It’s hard to believe it’s been over three months since my last post. That’s about the time I started experiencing symptoms of Repetitive Stress Injury, which is common enough for people who spend their day on the computer that I immediately guessed at the problem. From a previous bout of RSI, I understood the basic ergonomic recommendations. However, over the course of an intense work project, I had let my break and posture habits slip. I thought I was paying the price, so I set about paying attention to my habits and working to correct them.
Unfortunately, becoming more attentive to my break schedule and correcting my posture did nothing to eliminate the problem, and in fact, it started getting worse. I enlisted the help of a massage therapist and a chiropractor; both provided temporary relief only. I purchased and read It’s Not Carpal Tunnel Syndrome! by Jack Bellis and Suparna Damany and thought I had narrowed down the problem to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. In the meantime, I spoke to everyone who would listen, including my primary care doctor and a friend of mine who is a physician’s assistant, about my issues. Firstly, those in the medical community seemed to be completely baffled by the symptoms I was describing, saying things like, “Usually such an issue only manifests unilaterally,” while I was experiencing problems in both arms. Still everyone had advice, and I did my best to follow the advice (such as, cut down on sugar consumption) except where it was conflicting (the topic of chiropractors seems to be a particularly polarizing one).
And yet nothing was helping. So I continued my research. I stumbled across one blog article in which the author states that he solved his RSI problem by reading The Mindbody Prescription by Dr. John Sarno. When I read the synopsis of the book, I was skeptical that it would apply to my case because I feel like I’m fairly even keel. On the other hand, at this point I was willing to try anything.
I read the book and was surprised to see that Dr. Sarno was describing my personality and symptoms to a tee. Sarno’s theory is that those who are most even keel emotionally are most likely to internalize stress so that it manifests as physical pain. I’ll spare you most of the boring details about my particular case. Suffice it to say that I’m finally comfortable enough to sit and write a blog post during my off hours, and I, too, would attribute my recovery to the concepts covered in The Mindbody Prescription.
Though I was initially skeptical that my problem was emotional in nature, the idea that mental state could influence physical outcomes is well covered in scientific literature, and thus it was not much of a leap for me to accept Dr. Sarno’s arguments. For example, the placebo effect by which simply an expectation of a therapy to have success has a positive bearing on whether the therapy is successful has been amply documented not only with medication, but with a long list of treatments from acupuncture to ultrasound.
And yet there’s enough of a stigma about the mind-body connection that some people simply refuse to acknowledge the connection. It’s Not Carpal Tunnel Syndrome! refers to The Mindbody Prescription and almost completely discounts it because the author Jack Bellis infers an “all-in-your-head” theme that he finds offensive. His opinion is mildly amusing to me because the message in It’s Not Carpal Tunnel Syndrome! is that there is no way to completely heal yourself but that you can dampen and manage the pain with physical therapy and habit changes, while the message in The Mindbody Prescription is that you can, in fact, completely heal yourself. So what this means is that Jack Bellis (and many others like him) finds the notion of emotions being a source of physical pain so repulsive that he is willing to live with the pain rather than open up to the possibility of the mind-body connection.
By the way, as I mentioned, I had previously suffered from RSI in my twenties. At the time, I made the ergonomic changes recommended by medical professionals, but at the suggestion of a friend, I also took up yoga, which emphasizes deep breathing and introspection similar to what Dr. Sarno recommends. The problem went away with me none the wiser as to why it went away.
In any case, this RSI experience reinforced for me the idea that we have to be advocates for treatment of our own injuries and illnesses. Now when I am suffering from a physical ailment, my modus operandi is to talk to others, do internet research, and keep trying different therapies until I stumble on the right one. So far it’s worked well for me.