Tag Archives: tension myositis syndrome

#20 “A rose by any other name…”: The importance of the name of an illness

Naming an illness can be one of the most critical aspects of caring for someone, especially if the illness falls into the category of stress-related illnesses.  It is a universal truth that anyone with medical symptoms wants and in fact, needs to know what is causing it.  So often in modern medicine, our answer is “We don’t know.”  We don’t know why some people get cancer and others don’t.  Many people with heart attacks have normal cholesterol levels and no obvious risk factors for heart disease.

For stress related illnesses, such as migraine and tension headaches, fibromyalgia, TMJ syndrome, irritable bowel and bladder syndromes, fatigue, and most people with chronic neck and back pain, it is absolutely critical to be able to name the illness correctly.  Doctors who are unfamiliar with the powerful role the mind has in being able to produce significant and sometimes severe physical symptoms will always label the illness as a purely physical one.  Hence, we see the proliferation of illnesses named as a syndrome or with a description that doesn’t help the person understand the true underlying cause of the illness.  Fibromyalgia is a good example of a severe syndrome who’s name literally means “pain in muscles and tendons.”  Unfortunately, people with this disorder already know that they have pain.  The name helps to legitimize the disorder, but it doesn’t help to solve the problem of helping them get rid of their pain.  In fact, the name can become a prison of sorts and can give them the impression that they will always be in pain, because the medication and physical therapies usually do not work. 

Therefore, for stress-related illnesses in which there is no tissue destruction in the body (e.g. not cancer, or stroke, or heart disease, or diabetes, or lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis), it can be extremely helpful to learn that one actually has a mind body issue, which Dr. Sarno terms Tension Myositis Syndrome, while I tend to use the term, Mind Body Syndrome.  These terms mean the same thing; that the symptoms are caused by reactions in the body to stress and emotions, which can be both conscious and/or subconscious.  The reason I don’t use TMS as often is that it implies some inflammation in the muscles (the definition of myositis), and there is no inflammation in the muscles in TMS/MBS.  Dr. Sarno has started to use the term, Tension Myoneural Syndrome more recently, which keeps the same letters of TMS, but takes out the inflammation reference.   Continue reading

#11–Back pain 101–How modern medicine gets it wrong…

Conventional “knowledge” tells us that we were not meant to walk upright and that backs typically degenerate over time which leads to chronic back pain.  If back pain was caused by degeneration of the back and the discs between the vertebrae, then it would make sense that back pain would increase with age.  This is not the case however.  Back pain actually drops a bit after age 65.  We have been told that back pain will occur more often in people who use their backs more often.  However, in studies from around the world, more people have back pain in industrialized, modern societies than in rural, agrarian societies. 


What is the cause of back pain?  There are several serious medical conditions that can cause back pain, such as a vertebral fracture (usually a compression fracture seen in the elderly or those with osteopenia), cancer of the vertebrae (seen in those with metastatic breast, lung or prostate cancer), serious abdominal conditions such as rupture of an abdominal aortic aneurysm, pancreatic cancer, rupture of a duodenal ulcer, or infections such as osteomyelitis, epidural abscess or diskitis.  Fortunately, these conditons are relatively rare and easy to diagnose with modern imaging techniques (X-ray, CT or MRI). 

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Mind Body Syndrome is contagious

#6—Mind Body Syndrome is contagious


When I first started learning about Mind Body Syndrome a few years ago, I was struck by an account by someone who had what is known as repetitive stress injury.  He wrote an eloquent account of his story, which was published on Kim Ruby’s excellent web site (www.tarpityoga.com) on MBS or TMS, as Dr. Sarno coined the term, Tension Myositis syndrome.  In his account, he spoke of having had RSI many years before, but it got triggered after going to hear a lecture about it. 


Medical students are well aware of how the suggestion of the symptoms of an illness can produce those symptoms.  It even has a name, “medical studenitis,” since it is quite common to develop some symptoms of the disease you are studying. 


Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot in France in the 1800’s had a clinic for what was known as “hysterics” in the day, although these disorders (now we realize are forms of MBS) were considered to be genetic at the time.  In his clinic, people with headaches, abdominal pain, anxiety, etc. would arrive and Dr. Charcot had “discovered” that there was a progression to this disorder in distinct stages: motor tics (brief, rapid tic-like movements), clowning (striking bizarre poses and holding them), hysterical seizures (shaking as if in a seizure).  Amazingly, when people entered his clinic, they would almost inevitably pass through these stages, confirming Dr. Charcot’s beliefs.  There was a young woman with headaches who came to the clinic.  Her roommate was in the tic stage, and the next day the young woman had developed the same tics.  The power of suggestion is can be extremely strong, especially when given by a powerful person.

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What is Mind Body Syndrome? Part I

#2—What is Mind Body Syndrome?  Part I.
June 3, 2008

It is important to realize that Mind Body Syndrome is not a new diagnosis.  When Dr. Sarno described Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS) in the 1970’s, he created a new name for a syndrome that has actually been known for hundreds of years.  I agree with Dr. Sarno that we do need a name for this syndrome (and I will explain why in future blogs).  However, when you look at the history of medicine you will find many examples of MBS.  I highly recommend the book by the University of Toronto historian, Edward Shorter, From Paralysis to Fatigue: A History of Psychosomatic Medicine.  Dr. Shorter uses the term psychosomatic, which is commonly used in medicine, but a term that I do not prefer to use because it has a connotation of being unkind to the patients, implying that they are somehow less than normal, or somewhat “crazy.”  As I often say, I know that people with MBS are not crazy because I have MBS and I know I’m not crazy.

In any case, the reason people get MBS, or physical (or psychological symptoms) due to emotions which are often unconscious, is that they are human.  They have a human brain that processes emotions in certain ways and they have human existences that often cause great stress in our lives.  That is why there has always been MBS and there will always be MBS.  However, the type of symptoms that the brain creates in our bodies does change over time. Continue reading

Hello world…

Hello world.


That’s how the blog website begins.  It’s also how Tiger Woods introduced himself at the press conference when he turned pro.  My son informs me that “hello world” is the standard text used in computer programming whenever some text is needed to work with, similar to “testing 1,2,3” was used when testing a microphone before a presentation.


I guess “hello world” is appropriate for this blog.  I am introducing myself to whoever is “out there” and I have some things to say that I think are important for the health and well being of everyday people.  My name is Howard Schubiner and I’m a physician in the Detroit area.  I have done a variety of things within medicine in the past 30 years since I became a doctor, including getting board certifications in Internal Medicine, Adolescent Medicine, and Pediatrics, studying acupuncture in China, teaching and doing research at Wayne State University’s School of Medicine for 18 years, becoming a specialist in Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder, and teaching mindfulness meditation for the past 14 years. 


I would never have considered writing a blog however, if it weren’t for what I’ve learned in the past 3 years.  It started with a friend telling me a story about someone who had severe back and hip pain, which miraculously disappeared after reading a book by Dr. Sarno and investigating some issues in her life.  I then started reading about Dr. John Sarno (of whom I will speak at length in future blogs) and his views on chronic pain, particularly back and neck pain.  I got so engrossed and fascinated that I decided to devote the rest of my career in medicine (for the foreseeable future anyway) to working with people to help them alleviate their pain and other chronic symptoms. 


What I have learned over the past few years is nothing short of phenomenal.  I have learned that most of the people with chronic back and neck pain can be cured; and they can be cured by simple methods, the most important of which is a new understanding of what is causing their pain.  I have learned that the traditional biomedical approaches to many chronic conditions do not work.  And I have seen many people take control over their health and improve their lives dramatically.  In fact, the one comment that I hear over and over is “you have helped me save my life.”  Few things are sweeter than these words.

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