The Bullshit Report

Back Pain

WELCOME TO EARTH: Fartlek Training

I’m excited to write this month’s Bullshit Report because it involves an issue that is very close to my heart. In fact, it’s a few inches from my heart. It’s called back pain, and if you suffer from it, the following 701 words will potentially save your life.

Many years ago, I developed crippling backpain. The doctors said it was Sciatica. My god, it was painful. Easily the most excruciating pain I have ever experienced. I was in my twenties at the time and these attacks of ‘sciatica’ would render me unable to get out of bed without yelping. The pain of going from lying down to standing up would actually make me cry out. It was like being stabbed in the buttock with an electric Rambo knife. The pain would shoot down my leg and up my hip and I would cry out like this: AAAAAAGH! It hurt to even roll over in bed, and going to work was not going to happen. My back pain was utterly agonizing, and I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy. I had an M.R.I. and the doctors noted a degenerating disc in my spine. ‘There’s a degenerating disc in your spine,’ they said, ‘We shall have to operate.’ God. Really? Surgery? I became deeply bummed out. They were going to cut me open and do stuff to my spine. Christ. But then they didn’t have to, and the reason they didn’t have to will surprise you: I read a book.

Believe it or not, the actor Daniel Day-Lewis and I have a mutual friend (I don’t like to namedrop, but, I mean, fuck, it’s D.D.L. As if I’m not going to tell you). D.D.L. had the same thing as me: Sciatica, but then someone recommended a book to him and it saved his life (although, I think he’d already undergone surgery). The book was also recommended to me by our mutual friend, and I have been pain-free ever since. That book is called Healing Back Pain by Dr John Sarno, and I can’t recommend it enough.

John Sarno (pictured chilling in '83 below) was a Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine at the New York University School of Medicine and a physician at the Howard A. Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine at N.Y.U. He was also a King and a Gangster and remains my favorite human being in the history of the world. John specialized in the mind-body connection, a branch of science that posits—nay—proves without a shadow of a doubt that many modern pain syndromes (chronic back, neck, and limb pain), gastrointestinal ailments, and dermatological disorders have emotional causes. That is, they are brought about by activity in your head. That’s not to say the pain isn’t real—it’s very real, but the cause lies in our minds. He called the phenomenon Tension Myositis Syndrome, or T.M.S. for short.

The chronic pain management industry is enormous. It’s a juggernaut. In fact, according to DataHorizzon Research, it was valued at USD 72.3 Billion in 2022, and is expected to reach a whopping USD 97.4 Billion by 2032 . So, it’s an industrial complex, which means it’s too large and far-reaching to be dismantled. This makes Dr Sarno’s T.M.S. incredibly dangerous to the Pain Management Industrial Complex, because once you read the book—you’re cured. There are no drugs, no rehab, no doctor visits, no surgery, and no more money to be spent. It’s over. Knowledge is the cure, and for this reason, you have more than likely never heard about Dr. Sarno. He and his book have been kept under wraps.

The good news for the Pain Management Industrial Complex is this: you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Most people will prefer to have pointless, expensive, stopgap surgery than believe for one second that their emotions (the primary emotion being anger) could have any effect on their body. And so it goes. But before you let them open up your back and cut out ‘degenerative’ chunks of your spine, think about the last time you were unable to express anger and how close behind that experience you had an attack of sciatica or back pain. Yes, sometimes sciatica is real, and back injuries are real—you can definitely fuck your back—but if you can identify a pattern of unexpressed anger or stress followed by chronic pain in any part of your body, I say read the book. Healing Back Pain by Dr John Sarno.

Here endeth the lesson.