Tension Myositis Syndrome

What is Tension Myositis Syndrome?

Dr. John Sarno defined tension myositis syndrome (TMS) in the 1970s as a psychosomatic musculoskeletal neurological disorder that produces chronic pain due to muscle tension brought about by repressed emotional or psychological stress. Sarno, an attending physician at the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine and a professor of clinical rehabilitation medicine at the NYU School of Medicine, authored four books on the subject. He also believes the condition may form the basis for other pain disorders. Treatment for tension myositis syndrome includes resolving stress related issues.  It’s underlying principle is that there is a strong connection between the mind and body.

Tension myositis syndrome

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So, What Is Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS)?

The majority of the conventional medical community do not recognize the diagnosis or offer treatment methods for Tension Myositis Syndrome or TMS. In recent years, the research physician’s ideations concerning the subject gained notoriety in the media and with some members of the medical profession. The physician appeared on ABC’s 20/20, wrote articles for Newsweek and the New York Times and received support by Dr. Mehmet Oz (yes, THAT Dr. Oz).

The physician suggests that emotional issues trigger the autonomous nervous system, which inhibits blood flow to muscles, nerves and connective tissue. Without adequate blood flow, tissues undergo oxygen starvation, which produces pain. By repressing feelings of anger, anxiety or rage, the body responds and produces physical results. The pain becomes a physical distraction to psycho-emotional issues as the patient feels the pain, seeks means of alleviating the symptoms but does not recognize the correlation. Once patients realize the connection and resolve repressed issues, the pain disappears.

TMS Symptoms

Symptoms accompanying tension myositis syndrome range from mild to severe. The pain may come and go. Many patients diagnosed with TMS report experiencing back pain. Along with pain, patients describe feeling numbness, tingling, stiffness and weakness in the affected area. Los Angeles physician Dr. David Schecter, worked alongside Dr. Sarno in researching this condition. Schecter states that discomfort is not limited to back pain. Patients also report discomfort in other parts of the body.

Individuals might also complain of pain moving from one location in the back to another, or from one body location to another. Individuals often continue experiencing pain after undergoing traditional medical treatment. Patients might also experience flare-ups unrelated to physical activity. Some individuals report temporary symptomatic relief following a vacation. These symptoms often indicate tension myositis syndrome.

Some TMS patients suffer from chronic arm pain, fibromyalgia or irritable bowel syndrome. Others have diagnoses of chronic fatigue syndrome, temporal mandibular jaw malfunction (TMJ) or tension headaches.

Tension Myositis Syndrome Treatment

Patients bring their medical history when consulting with a TMS physician. This information generally includes written physician’s reports, lab results and diagnostic imaging studies. After receiving a diagnosis of tension myositis syndrome, treatment begins.

The first step in treating TMS requires patient education. Individuals gain information about the condition by visiting with a physician specializing in TMS. Physicians generally provide audio and written materials or recommend lectures. Education teaches the patient various aspects of the condition and reassures them that physical symptoms do not occur because of typical disease processes, physical injury or re-injury.

Another treatment modality physicians may use for treating tension myositis syndrome involves keeping a daily journal and writing about circumstances that might have created repressed emotional stress. Schecter recommends that when patients begin writing, they should consider whether they relate to certain key areas, which often contribute to repressed feelings.

* Abuse, abandonment or neglect during childhood
* Conscientiousness or perfectionism related to acceptance
* Current life stressors
* Aging or mortality
* Situations where patients feel but repress negative emotions

After identifying a list of possible contributing factors, TMS physicians require that patients formulate an essay for each of the problem areas. Longer essays provide patients with the opportunity of exploring the issue in greater detail. Schecter developed a 30 day program called “The MindBody Workbook,” which assists patients with documenting events that trigger negative emotions. The journal helps patients correlate the emotion with the physical symptoms of TMS. Over time, patients learn emotional expression rather than using repression.

Part of TMS treatment also requires that patients live as if symptom free. If physicians find no physical reason for chronic pain, Schecter advises that patients stop using conventional treatment methods for pain control. He believes these methods only serve to mentally reinforce a physical condition that does not exist. Patients must also resume normal physical activities when there is no physical evidence for pain.

Patients diagnosed with tension myositis syndrome and not acquiring symptomatic relief may benefit by attending support groups. The meetings allow patients the chance to examine emotional problems that contribute to symptoms. Patients also review information provided by initial education techniques. Some patients require psychotherapy because of an inability to unlock repressed feelings and contributing circumstances.

Controversy Surrounding TMS

While the pervading medical community recognizes psychosomatic illness and possible associated physical symptoms, some do not believe TMS is a viable condition. Many physicians argue that there is not enough scientific evidence proving the tension myositis syndrome theory or the effectiveness of treatment methods. As minor back injuries often resolve untreated within six weeks, some physicians suggest patients may receive inappropriate diagnoses of TMS.  However, recurring and intermittent back pain is usually a sign of tension myositis syndrome.

Check out our map of TMS doctors in the United States.