Mind & Body

The Emotional Roots of Back Pain

Most Americans will experience back pain. One controversial doctor claims that, three times out of four, it's all in our heads.

The Emotional Roots of Back Pain
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WHEN HE WAS ONLY 13 YEARS OLD, Alessandro Giangola woke up one morning in so much pain that he was unable to stand tip straight. Although he recovered within days, the discomfort returned far too often for an active adolescent. After eight years of suffering through such episodes, a doctor recommended surgery for a slipped disk. "That freaked me out," says Giangola, who's now 29 and living in Westhampton, N.Y. "He basically said that I shouldn't play tennis or lift weights or do any of the things that made my life what it was." He scaled back his activities and tried every remedy short of surgery, from physical therapy to steroids, but none delivered lasting relief.

Then, early this year, a friend told him about a book called Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection by John Sarno, M.D., a professor of rehabilitation medicine at New York University School of Medicine. Instead of pointing to slipped disks or pinched nerves, Sarno claims that repressed rage is what causes the majority of chronic backaches. His cure is simple: Admit the anger, renounce the idea that physical causes are to blame, and the pain will go away in weeks or months.

After merely reading the book, Giangola started to feel better. "It seemed so true," he says. "I felt as if I finally had a diagnosis."


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