John E. Sarno
John Ernest Sarno Jr. (June 23, 1923 – June 22, 2017) was a Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine at the New York University School of Medicine and an attending physician at the Howard A. Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine, New York University Medical Center. He graduated from Kalamazoo College, Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 1943 and from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1950. In 1965, he was appointed the director of the Outpatient Department at the Rusk Institute.
Sarno originated the term tension myositis syndrome (TMS) to name a psychosomatic condition producing pain, particularly back pain. Many lay people have hailed the theory of TMS and Sarno's treatment of it as life-changing. A 2017 book on back pain treatments described Sarno as the "rock star of the back world." A documentary on his life and work titled All the Rage (Saved by Sarno) was released in 2016.
Sarno's most notable achievement is the development, diagnosis, and treatment of tension myoneural syndrome (TMS), which is currently not accepted by mainstream medicine. According to Sarno, TMS is a psychosomatic illness causing chronic back, neck, and limb pain that is not relieved by standard medical treatments. He includes other ailments, such as gastrointestinal problems, dermatological disorders, and repetitive-strain injuries, as TMS related.
Sarno states that he has successfully treated over ten thousand patients at the Rusk Institute by educating them on his beliefs of a psychological and emotional basis for their pain and symptoms. Sarno's theory is, in part, that the pain or GI symptoms are an unconscious "distraction" to aid in the repression of deep unconscious emotional issues. Sarno believes that when patients think about what may be upsetting them in their unconscious, they can defeat their minds' strategy to repress these powerful emotions; when the symptoms are seen for what they are, the symptoms then serve no purpose, and they go away.
Supporters of Sarno's work hypothesize an inherent difficulty in performing the clinical trials needed to prove or disprove the diagnosis since it is difficult to use clinical trials with psychosomatic illnesses. Sarno wrote about his experience in this area in his first book on TMS, Mind Over Back Pain. His second book, Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection, has sold over 150,000 copies. Sarno's most recent book, The Divided Mind: The Epidemic of Mindbody Disorders, features chapters by six other physicians and addresses the entire spectrum of psychosomatic disorders and the history of psychosomatic medicine.