Tension Myositis Syndrome
What it is and How it Works

Tension myositis syndrome(TMS) is an idea put forward in the 1980s by Dr. John Sarno postulating a psychosomatic cause for back pain.

According to Dr. Sarno's theory Tension Myositis Syndrome is a diversionary tactic of the subconscious mind.






"the divided mind"

His theory conceives of the divided mind, and conflicting emotions, that cause your subconscious mind to use back pain and other physical complaints as a device.

This tool is used as a distraction to avoid dealing with sensitive psychological issues, feelings of inadequacy, and stressful situations.

"negative emotions that are too overwhelming"

According to the theory, we all have deep seated emotional issues that we deal with everyday. However, when the guilt is too strong or the feelings of inadequacy are too powerful, your subconscious mind steps in to protect you from negative emotions that are too overwhelming.

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Tension Myositis Syndrome Physical Effects

It does this by way of the autonomic nervous system; this is the nervous system that controls our “fight or flight" response to danger, by diverting the flow of blood to and from different parts of our body.

"blood flow is shunted away from the muscles"

During periods of danger the autonomic nervous system will channel the flow of blood away from the abdominal organs and increase the blood supply to the muscles.

During periods of relaxation the blood flow is shunted away from the muscles increasing the flow of nutrients and oxygen to the abdominal organs.

"tissues do not get enough oxygen"

Because of your psychological responses to stressful situations your subconscious mind will divert blood flow away from certain areas.

Without adequate blood flow the tissues do not get enough oxygen. Hypoxemia, or lack of oxygen, is known to cause pain in a variety of tissues.

The crushing pain of a heart attack occurs when the heart muscle is deprived of oxygen. Similar symptoms can occur when any muscle is deprived of oxygen. 

"six tender points"

The major symptom of Tension Myositis Syndrome is pain. Dr. Sarno initially considered only muscle pain, to be caused by emotional tension, he has expanded his theory to include pain in any part of the body.

Dr. Sarno has identified six tender points that are present in 99% of people with Tension Myositis Syndrome. These points are similar to the tender points of fibromyalgia. They are found in the upper trapezius muscles, the lumbar paraspinal muscles, and the upper buttocks.

"the pain shifts or moves"

One of the key points in making a diagnosis of Tension Myositis Syndrome, is that the pain shifts or moves, from one part of the body to another.

Your back pain may resolve only to be replaced by irritable bowel syndrome, or your migraine headaches may stop but you mysteriously develop shoulder pain.

"until your emotional issues are resolved"

But your symptoms will continue, in one form or another, until your emotional issues are resolved. Your subconscious mind will continue to protect you until you consciously understand that your emotions are causing your symptoms.

When people are able to think about and resolve their conflicting emotions on a conscious level, and consciously decide how they feel about the negative emotions they have been suppressing, the symptoms of pain resolve.

The symptoms disappear because your subconscious mind no longer needs to distract you from powerful emotional issues.

"other psychosomatic disorders"

Many patients with Tension Myositis Syndrome have a history, of what Dr. Sarno considers to be, other psychosomatic disorders.

Things like heartburn, pre-ulcer symptoms, hiatal hernia, irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, spastic colon, tension headache, migraine, eczema, and frequent urination are considered to have a psychosomatic component. 

"unresolved emotional conflicts in your subconscious mind"

The root cause of TMS is unresolved emotional conflicts in your subconscious mind. This doesn't mean that you're crazy or that your pain is all in your head.

It does mean that what you're thinking, your mental thoughts have an effect on your body. It has long been understood that what we think and how we think can affect or physical bodies.

While this may be a psychosomatic disorder, there are physiological changes that occur, that do cause real pain.

"this is what causes the pain"

Dr. Sarno theorizes that the autonomic nervous system causes changes in the blood flow that limits the oxygen supply to tissues. Without adequate oxygen, those issues become ischemic, and this is what causes the pain.

Put forward as proof of this is the fact that many patients with TMS get good short term relief of their pain with deep tissue massage, physical therapy, or heating pads. These are all treatments that stimulate blood flow and increase oxygen supply in the affected tissues.

"Identifying the psychological issues..."

Treatment for TMS begins with education. Understanding that there is a connection between the thoughts you think and what is happening with your body.

Identifying the psychological issues that are causing your pain can be a major obstacle to treatment. Daily writing exercises are often used to help you work through and resolve conflicting feelings.

"your symptoms will resolve"

When you have written down all of your feelings, and there is no longer a conflict, your symptoms will resolve. Your subconscious will not need to distract you from certain issues, because they have been resolved.

"If your pain has not been relieved the..."

Resuming a normal lifestyle is a big part of treatment. You are encouraged to participate in regular activities, and stop avoiding activities that you think may cause pain.

If you have back pain or pain in other parts of your body that your doctors cannot explain, and if your pain has not been relieved by more traditional methods, you may want to consider tension myositis syndrome.



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