Two months ago, I stepped into a shower in a hotel room in Baton Rouge, La., and felt a slight twinge in my back. I didn’t pay it much mind. I’ve experienced twinges from time to time, but for more than 25 years, I have been essentially free of back pain.
As you’ve probably guessed, that twinge didn’t go away. Instead, it got worse. It lodged in my lower back, and I could feel the sciatica all the way down to my knee. Within a week, I couldn’t walk more than 100 yards without severe pain.
Among other things, I was embarrassed. In 1987, I wrote an article in New York magazine called “Ah, My Non-Aching Back,” about how I’d found relief through a doctor named John E. Sarno.
By the time I saw Dr. Sarno, I had spent a year in relentless pain, visiting orthopedists and chiropractors, osteopaths and acupuncturists, trying yoga, physical therapy and bed rest, all to no avail.
Dr. Sarno’s treatment was essentially a talking cure. His theory, stated simply, is that back pain develops as a way of unconsciously shifting attention away from uncomfortable feelings such as anger and anxiety. With rare exceptions, Dr. Sarno believes, back pain has no structural basis. Rather, it is almost always a consequence of muscle spasm that prompts pain, which leads to fear, and then more spasm, and eventually creates a vicious cycle of pain. He named the condition tension myositis syndrome.
My prescription was to...