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How I Healed My Back Without Surgery or Drugs

Doug Tedeschi
Written by Doug Tedeschi
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How I Healed My Back Without Surgery or Drugs

Image by VICTOR TORRES / Stocksy

Two years ago, my doctors told me I’d never run again. I’d never lift, push or pull anything heavy. My back was so messed up I wasn’t even supposed to bend at the waist.

But today I’m perfectly healthy. I do all the things my doctors told me not to, and I never experience the pain they said I’d feel. And that’s all without surgery, drugs or bed rest.

And for this I have Dr. John Sarno to thank.

Even today, I’ve never met Dr. Sarno, nor spoken to him. He’s a professor at NYU’s School of Medicine, a doctor at NYU Hospital and, most importantly to me, the author of Healing Back Pain. In the book, Dr. Sarno promises to heal you without medicine or medical procedures, and he does just that.

But first, let’s back up to my injury. Some friends of mine found a giant slalom track on a ski slope in Jackson Hole and challenged each other to races. Outmatched in skill and experience, I took the course harder than I should have, and suffered. X-rays showed a badly blown out L-5 disc, pressing hard against the nerves in my spine.

The pain was constant and severe. It hit my lower back, and shot sharply from mid-rear-end down the back of my leg. Many days, I couldn’t walk. Others, I’d walk a block or two, then lay on the ground in the middle of pedestrian traffic until the pain subsided.

Cortisone shots to my spine and orally taken steroids did little to ease the pain. Months of physical therapy only made things marginally better. Restricting my daily activities bit hard into my psyche.

Amid heightening desperation, I read an article about wellness that had nothing to do with back pain. But the author said he’d suffered the same injury I had, and cured it with Dr. Sarno’s book. The book sounded like quackery, but the author’s story was so much like mine... His remorse over being told he’d never play his favorite sports again, or pick up his kids, reverberated with me.

I looked the book up on Amazon. Sure enough, hundreds of customer reviewers told stories of their own, and hailed Dr. Sarno’s book as changing their lives. It had to be worth a try.

The book is only a few dozen pages. It doesn’t say very much. Its point is simple, though the exact mechanisms Dr. Sarno describes are somewhat more complicated. Basically, my back was perfectly fine. It was my head that hurt. Not physically, but psychologically.

According to Dr. Sarno, when we get severely stressed out, our subconscious mind wants to protect us from the strain. To distract our conscious mind from anger or anxiety, it creates a distraction.

Because I’d actually done some physical damage to my lower back, my subconscious mind knew the distraction of severe pain in that area would be believable to my conscious mind. So it constricted the blood vessels there, preventing enough blood from getting to my nerve. The nerve, being extremely sensitive to oxygen deprivation, reacted with severe pain.

To reverse the process, all I had to do was tell myself I was perfectly healthy. That I knew what my subconscious was doing to “protect” me and didn’t want that protection anymore. And to do this, I needed to send my subconscious mind a strong, clear, consistent message.

The first step was changing the way I talked to myself. When I felt pain, I’d tell myself, “Stop causing pain. I know my back is perfectly healthy. What could be causing me anxiety and anger?” Or simply, “My back is perfectly healthy. My back is perfectly healthy.” Though I felt like Annette Bening in American Beauty, reassuring herself, “I will sell this house today,” it made a huge difference for me. (No, you don’t have to say this stuff out loud.)

The second step was to get out there and do all the things my doctors told me not to. I signed up for a duathlon (bike plus run), because cycling was the number one activity my doctors prohibited. I’d lift heavy objects with abandon, bend at the waist, swing a golf club. I even ran a Tough Mudder.

Though this sounds dangerous and crazy, it was the most powerful way to let my subconscious mind know I was on to what it was doing. (To refrain from these activities would be to admit to my subconscious mind that I believed my back was actually hurt.) Once my subconscious knew for certain that the jig was up, there was little point in carrying on the ruse anymore.

Sounds crazy? Well, it is, until you try it and it works. I haven’t felt a twinge of pain since I changed the way I thought and lived.

If my story sounds like yours, I urge you to order a copy of Dr. Sarno’s book. Reading the book, it may feel like he’s been with you all this time, because he knows your story better than you do. You’ll catch yourself thinking, over and over again, “That’s exactly what happened to me!”

I’ve passed the book along already to several other people who’ve faced similar problems. For most of them, it’s worked. If I can get a few more people on board with Dr. Sarno’s remedy, the pain will all have been worthwhile.

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