#5—Modern Medicine’s Blind Spot
The rapidity of advances in medicine has been staggering over the past 50 years. It has been amazing to see the proliferation of research that has helped us understand how individual cells work, how DNA is translated into proteins that recognize other cells, that repair damaged cells, that create new cells to fight infections, and that communicate with all the cells in the body. We have learned a tremendous amount about how smoking, high cholesterol, and diabetes cause heart disease and about how cancer cells replicate and spread. These advances have created new technologies and medications to fight heart disease, stroke, and cancer by looking at the minute details of cells and proteins. This view of how medicine will advance is now universal; we will find the answers to how the body works and can be healed by looking at the individual areas where the disease is presumed to be. This has worked well so far.
But the problem lies in applying this theory to disorders like Mind Body Syndrome (MBS). In MBS, there is no tissue breakdown in the body, so by looking closer and closer at the “problem area”, we are actually missing the problem. In this case, the problem is in the relationship between the mind and the body. Phantom limb syndrome is a situation where real and severe pain can be caused by the connections between the mind and body, yet there is no “disease” in the area where the pain is felt (i.e. the missing arm or leg). In people with back pain, if there is a fracture, an infection or a tumor, we are best served by applying the techniques of modern medicine; i.e. find the source of the pain in the painful area and treat it with medications or surgery or physical therapy. However, for those with chronic back pain and no fracture, infection or tumor, trying to treat the source of the pain in the painful area can lead to more harm. Why have back surgery for a problem in the nerve connections between the brain and body? Actually, this has been tried in phantom limb syndrome. They tried amputating the limb at a higher spot to try to decrease the pain, but this didn’t work.