a distraction, the symptoms then serve no purpose, and they go away,” said Stracks, who teaches a TMS healing class at Northwestern Memorial’s Center for Integrative Medicine and Wellness.
During the first evaluation, Stracks explores a patients’ medical history, paying particular attention to episodes of severe pain and stressful events or emotions that may have accompanied those episodes. If patients like Chapman don’t present any serious physical issues, the four-week course is often recommended.
“The treatment is educational and psychological, and effective in approximately 80 percent of patients that take the course. If someone is experiencing lingering pain with no explanation or obvious injury, the cause may be emotional,” added Stracks.
The course begins with an introductory lecture that provides up-to-date information on the research supporting mind-body medicine. Subsequent lessons are spent completing writing and reading exercises which help patients learn how to use their knowledge to lessen and eventually eliminate the chronic pain symptoms.
“The treatment changed my way of life. I now have an explanation for the pain and understand its being caused by my emotions. This course provided me with the proper tools to make the hurting go away,” said Chapman.
While the TMS diagnosis and treatment protocol have yet to be widely accepted by the medical community, Stracks states that the numerous clinical success stories and the growing body of research in this area are compelling. There are currently only about four dozen doctors who practice this method in the United States. Stracks is part of this small group of practitioners from around the country who have been successful in teaching patients how to use the knowledge of the mind-body connection to make chronic pain symptoms diminish or even disappear.
For those interested in an evaluation with Stracks, please call 312-926-DOCS (3627). Interested patients should ask to schedule a 60-minute mind-body pain evaluation.