How I Placebo’d chronic back pain

My back’s story

When I was a sophomore in high school I went to block a layup, bumped a hip midair, lost my balance and landed directly on my tailbone. Something popped, cracked or shifted. Coach whistled and the drill was over. Practice was over. It was time to run laps. Pride, fear and adrenaline got me to the base line. That night at practice, I cried in front of everyone I respected running those sprints. I knew something was wrong but these suicides needed running.

Since then, I’ve had chronic back pain. I’ve been told I have signs of arthritis at the base of my spine. I’ve received pain killers and epidurals. I’ve tried corrective stretching, strength training, yoga, foam rollers, etc. These things helped a little, but the pain would always return.

Last month something severe happened. I was walking into my bedroom and my back seized up. I felt the muscles of my lower back slowly, powerfully, clench to a point that I simply couldn’t stand. I fell face forward on my bed. I couldn’t move.

It’s weird thinking back to that moment. It was like when I was in a car accident. I became completely, only, a witness to my experience. I had no control as an actor or affecter. I just watched. I watched my body disregard all conscious singling. I felt my back angrily spasm between contracting and relaxing.

I laid there for a good 20 minutes before I called for help. I was having a little existential crisis. I thought about how suicide seemed like a sensible option if I lost control of my legs. I realized I feared dying (for a long time, psychedelics had me thinking I wasn’t afraid of death. Naw. I am.) I thought about what I would change if I could walk again.

That day was hard. But I got through it. And a couple days later, while listening to a Joe Rogan podcast, I heard a man talk about a doctor he went to see for back pain. The proselytizer was convinced this doctor had a unique and successful perspective and treatment of back pain. Curious, I Amazon’d the doctor’s book.

Dr. John Sarno

I read the book. Wow. Never had I read a book by a clearly sober and scientific individual whose perspective was so psychedelic and psychological.

John Sarno was a professor of Rehabilitation Medicine at the New York University School of Medicine. His perspective is simple. Most back, neck, shoulder, and butt pain is not due to any physiological or structural abnormalities in the spine. Most pain is a function of repressed emotions.
If you are a skeptic, please, read his books. Check his studies. The results are impressive. I don’t have his book handy and I’m not a doctor so I won’t try providing scientific evidence to support his theories. I’m only here to share my experience.

Sarno’s treatment is simple. Step one, believe your pain is due to repressed emotions and not due to structural dysfunction. Step two, search for what emotions you may be repressing and work with them consciously. (Go to the doctor and get their opinion and read his book if you have back pain. Do your research. Knowledge here is particularly important.)

I’ve been using this perspective the last five weeks. Whenever I feel the familiar flare of pain in my back. I take a moment and tell myself that I have no structural abnormalities of the spine. I tell myself that I am repressing an emotion. I take a moment to look at what emotions I could be ignoring. Normally, the answer is always fear or anger, more commonly felt as anxiety or frustration. I try to let the emotion come into consciousness and I accept it.

That’s it. In my experience, once I take maybe a minute to do this, the pain goes away. The pain fucking goes away. I’ve used this maybe once every couple of days.

The new story of my back

Basketball was the activity I felt most alive playing. I was just good enough, and naive enough, to genuinely believe I could play basketball as a way of life. I let the dream consume me. I thought about playing basketball more than I thought about sex as a teenager. I could only imagine my future through basketball.

Yeah, I injured my tailbone in high school, but it healed and I didn’t have back pain again for a while. The back pain started after I had rotator cuff surgery. After thinking about when the pain would flair up, I found it always got bad around the time I’d start getting really invested in basketball again. I use to think the pain was always due to me tweaking a lingering injury.

I tried a new perspective. The pain flared up whenever I started reminding myself of my dead dream. Getting back into basketball shape, and getting close to what I once was, triggered the repressed emotions I had never dealt with. Giving up my basketball dream was forced on me and I had never processed my anger.

After choosing to try this new perspective, I tried something weird. I wrote a raw and honest apology letter to my body. I apologized for pushing him as hard as I did. I apologized for being angry at him after he failed to live up to the goal I made. I told him I was sorry and that I’m grateful for everything he does. He regulates my autonomic nervous system, he constantly breaks apart and reassembles molecules for repairing. He does a lot. I apologized.

And, as crazy as it may sound to the skeptic. No back pain. It’s gone.

What is happening?

I don’t know. Sarno’s theory is that repressed emotions manifest as pain throughout the nervous system due to deoxygenation. He thinks the mind creates this lack of oxygen to produce pain to help distract the individual from an emotion the unconscious doesn’t think the consciousness can handle.

Skeptics and most people who consider themselves rational would say this is a placebo. Saying “placebo” implies a kind of false cure. This is an unconscious assumption of a dualist, rationalist, materialist, or scientist. I don’t know if it is wrong to have this bias, but be aware that it is an unconscious bias in many scientifically inclined individuals.

Experimentally, the individual is free from pain. You've been brainwashed if they hold any kind of knowledge above self-knowledge. What you experience is beyond all other appeals to knowledge. (haha, this is obviously biased by my experience. Cue, paradoxical loop.)

We have thousands of unconscious beliefs running in the background of our subconscious. Many of these thoughts trigger shame, guilt, envy, etc. Many of these thoughts constrict our potential.

Experiment. Your life is your experiment. Explore your mind. Wanderlust for new reality tunnels. You are thoughts away from drastically new lives. Play.

Okay, done preaching. I love you. Thank you for reading. Namaste.