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Back Pain: How I Kicked It to the Curb and Walked Away Whistling

photo: Ryan Weisgerber on flikr

I’m in love with a man named John. You might wonder what this has to do with my scuffle with back pain, but I assure you, they’re totally related.

You might also wonder what Melissa, my sweetheart, thinks about my manly love interest, but check this out: She’s in love with him too!

Here’s why.

From the time I was a teenager, I was told I would have chronic lower back pain. How’s that for positive reinforcement?! I have a leg length difference of almost an inch, and I was assured that this would create all sorts of problems for me later in life.

Luckily, my body did not crumble in the face of this diagnosis. At least, not right away.

Then, in my twenties, I started working on a farm.

For the first time in my life, I started to experience regular lower back discomfort. It was manageable, though. No big deal.

That is, until the day I leaned over to pick up a fifty pound bag of limestone. As I did so, I felt a slight twinge in my lower back.

I thought it was nothing.


No big dealio.

But later that night, I woke up with sharp, throbbing, no-fun-at-all lower back pain. Pain that didn’t go away. Not the next day, not the next week, not the next month.

I had to stop working at the farm. I had to go on disability.

I was twenty-eight years old.

As for my diagnosis, I was told I had scoliosis and disc problems. I tried everything to make the pain go away – from traditional physical therapy, to quasi-traditional chiropractic work, to not-at-all-traditional homeopathy.

photo: Jonathan Wilson on flikr

Nothing worked.

Nothing, that is, until someone told me about a book called Healing Back Pain, by Dr. John Sarno.

(That’s right, you guessed it. This is the man I’m in love with. Head-over-heels-over-back-pain in love. And like usual, when love enters the scene, things are about to get a whole lot better . . . .)

Dr. Sarno is a professor at New York University School of Medicine. (Yup, my man is from New York City. The Big Apple! The Huge Fruit! Don’t mess with him!) He is most famous for his diagnosis of Tension Myositis Syndrome for a wide variety of disorders, including back pain.

Here’s what Sarno says: Back pain, as we know it, was virtually unknown a hundred years ago. No one was going to the doctor for chronic back pain back then. But suddenly, in the last fifty years or so, medicine has seen an epidemic of lower back pain.  

What gives? How could we go from standing upright all these years and having no problems, to having back pain be the number one cause of worker absenteeism in this country?

What my man observed was that a lot of the traditional diagnoses of back pain – like slipped discs and pinched nerves – didn’t make sense anatomically. Disc degeneration is actually a natural part of the aging process. Sarno noticed that he would see MRIs of people with degenerated discs who had no pain at all.

(No pain at all! Do you catch this? I’m just sayin’. My man is on to something.)

Sarno began to think that something else was going on here. His thesis is that the mind is sending a signal to deprive oxygen to the afflicted areas, thus resulting in severe pain.

So the pain is real. It’s just that we can reverse it with our minds.

Now, you might say, Why on earth would my mind cause me pain in this way? (You might also say: Do armadillos get back pain? And they probably do, given the weight of their armor. But that’s not what we’re talking about here.)

photo: amareta kelly on flikr

The reason the mind creates pain in the body is a simple one. The pain is a distraction from the subconscious stresses in our lives.

In fact, Sarno began to notice a common psychological profile for people who develop neck, back, and shoulder pain. We’re not like type A people, who tend to get heart problems. We’re type B people.

(And B is not for Bozo, or Bonkers, or anything else you might be thinking. It’s just B. Like, the letter that comes after A.)

photo: Karoly Lorentey on flikr

Type Bs are perfectionists, people who are helpers. People who often have hidden angers and frustrations with the people they’re helping.

I know, it sounds kinda psycho, but bear with me here.

Think about it. Someone says, how are you doing? You have two choices. 

Choice A looks like this: 

How am I doing? I’ll tell you how I’m doing. I’m full of unacknowledged, unexpressed anger and anxiety. I love my kids, but they drive me crazy. I never get any time for myself. My life is passing me by and I’m worried that I’m never going to fulfill my dreams. My job is stressing me out so much that half the time I don’t even want to go into the office. And don’t get me started about my parents. I’m doing my best to take care of them as they age, but I feel like I’m never measuring up.

That’s Choice A. 

Choice B looks like this: 

How am I doing? My back is killing me. That’s how I’m doing.

Let’s face it. In this society, Choice B is a lot easier than Choice A. People can feel sorry for you, and everyone gets to avoid the messy, emotional stuff.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: Okay, Ms. Smarty Z-Pants. If this weird-psycho-mind-thing is what causes back pain, then what’s the cure? (You probably also have more questions about armadillos, but again – that’s not what we’re talking about!)

photo: Chris van Dyck on flikr

Here’s the cure: All we have to do is realize that the mind is causing us pain as a distraction from our emotions.

As part of this realization, it can be helpful to do some kind of process to uncover and express our emotions, but it isn’t necessary. We mostly just have to reprogram the misinformation we’ve been given from the medical establishment and the pain will go away. 

I know, it sounds unbelievable and/or impossible, but it frickin’ works.

In my case, I’d been in chronic pain for over a year when I first found Sarno’s work. It took about six weeks of reading his book for my pain to go away.

Totally and completely. 

A few years later, when I developed Chronic Fatigue syndrome, I successfully used the same technique and made that go away too.

Sarno’s technique can be used on about 80% of what brings people to the doctor: back, neck and shoulder pain, allergies, gastrointestinal disorders, carpal tunnel syndrome, fibromyalgia, and a host of other problems.

Not only that, but I found this technique to be incredibly empowering. It gave me an opportunity to witness the immense capacity of my mind to heal my body.

Okay, okay. I’m getting off my soapbox now. But not before I point out that getting off my soapbox didn’t hurt my back at all. Not one bit!

So there you have it.

That’s why I’m in love with a man named John.

He changed my life. And I will be forever grateful.

Any other Sarno fans out there? Or would-be/could-be-Sarno-fans? I’d love to hear from you!

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33 Responses to Back Pain: How I Kicked It to the Curb and Walked Away Whistling

  1. Antonia December 13, 2011 at 6:22 am #

    As part of the cure, do we meditate on our emotions and …. Do positive affirmations or what? Any ‘reprograming’ suggestions?

    • Z Egloff December 13, 2011 at 11:46 am #

      Hi Antonia,

      I was hard for me to do justice to Sarno’s work in just a blog post – it’s really a total paradigm shift. In the book, he does have a few specific affirmations that you can say, but he encourages you not to make too much of a routine out of them, as that could keep you stuck in the pain. The biggest shift is the reeducation process that happens when you read the book. (Or watch the DVDs. He has those too and some people really like learning that way, but I’ve never seen then.)

      One affirmation that I spontaneously said to myself once I started reading his book was “There’s nothing wrong with my back.” Now, this doesn’t fit the regular rules of affirmations, but it worked anyway. As for the emotional component, he talks about that in the book as well. If you’re interested in the process, you should definitely check out the book. (And, for the record, I’m not profiting from this in any way. Other than the good vibes of sharing about my man Sarno!)


      • Susan December 14, 2011 at 11:28 am #

        ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ, as always your the bomb. I scanned my email yesterday just to see if your updated blog was out. Surprise it was and I loved the information.

        I hear so many folks talk about their backs, and I for one had three discs removed many years ago, that I injured while working for the Police Department in Santa Monica

        The surgery was a complete success, no fusing thank God.
        However the doc told me I had at 75% disability. I replied with and at that time not having any Religious Science training ” Well doc you can believe that I don’t”. Do I get pain sometime, mostly in the cold season. What I have learned the more I movement I have the better I feel. The less weight I have on my tummy the better I feel.

        I have watched that when I am not aware of my surroundings and to watch the amount of weight I pick up, all is well.

        When I think about my emotions, and where does my stress most effect me, I think its more of a pain in my a– than anything.

        So this is my story and I am sticking to it, and bravo to you for the great article, and love love to you for keeping this blog alive..

        • Z Egloff December 14, 2011 at 1:39 pm #

          Hi Susan,

          Good for you for discounting the idea that you were going to have 75% disability! I’m always impressed with people who can discount medical advice and information. Not to diss medical information in general, but there are certainly times when it serves us to bypass what we’ve been told and move to another truth. You go, girl!


  2. Angelica December 13, 2011 at 6:44 am #

    YES! I loved that book — I have – oops – had – a lower back problem that would crop up every couple of years or so, after a car accident in 1975 —
    The last time I was told I might have to use a walker — ACKKKKK …
    (that day, while painfully standing in a long line at the bank, I saw 2 people with walkers — never seen anyone with a walker in the bank before.)
    Samos book was on my book shelf – never read – well, I got home and read it in one sitting — and then again and again …. YAY! No walker!!
    Amazing what fear can do!

    • Z Egloff December 13, 2011 at 11:38 am #

      Hi Angelica!

      Yay! Another Sarno fan! I knew there would be some out there.

      I’m so glad that fear motivated you to check out the book. And I’m also glad that you didn’t end up having to use a walker! Isn’t is amazing what the mind can do?!


  3. Francesca December 13, 2011 at 9:19 am #

    My sistah. You ALWAYS have the right wise words and inspiration. This will be a must have for me and Martha. Off to Copperfields I go! Love Ya! And Meli too!

    • Z Egloff December 13, 2011 at 11:36 am #

      Hi Francesca! Say hi to Martha for me! It was a real joy for me to write this post, knowing that I would be sharing my buddy Sarno with all my other buddies. Enjoy! XOXOXOZ

  4. Antonia December 13, 2011 at 12:26 pm #

    Z…I’ve always thought of you as someone who follows the “new” rules rather than the ‘regular’ rules. Thanks for your response…

    • Z Egloff December 13, 2011 at 12:40 pm #

      Antonia, I never thought of it quite that way, but you’re right. Thank you for that perspective! :) Z

  5. Melissa December 13, 2011 at 12:30 pm #

    Yeh- gotta love that John Sarno! Use the techniques and am blessed with healing over and over again – day to day! SO grateful for this teaching! If you haven’t done so – get this book! SO WORTH IT!

    • Z Egloff December 13, 2011 at 12:41 pm #

      What she said. . . 😉

  6. Jo Lauer December 13, 2011 at 12:54 pm #

    Pain as a distraction from the subconscious stresses in our life. Yup, I can get behind that. I had severe migraines for several years. They were incapacitating. The medications were hideous.The migraines ended when I got a divorce. Hmmm.

    Thanks for the resource. I’ll look him up. Lots of people have pain, and not everyone is married.

    I’m still wondering about the armadillo.

    • Z Egloff December 13, 2011 at 1:15 pm #

      Hi Jo!

      I think you should write a book about Divorce as a Cure. It would probably be a big hit!

      Melissa and I were watching a clip of Chris Rock on Oprah last night. He was saying that marriage is so hard, even Nelson Mandela couldn’t do it. Mandela survived years of torture in prison, but he couldn’t handle six months with his wife when he was released. Marriage is not for everyone. Neither are migraines.

      But I digress. The armadillo is another book altogether. Or another blog post. . . .


  7. Melissa December 13, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

    Jo – this cracks me up! You’re so funny!

    I love that second shot, too, of the armadillo – walking UP hill! I laughed out loud…. So grateful to have a funny sweetheart! And one who also turns me onto to great resources, like Sarno! Oh – well – and a better life – and like that… 😉

  8. Lorna December 13, 2011 at 2:27 pm #

    Howard Stern, the popular radio guy, always mentions that it was Sarno’s book that cured his back pain.

  9. Z Egloff December 13, 2011 at 3:16 pm #

    Yup, Howard Stern and I are in the same club! 😉

  10. Squirrel December 13, 2011 at 6:48 pm #

    Hi Z! Happy Tuesday!

    i started reading sarno’s book a while back as you recommended. i happen to be a type ADD person and i got distracted so i never finished it. DO armadillos get back pain? i should ask the next one i talk to. i don’t experience chronic pain the way i used to. as long as i don’t try to suppress my anxiety or my feelings. it’s the not suppressing them that i struggle with. i’m working on that. 😉


    • Z Egloff December 13, 2011 at 9:41 pm #

      Happy Tuesday, Squirrel!

      Oh, the armadillo question. It’s a tough one. So to speak. Due to the low-level reading and comprehension skills of the armadillo, it is difficult for them to fully grasp the complete scope of the Sarno’s work. Because of this impediment, the cure rate for armadillo back pain using the Sarno method is a mere 3.2%. It is a sad state of affairs, but there is currently a website dedicated to Curing Armadillo Back Pain (CABP).

      Oh wait, what were we talking about? ADD?

      Glad you’re working on the whole Emotional Issue. :)


  11. Squirrel December 13, 2011 at 9:53 pm #

    idk, i’ve met some pretty sharp armadillos. or were they porcupines? certainly the sarno method may not work for all armadillos. that’s why there’s prayer. lifting up the consciousness of the armadillo race, one dasypus novemcinctus at a time. 😀

    have a really great night, z. <3 2u


  12. Jill Shinn December 14, 2011 at 8:33 pm #

    I’m going to order that book right up. I’ve known for a long time that disorders are all emotionally related, but I haven’t been as good at getting to the bottom of them. The western medicine programming is hard to break. Since there is a diagnosis for everything, we think we need to get one slapped on our issue in order to understand it. That’s probably our biggest downfall right there—-assuming that a doctor knows more about what’s going on with us than we do. The armadillo was a cute touch, and I would like to know more about that crazy little guy!. Thanks for the post.

    • Z Egloff December 15, 2011 at 12:22 pm #

      Hi Jill,

      My favorite thing about this book is that, since it’s written by a Western doctor, it overturns the Western medical paradigm from the inside out. I have used Sarno’s work again and again to vanquish a ton of different ailments, some of which were supposedly incurable. It’s not even a specifically spiritual practice, but it functions as one. God bless John Sarno! :)


  13. Ann May 26, 2012 at 1:03 pm #

    The pain I have coped with,lifelong! I having parallysis in arms and legs too that comes and goes.I am afraid of being trapped in an emergency. I just found out why the dr’s have been kicking me to the curb with my back. I went forever thinking I must have done something wrong. Worse yet everyone looking at me and saying it must be in your head. Treating me like you know what. Today I found out what to me is the worst news. My diagnosis.

    • Z Egloff May 26, 2012 at 2:25 pm #

      Hi Ann,

      I highly recommend Sarno’s work. There is his book – Healing Back Pain – and there are DVDs available too. It’s definitely worth checking out. I’m not a doctor and I can’t know for sure what’s going on with you, but you can take your doctor’s diagnosis and compare it with the diagnoses that Sarno talks about in his book. If your diagnosis is one of the ones Sarno talks about, then you could read his book and try applying it to your situation. Many, many people have found relief using his work. Again, I highly recommend checking it out – it can’t hurt! (Pun intended.) I know it can feel frustrating and discouraging at times, but it certainly doesn’t sound like you’ve done anything wrong. Don’t give up hope!!



  14. Smitty5 March 3, 2014 at 9:33 am #

    Sarno saved my life, too! Love this!

    • Z Egloff March 4, 2014 at 10:42 am #

      Awesome. Nice to be in the same club! :)

      • Ales July 17, 2014 at 3:49 am #

        Hi Z Egloff!

        I’ve been there, found Sarno and then came back solid as a rock.
        I also run into Steven Ozanich, you know him?

        Sarno is the man!!!

        • Z Egloff July 18, 2014 at 2:32 pm #

          Hi Ales!

          So glad to hear that you are another Sarno fan. He really is amazing. I am reminded almost every day how powerful his work is. I just wish more people could be introduced to and understand his work!

          I do not know Steven Ozanich personally, but we have exchanged messages. I’m also reading his book! :)




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