Dr. John E. Sarno


John E. Sarno is Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine, New York University School of Medicine, and attending physician at the Howard A. Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine, New York University Medical Center [1]
. Dr. Sarno uses the actual case histories of his own patients and supports the theory that tension and unexpressed emotions, especially anger, can cause chronic back pain. He shows how awareness and understanding are the beginning to becoming proactive about one’s health. Dr. Sarno shows in his books how our culture has transformed and what we need to do to help recognize this growing problem. He speaks of holistic medicine and how all doctors should practice it, regardless of the field that they are in. He explains how the medical profession is not helping to stem the epidemic and that a change in the cultural view of pain needs to be transformed in order to better diagnose it and treat it [2] . His explanation is that such pains are induced by unconscious emotions. Those repressed emotions from our childhood, or any time of our lives, may also be the origin of fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel syndrome, allergies and a host of other maladies. He has found that suffering is due to the reluctance of its victims to accept the true explanation for the origin of the pains, a trick the brain plays on us by depriving a body part of oxygen. He believes that cure rests in the brain finding out that as a victim you do know what's happening. The cure is not from positive thinking, blind faith or placebo effect, as sometimes merely reading one of Dr. Sarno's books will effect a cure. However the key is to be able to accept the diagnosis, that it is not a structural problem but in fact a psychological one [3] .

Research and Work:

Dr. Sarno is a pivotal figure in the field of pain management because of his hotly debated approach to the diagnosis and management of back pain. His pain management concept has resulted in controversy in the medical community. He states, “I don't get flak; I just get ignored.” He says that getting ignored is easier in one sense and harder in another, as he has not gotten the approval of his peers, except from a couple people in the United States who are very well known in their work [4] . His psychotherapeutic approach to treatment is vastly different from the traditional prescription based psychiatric approach. His goal is to raise consciousness both inside and outside the field of medicine. He believes that the common pain syndromes represent a major public health problem. This problem won’t be solved until there is a change in the medical perception of the cause.

Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS) and the growing epidemic:

This condition is defined as a change of state in the muscle that is painful. Dr. Sarno believes that it is the major cause of the common syndromes of pain involving the neck, shoulders, back, buttocks and limbs. He uses his Healing Back Pain book to explain these concepts. Through the years, the incidence of these pain syndromes has increased and has become an impressively large public health problem. An article published in Forbes magazine in August 1986 reported that $56 billion is spent annually to fund the consequences of this hidden medical disorder. It is the number one cause of absentee workers as well as the second most cause for patients to visit a doctor, behind respiratory infections.
Dr. Sarno explains how all of this occurred in the past thirty years and how our culture has transformed. He explores the reasons as to why this is happening and why the medical profession is not helping to stem the epidemic. He states that it is the result of medicine’s failure to recognize the disease, and hence the lack of a proper diagnosis to treat it. His conventional medical training taught him that the pains he was seeing in his patients was due to a variety of structural abnormalities of the body, such as pinching nerves or arthritis, not psychological ones such as denial and emotional distress. It is not clear to him the exact way the psychological issues affect his patients, yet he does abide to his experience that the only successful way to treat this problem is to teach patients that they need to understand themselves and what they have.
Dr. Sarno states that his practice is holistic, but that all medical professionals should practice holistic medicine. The term “holistic medicine” has transformed throughout the years and has currently become a separate branch of medicine outside mainstream biomedicine. However, it is a term that should encompass all of medicine. In its form, it is the idea that one must treat the whole person, such as both the emotional and structural aspect of health, not just the symptoms presented [5] . Although the cause of TMS is tension, the diagnosis is made on physical grounds in clinical medicine.
Dr. Sarno believes that all physicians should be practitioners of holistic medicine and should recognize the interaction between mind and body regardless of the condition that they are treating.


John E. Sarno M.D. was born in 1923 and currently resides in the United States. He is a professor of rehabilitation medicine at the New York University School of Medicine, as well as an attending physician at the Howard A. Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine. From 1940-1943, he attended Kalamazoo College, a small liberal arts college in Michigan. Shortly after, he worked for the U.S. Army Medical Department at the Field Hospital of European Theatre. In 1950, he graduated from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and subsequently became certified through the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. From 1961-1963, he was a resident and academic career training fellow at the Institute of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the NYU Medical Center. In 1963, he became the clinical director at the New York State Rehabilitation Hospital in West Haverstraw, New York. After two years, he became the director of the outpatient department at the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine until 1975. Dr. Sarno has been in private practice since 1965 at the Rusk Institute in NYU (1).

Major Publications:

Sarno J.E. Mind Over Back Pain. Wm. Morrow & Co., New York, 1984.
Sarno J.E. Mind Over Back Pain (Revised Edition). The Berkley Publishing Group, New York, 1986.
Sarno, J.E. Healing Back Pain. Warner Books, New York, 1991.
Sarno J.E. The Mindbody Prescription. Warner Books, New York, 1998.
Sarno J.E. The Divided Mind: The Epidemic of Mindbody Disorders. Regan Books, Harper Collins, Inc., New York, 2006.

Online resources:

Dr. Sarno and his work http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ymsLSiA2RA

Further reading:

The Divided mind : the epidemic of mindbody disorders. Sarno, John E
New York : ReganBooks, 2006

Psychosomatic concepts in chronic pain. Rashbaum, Ira G; Sarno, John E
2003 Mar;84(3 Suppl 1):S76-80; quiz S81, Archives of physical medicine & rehabilitation— id: 39240, year: 2003

Healing back pain : the mind-body connection. Sarno, John E. New York : Warner Books, 2001, — id: 1126, year: 2001

Mind over back pain : a radically new approach to the diagnosis and treatment of back pain. Sarno, John E. New York : Berkley Books, 1999

(1) John E. Sarno M.D. The Official Site. Retrieved April 23, 2013. http://johnesarnomd.com/
(4) An Expert Interview With Dr. John Sarno, Part II: Pain Management Prophet or Pariah? Medscape Orthopedics. 2004. Retrieved April 24, 2013. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/478852
(5) Peter-Davies, James. The Making of Psychotherapists: An Anthropological Analysis. Karnac Books. Psychology. 2009.
(3) Book Review: The Divided Mind: The Epidemic of Mindbody Disorders, by John E. Sarno M.D. 2006. Retrieved April 24, 2013. http://www.primal- page.com/sarno2.htm
(2) Healing back pain : the mind-body connection. Sarno, John E. New York : Warner Books, 2001, — id: 1126, year: 2001
  1. ^ http://johnesarnomd.com/
  2. ^ http://books.google.com/books?id=EnN2sVVZOAIC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Healing+back+pain+:+the+mind-body+connection.+Sarno,+John+E.&hl=en&sa=X&ei=vwR7UfKQDpTk8gTR4IDwAg&ved=0CDkQ6AEwAA
  3. ^ http://www.primal- page.com/sarno2.htm
  4. ^ http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/478852
  5. ^ Peter-Davies, James. The Making of Psychotherapists: An Anthropological Analysis. Karnac Books. Psychology. 2009.