Treating TMS

Everyone’s journey through TMS is very personal, because it depends on your psychology. What I did is pretty standard, though. First, read the book and accept the premise: you have no structural problem, you are suffering from an ultimately harmless physical process used by your brain to distract you from deeper problems, especially strong unacknowledged emotions of anger and sadness. Second, begin a gradual return to activity, while continuing to work on deeper, more automatic belief of the premise. Third, do deeper work with the underlying emotional issues.


I purchased The Mindbody Prescription in November 2005. I read it, and decided that I had RSI plus TMS, and the TMS was only afflicting my back. So I didn’t get that serious about it. Nothing much happened. I came across Nate McNamara’s “Conquer RSI” page in March. (Unfortunately, Nate’s page, which used to be at, no longer exists. However, if you search the Web for “nate conquerrsi”, you’ll find lots of success stories that used Nate’s page, any one of which might be helpful to you!). It intrigued me, but again I did nothing. It was only when I was four days into my first real job and my hands and voice were both exhausted that I said to myself,

Okay, I’ve got nothing. Let’s try this. I’ll start using the mouse, and I’ll monitor the pain level, reminding myself that the pain is not structural, but just from lack of bloodflow. If it gets too bad, I can stop, but if it gets worse and then levels off, or improves…then this might just work.

The experiment worked. My pain flared, leveled off, and gradually disappeared. Interestingly, this happened at different rates in each arm. I was able to continue working at the keyboard for two hours that day. Two hours, where my threshold before was no more than 10 minutes. I worked with breaks, but I worked. My arms felt warm and strong. Later that night, I did some light weight-lifting (which I had not done in years) and emptied the dishwasher (usually something I avoided or put off). My hands felt tired, but in a good way. During the next days and weeks, I continued this improvement. I did full days of work with no lasting pain. Each day I experienced less pain and stiffness during work, and none after. I began carrying things in my hands. The improvement occurred in spite of stopping all muscular trigger point self-treatment and reducing my stretching frequency, two things that had previously been instrumental in keeping me functional.


My main focus at first was on that type of work — keeping in mind that I could not injure myself, I returned to activity and gradually stopped all treatment, stretching, and special acommodations. I slept with no extra arm pillow. I ate with chopsticks. I read books. In short, I made small steps to being normal. My pain did not go away all at once. It began to jump around, lodging in new areas like my left shoulder and old areas like my knees. This was encouraging, though annoying. It meant that my brain was so desperate to hold on to the distraction of the pain that it was trying silly things like giving me new pain in completely illogical areas. It also meant that my knee pain, which had plagued me on and off for many years, was probably part of the same phenomenon! It was more persistent at work, because the conditioned pain triggers for “work environments” and keyboards were tougher than that for daily life.

I read some literature about TMS every day. Nate’s page, Rachel’s page, and MBP were my constant companions (back then, I printed out the webpages to read on the train, but these days I would probably read them on my smartphone :). Reading MBP kept drumming the theory into my head. Reading the stories of other people who recovered gave me faith that I could too. Their suggestions for treatment are great. Whenever I had pain, I tried to think about what emotion I might be trying to avoid thinking about. Failing that, I would just remember that it must be some kind of strong emotion, often anger, and that alone would often bring the gentle tingling of blood flowing back to my arm. I listened to the Harvard RSI Sarno Panel.

Two weeks in, I bought Fred Amir’s Rapid Recovery From Back and Neck Pain. I found his story very inspiring and used some of his techniques for talking to the brain about restoring blood flow, as well as rewarding the unconscious with little treats for good behavior. (I even once punished my unsconscious by making myself clean the stove. I only needed to do that once!) I journaled in Dr. David Schechter’s TMS workbook and in my own journal, thinking about stresses and pressures in my life both now and at the time of my injury. For many people, journaling is a key way to short-ciruit the brain’s attempt to distract you by forcing you to acknowledge and focus on the underlying emotions. I also joined the bulletin board at and was inspired by HilaryN’s story.


Two months later, I was completely recovered physically. I experienced no or only very minor pain on most days, none of it in my hands. [Note: These days, now over five years out, I still get stiffness and occasional pain in my upper back and neck, where a lot of people “carry tension”.] Not only had my RSI gone, but so had my knee problems of 12 years’ standing and foot problems of 18 months’ standing. Yay!!!!!! Unless you’ve had chronic pain, you don’t understand how great it is not to. I had a job and I was looking forward to many exciting new activities. Life was, and is pretty great. The TMS journey is not an easy one, and not an entirely linear one, but it is a worthwhile one. If you see yourself in these pages, at all, you owe it to yourself to try the journey.

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