Opinion and analysis on managing care from experts and KOLs

A Tribute to Dr. John Sarno

Steven R. Peskin, MD, MBA, FACP

At age 89, Dr. John Sarno has retired from his clinical practice at the Howard A. Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine at New York University School of Medicine where he is a professor of rehabilitation medicine. I consider John a friend, a thought-creator in the field of mind body medicine, and someone to whom I owe a profound debt of gratitude in that my wife, Suzanne, was cured of seven years of debilitating back pain by embracing the etiology of her pain as psychologically based.

Dr. Sarno developed his theory —  Tension Myositis Syndrome — after more than a decade in practice as a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician in academic medicine. He observed patterns of behavior and personality traits that were shared by large numbers of patients with back pain and other pain syndromes.  

 Dr. Sarno’s controversial approach to back pain, other types of chronic musculoskeletal pain — neck, shoulder, infrascapular — and other pain syndromes including migraine and carpal tunnel syndrome, is a two-part lecture to educate patients on the underlying psychological causes or triggers leading to mild oxygen deprivation to certain muscle groups. His mantra is, “The pain is real, but the cause of your pain is not.”

John has successfully treated over 12,000 patients and has helped countless others who have read one of his four books —"The Mind-Body Connection" — or who have been treated by a handful of Sarno disciples. A criticism of Sarno’s self-reported success rate of greater than 95% is selection bias. It is true that Dr. Sarno would not take as a patient someone who was unwilling to accept that his/her pain might be psychologically based. That said, I argue that John was ahead of his time — utilizing individualized medicine.

Thank you, John.  

Steven R. Peskin, MD, MBA, FACP, is associate clinical professor of medicine at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey — Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

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