What is Tension Myositis Syndrome?

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  • Written By: Laura M. Sands
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 21 October 2019
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Chronic nonspecific back pain that lacks physical explanation may be due to tension myositis syndrome, or TMS. This type of back pain is common in individuals experiencing lingering emotional stress and is sometimes even referred to as mind body syndrome. It is because tension myositis syndrome is caused by mental stress, as opposed to physical injury, that physicians often find this type of pain difficult to cure using traditional methods. Successful efforts have been made, however, to relieve pain using treatments that embrace the mind body connection.

Tension myositis syndrome is a phrase originally coined by Dr. John Sarno, who theorizes that some forms of chronic pain are attributed to emotional stress. Among the conditions Dr. Sarno believes are rooted in a mind body connection include carpal tunnel syndrome and back pain. In promoting his theories about tension myositis syndrome, Dr. Sarno asserts that some chronic pain occurs as the result of the mind creating a diversion from emotional stress. When this occurs, the brain stops sending blood to a particular part of the body, which further results in a buildup of toxins and causes pain in that area. This same activity can also cause muscle spasms, which often accompany back pain.


Diagnosing tension myositis syndrome begins with an examination to determine whether back pain has an actual source, such as a tumor or actual nerve damage that was caused by an underlying condition or trauma to that area. When a specific cause of pain cannot be identified, doctors assume that the pain is being caused by tension myositis syndrome. Emotional factors are then explored and further considered as causative sources of pain.

Unconscious stress is often found to be the culprit in causing back pain. It is not uncommon for individuals with back pain symptoms to also have previous or current symptoms of other conditions with a mind body connection, such as ulcers, a spastic colon, headaches and gastrointestinal disorders. The back pain affecting these individuals tends to most frequently occur in the lower back and, in some, the neck and shoulder areas, as well.

Other tell-tale signs that back pain may be due to tension myositis syndrome include stressful events occurring at the same time as chronic pain onset, suppressed anger and other emotions. Also characteristic of this syndrome is a history of trying remedies that do not work and a personality prone to perfectionism and control tendencies or a person being overly self-critical. While treating back pain using conventional methods may offer a patient a level of relief, doctors subscribing to Dr. Sarno’s theory believe these to be only a temporary fix. Instead, by addressing these possible underlying causes of back pain, doctors have found that pain, which could not otherwise be alleviated, is finally resolved.


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