Author Archives: Dr. Schubiner

MBS Blog #30–Long time, no hear: Recent events regarding MBS

It has been a very long time since I posted on this blog site.  I apologize to anyone who has been missing these posts.

A number of amazing things have happened so far this year in our corner of medical practice that I tend to refer to as Mind Body Syndrome.

One momentous event in my life was that my book, Unlearn Your Pain, was published.  After two years of work, I was thrilled to see the book in print.  You can read the first chapter on my website or on the amazon.com website, where it is available for purchase.  Since I published it myself, it will not be available in stores unless it gets picked up by a distributor.  To date, the reviews have been pretty positive.  I tried very hard to create a book that would explain the scientific validation of Mind Body Syndrome in terms that anyone could understand, but would also be convincing to the discerning physician or therapist.  This journey through the neurology and the psychology of pain make up the first 4 chapters.  The fifth chapter contains the complete version of the interview process that I have developed over the past several years.  I attempted to duplicate the experience of seeing me for an extended office visit.  I hope it will allow people who suffer from MBS to recognize the connections between their life events and the onset of MBS symptoms.  Chapters 6-10 consist of the whole intervention program that I’ve developed and that I teach in small group settings at Providence Hospital, in the Detroit area.  Finally, there is a concluding chapter and a set of frequently asked questions.

I would deeply appreciate feedback on any aspect of the book.  Please feel free to email me if you have comments, suggestions, or criticisms!! Continue reading

MBS Blog #29: Cause and effect: The controversy about vaso-constriction and persistent soft tissue injury in Mind Body Syndrome

One of the great books of the twentieth century is Victor Frankel’s, Man’s Search for Meaning.  In the book, he describes the need we have to understand why things happen.  When someone gets sick, one of the first questions asked is, “Why did this happen?”  One of the more frustrating aspects of being a physician is trying to answer this question for people with cancer and other serious physical diseases.  For most people, we are forced to say, “I don’t know.”  No one is ever happy with this answer.

Fortunately for Mind Body Syndrome, we do know what is causing the symptoms: stress and emotional reactions that were typically primed in childhood and emerge later in life in response to new stressors which are linked to the earlier emotions (“emotional speed dial”), which is coupled with limited awareness or suppression of emotions and body reactions which alert us to a perceived danger.  I am currently finishing a book, entitled Unlearn Your Pain, which attempts to detail these processes from a psychological and neurological perspective.  It is axiomatic that the greater awareness and understanding of the cause of Mind Body Syndrome, the better we will be able to resolve the underlying emotional conflicts and eliminate the resulting physical or psychological symptoms. Continue reading

Blog #28: Report on a Mind Body Syndrome retreat at Kripalu Institute

About a year ago, the New York Times ran an article about the Kripalu yoga and health retreat center in Lenox, MA. The article’s theme was that Kripalu took chances and tried new ideas for health and healing. Those of us who are working with people with Mind Body Syndrome (MBS, or Tension Myositis Syndrome, as named by Dr. Sarno) are continually trying to find better ways to help our patients. I developed a comprehensive and structured 4-week program designed to uncover and address hidden emotional reactions that are linked to a variety of chronic painful and associated psycho-physiological symptoms. Maybe there would be some benefit from an intensive retreat format for getting people started on this work or to help them get unstuck in their progress.

I submitted a proposal to Kripalu, thinking that it would be a long shot. To my knowledge, no one has ever conducted such a seminar based upon the particular model initially proposed by Dr. Sarno. I didn’t hear from Kripalu for several months. One day, I mentioned the proposal to a close friend. Serendipitously, his sister, Annie Price, had just started working there and he called her to see if my proposal was being reviewed. She pulled it out of the pile and within a few weeks, I got an email asking if I could arrange to spend a week at Kripalu leading this retreat. Continue reading

MBS Blog #27: Joe’s story: A journey towards wisdom

Everyone has a unique story to tell and often the paths that lead to healing are also quite different.  I received the following email the other day, and I was very touched by the authenticity and depth of what Joe had to say. He describes a journey that he has taken and continues to take.  This journey is slow, but steady and it has lead him towards a self-acceptance that is a powerful step towards health, both in mind and in body.  Everyone with MBS should read his story as it will inspire many to persevere despite continued pain.  Through having MBS and by dealing with it over time, Joe has learned to see his pain as a teacher; something that teaches him all he needs to know in this life and all he needs to understand. 

Here’s his story as told in an email to me:

“As far as my pain goes, I cannot report any miraculous change in symptoms; however, I continue to experience a very subtle phenomenon that I have dubbed an “erosion of tension.” Like the tide coming in and out, eroding the beach, it seems like my tight muscles are very, very slowly beginning to loosen. Then they contract again (or feel contracted), but when each time this happens (each time being like one back and forth of the tide), the tension in the muscles seems just the slightest bit less than before – so slight a difference, however, as to seem non-existent for the first few months that this was happening. Now, it has been long enough and steady enough that I believe it is happening, but doubt still lingers because of how subtle it all seems. Nonetheless, I am convinced of the MBS diagnosis. I do think that I am a particularly tough case, though. When I read about people who are totally healed by reading Dr. Sarno’s book one time through, I can get very envious, and also, sometimes, filled with doubt about whether I have MBS at all. But I am beginning to settle into the knowledge that I do. Continue reading

MBS Blog #26–Update on social contagion and Mind Body syndrome

More on the “contagiousness” of Mind Body syndrome:

Over the past couple of years, a new line of research has been developed which documents that certain disorders are socially contagious.  Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler have published articles in the New England Journal of Medicine and in the British Medical Journal documenting that smoking, obesity and happiness all share the ability to be affected by those around us.  The more people you know who are smokers, the more likely it is that you will be a smoker.  The same is true for having contacts who are overweight.  And if you have more friends and relatives who are happy, you are more likely to be happy!  It seems obvious that these issues can be affected by being in close contact because these issues are generally thought to be caused by our values, our thoughts and our behaviors.  That is, we can choose whether we smoke, how much we eat and exercise, and how to respond to the stresses in our lives.

Reading these articles made me think once again about the contagiousness of mind body syndrome.  I wrote a blog about this last year (Blog #6, June 20, 2008), but we now have some data and a way to measure this construct that we call social contagion.  Can physical symptoms be contagious?  We know that the flu or the common cold are contagious, i.e. you can catch it by being in close contact with someone who has it due to being exposed to the virus which causes it.  We would never think that you can catch cancer or heart disease because these are diseases caused by something that goes wrong inside your body, not something you catch from someone else. Continue reading

MBS #25: Jacob’s story: The relationship between OCD and Mind Body syndrome

The relationship between OCD and MBS: Jacob’s story

 

I have learned so many things about the mind and the body over the past 5 years of working with patients with Mind Body syndrome.  One of the most interesting things is that disorders that we considered psychological, such as anxiety, depression, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) actually are similar to (dare I say identical to?) Mind Body syndrome.  In other words, these disorders are caused by patterns of neurological response to stress and emotional reactions to stressful situations.  This leads to two conclusions: 1) that psychological disorders such as these occur as part of MBS and typically are exchanged (substituted) with pain and other typical MBS symptoms and 2) we can treat these disorders effectively using the same methods as we use for MBS. 

 

Read the story of Jacob, who had OCD, which morphed into chronic pain.  He learned that he had to deal with the OCD and the pain, but that they were connected by being components of Mind Body syndrome.

 

“About 10 years ago I had back pain for 2-3 years and read Dr Sarno’s book and also had a MRI which showed no problems and my back pain went away.  A couple years ago when having my second child I started getting high anxiety and really bad obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) about things like locking doors, chemicals around house and just about anything else.  Then about a year ago, I had surgery, and the pain after surgery started going away but lingered and then after taking numerous tests and seeing specialists and searching the internet about why the pain was not going away it started getting worse and worse.  Soon I was taking Vicodin for pain and searching for any cure I could find.  I even tried a pain clinic and had a nerve block which did not work and even made my back hurt for a few weeks (the doctor warned me that it was a possible side effect).  I was getting pretty desperate and depressed.  The pain was nearly unbearable.  I was taking sleeping pills at night to sleep and pain killers during the day. 

  Continue reading

MBS Blog #24: The “disease” of TMS/MBS: Lori’s story

 

The “disease” of TMS/MBS: Lori’s story

 

The last two blogs have dealt with the issue of fear and how fear can often derail the recovery process from TMS/MBS.  I thought it would be helpful to read the story of a brave woman who is confronting her fears head on.  Here is Lori’s story:

 

“Fear is a big issue for me right now, but I am making some progress in dealing with it. In the blog entry titled “A rose by any other name…” it says people can see themselves as having a disease called “TMS” and see themselves as a victim of their life events, their stressors, or their mind. It goes on to say that people with TMS/MBS do not have a diseased autonomic nervous system (ANS). Until I read that, I hadn’t had the specific thought, “I have a diseased ANS”, at least not consciously. But when I thought about it, I realized that I really did fear that I had a disease or syndrome or chronic problem called “TMS” or “MBS”. I thought that since my physical symptoms were caused by emotional triggers, then those emotional triggers would always cause physical symptoms. I worried that whenever I was stressed, anxious, angry, guilty, or in a confrontation, I’d start to have physical symptoms. And since I often did have physical symptoms in those cases, that reinforced my fear of the emotional triggers.

 

“I read that blog entry over and over again, several times a day. I started to realize that when I did have physical symptoms, I had been thinking I had done something “wrong” to have caused them. I figured I shouldn’t have put myself in a stressful situation, or gotten angry and not calmed down quickly enough, or felt guilty and not figured out how to stop feeling guilty. Since I knew the physical symptom was due to an emotional trigger, I blamed myself for putting myself in the situation that caused the emotional trigger, or not controlling it well enough. Then I feared encountering future emotional triggers, thinking it was inevitable that they would lead to physical symptoms because I “had” MBS.

  Continue reading

MBS Blog #23: Understanding and Overcoming Fear

It has become very clear to me over the last year or so that one of the biggest impediments to recovery from Mind Body syndrome (MBS) is fear.  It seems to be a part of the experience of so many people that it should be considered as a normal part of the MBS experience and therefore everyone will probably need to deal with fear at some point in their recovery.  In this blog, I will take a stab at identifying the sources of fear, the meaning of fear and offer some thoughts and methods on dealing with fear.

Where does fear come from?  We should recognize that fear is part of the normal experience of life.  We are born with a brain system that is built to protect us from danger and harm, i.e. to help us survive in a dangerous world where we may become stalked by a predator or endangered by one of our own species; another human being.  This system resides in the deeper parts of the brain (sometimes called the “reptilian brain”), it operates all of the time by constantly scanning the environment for danger, and it is clearly in the subconscious (or unconscious) part of the brain, i.e. we are not aware of its actions until after it has acted.  When we sense danger, the brain sends immediate signals from the amygdala (the emotional center of the brain) to the hypothalamus (where the autonomic nervous system resides) to cause some kind of action in our bodies.  Again, this occur without conscious awareness and our bodies are programmed to react to danger by activating the fight or flight reaction pathways.  After our body reacts (with muscle tension, gut or bladder tension, and many other reactions), we THEN become aware of the sensation of fear.  Interestingly, studies have shown that people who are paralyzed have lesser degrees of the sensation of fear (and other emotions).  Continue reading