This is probably the most FAQ about TMS. The answer, in my opinion, is that if you have pain that’s been diagnosed as RSI, and it’s persisted for more than a month or two (and likely even if it hasn’t yet), especially if treatment is of temporary or limited benefit, you probably have TMS. TMS is epidemic and, in a sense, normal; people with it usually have no serious psychological problems. It’s a reaction to our external and internal pressure to be good people and to succeed.
An incomplete list of things that can indicate you have TMS:
- You’re a perfectionist, highly responsible, or driven, or you try to be nice to everyone (or several of the above).
- You’ve experienced depression or anxiety before or along with your pain.
- You have a history of minor to major pain complaints, stomach and digestive problems, allergies, adult-onset eczema or asthma, etc.
- Your pain started at or around a time when you were under a lot of external pressure (even happy pressure, such as marriage or graduation).
- Your pain “doesn’t make sense”. This can be hard to spot, but take me as an example: why did I only ever get pain in my forearms and my right upper back? Wasn’t I abusing my whole upper body? It didn’t make sense. Some people get pain only in the morning, others only at night, and others only several hours after completing the activity.
- Your pain is less severe during cardiovascular exercise, in the shower or bath, or any other time when bloodflow is temporarily increased.
- Your pain is helped temporarily by various physical treatments, but eventually it comes back, and you have to keep getting more or different treatment to keep it away.
All of these were true for me. Not all of them need to be true; they’re just indicators.
Ideally, you should be diagnosed with TMS by a TMS doctor, but there aren’t many. The TMS Wiki site (also a good resource in other respects) has a list. Failing that, you should see your regular doctor or a knowledgeable specialist and confirm that you don’t have any acute or systemic condition that can cause pain (B12 or other vitamin deficiency, anemia, cancer, bone injury, etc.). RSI and other highly painful but basically benign soft-tissue diagnoses are not systemic conditions. (However, recent experience tells me that not all soft-tissue diagnoses represent TMS.)
Once you know that, buy one of Sarno’s books. I recommend the one I used, The Mindbody Prescription, because it is straightforward and not targeted just at back pain. Read it seriously, repeatedly, and with great attention. If it applies to you at all, keep reading.
Buy any other TMS book that appeals to you, read all the web resources you can find, and do the recommended work. If you feel better, you had TMS! Otherwise, you may or may not. It can take a while to feel better, or you may want to look into psychotherapy. Or there might be something else wrong. It’s hard for me to say what since I don’t know you and I’m not a doctor.