TMS offers a different approach to back pain

Many of us suffer back pain – but could a mind-over-matter attitude help?

HILLSBOROUGH will be in the spotlight on Thursday when Britain in Bloom judges will be visiting to determine whether or not the village deserves another Gold Award. The residents have been beavering away, weeding and pruning; the council have been filling half barrels with flowers and window boxes overflow.

Over the next few weeks members of the Royal Horticultural Society will be covering the United Kingdom from Armagh to Wales and from Fermanagh to Guernsey, 72 locations in all to find the best in ‘community horticulture'. The results will be announced at a ceremony in Birmingham on October 14, so green fingers crossed for the pretty little Co Down village.

It's a great competition as volunteer gardeners transform their locality, be it a wild-flower meadow, vandalised and flooded areas or simply brightening up local streets with floral displays. Can't be bad. Have a look around your neighbourhood, get everyone together and plan for next year.

Good luck all our entrants – I look forward to hearing the results. Who needs the Olympics to win gold, silver and bronze?

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

LAST week I was castigating the film Absolutely Fabulous (and thank you to all those who got in touch to agree) so it's only fair to give a positive review this week – and it goes to The Big Friendly Giant.

The animation – computer generated images – is amazing, the storyline well known, the acting convincing but then Mark Rylance can do no wrong in my eyes. The unfriendly giants, Childchewer and Gizzardgulpher among them, are very frightening even for the adults, little Sophia is very brave and the queen is richly regal and fixes everything.

I thought children would be frightened and some did climb onto their mothers' knees but no-one left and there was a lot of excited chatter on the way out. Not the best Spielberg film ever made but once you enter Giant Country you're captivated.

Advice – go along with someone prepared to put their arms round you and tell you it will be all right!

Breaking The Pain Barrier

FORTY years ago, during pregnancy, I suffered a dreadful, continuous pain in my side. I even fainted one day it was so bad. After exhaustive examinations, the specialist told me it was psychological. Surprise Surprise.

I felt real pain he said but no cause for it; it emanated in my mind. Once he explained the reasons for many of the pains we suffer, my own discomfort went. That's why I've been interested to hear about TMS – Tension Myositis Syndrome.

I've been test driving a book about back pain, something man has experienced since he stood upright. However, according to John E Sarno, we can overcome not only back pain but other conditions as well without drugs, without surgery, without exercise; he maintains back pain, especially, can be stopped forever.

Some claim! Who is John E Sarno?

Professor John E Sarno MD, a graduate of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation and a professor of rehabilitation medicine on the faculty of the New York University School of Medicine.

Of course, while he discusses his subject, TMS, it's pointed out in the book Healing Back Pain that these theories are not a substitute for diagnosis or treatment by a medical doctor.

I know only too well how we invest in special pillows, pills, chairs, massages and the like but he says forget expensive therapies, no need for surgery – provided, of course, that there is no obvious injury or disease involved. He acknowledges the pain is real but, like my specialist, he says the cause is in your own mind, so you must say: "I know there's nothing wrong with my back or my neck or my shoulders, I'm causing my own pain unconsciously because it's my brain reacting to stress, anger or an upset of some kind causing me to tense up."

When you think about it, mind over matter can work; being distracted can work. How often have you been suffering when someone exciting gets in touch and invites you for a drink or a cup of coffee and you get your glad rags on and head out?

On the other hand, you can't just dismiss tension pain – it's very real and it's very debilitating but during his working life Sarno noticed that heat pads, massage and physical therapy seemed to provide significant pain relief to his patients, but it was temporarily.

Since such therapies increase blood circulation to the specific areas, his feeling was that the actual cause of pain is a reduction of blood supply to soft tissues in the affected areas and that this is initiated by emotionally induced tension.

I've been trying his theory and I find it works to a great degree, especially lower back pain. Of course I try to sit properly and walk tall but thinking positively and telling my brain to wise up has worked wonders.

I know my pain; I can visualise it – the muscles around my new knees glow red at times so I'm working on this; I know the replacement joint is just fine so the fear of falling or even moving from sitting to standing causes discomfort and I try to remember that, according to the good professor, it's all due to tension, something my mind can overcome and he tells me how in his book.

Can't do any harm to retrain your brain to relax tension, deep breathing to bring oxygen to the blood and so to the muscles. But remember, there could be a serious underlying cause to pain so get it checked and talk to the doctor about TMS and get a qualified opinion.

:: More on Healing Back Pain – The Mind-body Connection by John E Sarno at

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