Definition & Overview

Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS) is a psychological condition that causes physical symptoms, such as chronic back pain, fibromyalgia, and gastrointestinal problems. The symptoms are not caused by any other medical conditions and are often unexplainable.

Dr. John E. Sarno, a retired professor at the Clinical Rehabilitation Medicine of New York University first introduced the TMS concept. However, until now the concept is not being fully recognized by the medical community. Nevertheless, Dr. Sarno has managed to gain a significant amount of followers, many of them are doctors who are practicing in different fields.

The underlying concept of TMS is that when physical symptoms, such as those described above, are present, but tests have not been able to reveal the cause, there is a good possibility that the patient is suffering from a psychological condition. This does not mean that the patient is simply “imagining” the symptoms because they are in fact occurring.

Cause of Condition

The cause of the condition, as explained by Dr. Sarno, is the psychological stress that people experience when forcing themselves to meet the standards that are set by other people. For instance, if a person grew up in home where dinner is prepared at a certain time in the evening, it is likely that when that person grows up, he or she will do whatever it takes to keep up with that standard. Even if that person is already working 10 hours per day and is exhausted at the end of the day, that person will still ensure that dinner is prepared at the exact time, otherwise, he or she will be stressed.

The psychological stress that develops over time begins to cause physical symptoms that do not have any medical explanation. In the beginning, the symptoms may be mild, but as the stress continues, the symptoms end up as a chronic condition.

Another cause of TMS is repressed emotions. Some people are taught at a very young age to repress their emotions because it is what society expects of them. Even when they’re angry, they have a tendency to hide their anger for fear that they’ll be rejected by society. This situation also results in psychological stress, which could lead to TMS.

Dr. Sarno believes that psychological stress caused by an emotional state can trigger the autonomous nervous system, which is a part of the nervous system that is tasked to regulate some body functions, such as the digestive process, breathing, and the heartbeat.

Once triggered by stress, the system will inhibit blood flow to the tissues, nerves, and muscles. Blood carries the necessary amount of oxygen that every part of the body requires. Without oxygen, the tissues, nerves, and muscles will become painful.

Key Symptoms

The key symptom of TMS is chronic pain, but other symptoms may also appear, such as digestive problems, fatigue, temporal mandibular jaw malfunctions, and headaches. Some patients may experience pain that moves from one location of the body to another or from one portion of the back to another portion.

For example, some patients experience neck pains, which will suddenly disappear. After a while, they’ll begin to feel pain on their lower back or on their knees.

Who to See & Types of Treatment Available

If you’re suffering from chronic pain, you’ve probably already gone to several doctors. You may have even reached the point where a doctor has told you that the symptoms you’re experiencing are all in your head. This may be because you’ve already undergone several types of imaging tests and laboratory exams but the cause of the condition has still not been found.

While being told that you may just be “imagining” your symptoms can be insulting, the doctor may not be far from the truth.

It’s important to understand that the medical community is still not recognizing TMS as a medical condition, which is why most doctors will not diagnose you with it. You will need to consult a doctor who has studied TMS and understands your condition.

The doctor will examine your medical history and any current test and laboratory results you may have. If you can provide a diagnosis report performed by other doctors who you’ve consulted in the past, these can help the current doctor diagnose your condition more accurately.

If the doctor believes that your symptoms are caused by TMS, a treatment plan will be formulated, which includes discussing the condition in detail.

It is important that you understand the explanation because the treatment will rely heavily on your acceptance of what is causing the symptoms. Some people may find it difficult to believe that their emotions are the actual cause. This prevents them from being able to change their thought patterns.

The doctor will then try to identify the cause of your emotional state. You will be asked questions like, have you experienced physical or emotional abuse as a child? What are the current life situations that continue to stress you out?

Once the doctor has created a list of the factors that are contributing to the condition, you’ll be asked to create an essay that describes those factors. The purpose of the essay is for you to gain a deeper understanding of those factors.

You may also be asked to keep a journal, which will help you create a connection between the symptoms and your emotions. The doctor will also recommend meditation, setting your life’s goals (both short and long term), keeping a positive attitude, exercising, and adapting a healthy lifestyle.


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