My time with John Sarno

I am an osteopathic physician and surgeon who has seen thousands of people in the last 30 years. One day, many years ago, I had a dance teacher come to me as a patient. She happened to mention that for many years she had debilitating low back pain. 

“Do you still have it?” I asked. 

“No, I haven’t had it for years thanks to John Sarno.”

I had never heard of him so I asked her to explain further.

“Well, I had heard that he helped people like me just by talking so I took the train from Washington, DC to NYC and went to one of his public lectures.”

“I never had any more back pain since.”

As a doctor I found this story unbelievable but since I respected her I decided to investigate further.

I learned that Sarno, a former GP from upstate New York, decided in the early 70s to get trained in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the Rusk Institute for Rehabilitation at New York University. One day, while working in the out patient pain clinic, it dawned on him that many of the same patients were coming back again and again for the same complaint.

What was going on?

If they were correctly diagnosed and the treatment (physical therapy) was effective then why were they returning with the same complaints?

It turns out, as he discovered, they were not being correctly diagnosed. They were being diagnosed with physical problems when, in fact, they had psychosomatic problems.

Even though their pain was real, and for such patients it is real including muscle spasm and other physical symptoms, the cause was not physical. The cause was from the mind, not the body.

For many years physicians have known that the mind has an effect on the physical body but they really had no idea how to help such patients. There are many textbooks and articles on these things but as far as I know no medical school teaches what to do with these people when training doctors.

Sarno, who had lifelong headaches, worked with psychologists and therapists at NYU to learn about the mind and its effect on the body. What he finally emerged with not only cured his own headaches but also made him famous with patients with such symptoms.

He calls these problems TMS (tension myoneural syndrome). I read his books (5) and researched him. Then I wrote him a letter and he said that I could spend time with him seeing patients.

So I got on a train and went to NYC where I subsequently spent a day seeing patients with him.

Sarno was a very small man. He wore a white doctor’s coat and had a tiny office in the NYU Rehabilitation Institute. When I came there he told me, Well, I have to get permission from the patients for you to come in. You know, these people are paying a lot of money to see me.

At the time he was on a salary but NYU charged $1,400 for a consultation with him. 

I noticed that the patients varied from those who were very quiet and reserved to one man who angrily said, “Who made you and expert? You are not a psychologist. You have no academic training in these matters.”

He was very hostile.

Sarno just pulled himself up and looked directly into his eyes and said, “I have a brain and I can read.”

That shut the patient up.

Then Dr. Sarno told him, I have looked at your records and examined you. There is nothing physically causing your pain symptoms. Here is the program I advise. When you feel the pain, which you will, you must tell yourself: “There is nothing wrong with my body. All of these symptoms are being caused by my unconscious mind which is trying to send me a message. It believes that I need the message because it is afraid that I haven’t realized that my way of being with stress is making my life hell. It is using my body to get my attention.”

“You are not crazy. You are simply one of a subset of people who has these psychosomatic reactions to internalized stress and refusal to recognize your feelings and to do something about them.”

I went back to my practice in Maryland and began to apply these teachings to my own TMS patients and got success. Over the years I have learned a lot more from helping these patients and gotten even greater success.

One of the most important things I have learned, which I want to share with you, is that without a thorough physical examination done by a physician who can actually put their hands on the patient and figure out the difference between normal tissue (musculoskeletal) findings and those which indicate a physical origin, we cannot ever know if indeed the patient has TMS.

I am an osteopathic physician who went to medical school, took years of courses designed to help me make such a exam, and who has treated thousands of people over the years who indeed do and did have pain caused by physical problems. I treat them and their pain goes away.

Most DOs (osteopathic physicians) do not have such a practice. They are family doctors, internists, surgeons, obstetricians and do not specialize in these types of exams. I do and have for 30 years. I know very soon whether a patient has a physical or a non-physical cause of their pain.

Most of my patients do not have TMS but some do and with them I must use Dr. Sarno’s approach to get results.

Incidentally, and this is written with great respect, few physicians especially MDs like Sarno have these skills.

Sarno did the same exam with the same result on every patient during the time I spent with him. I asked him why he did this sham exam. He told me, I have already figured out they have TMS from the interview (he would interview new patients by phone before the consultation) so the exam is simply to let them know that I have examined them.

As an osteopathic physician who regularly makes such exams I understood that we had very different training and that it was useless to mention this to him. There was no way he could relate and, honestly, what he was doing worked well for him so why would I want to upset the apple cart.

Dr. Sarno was well known in the TMS community to not welcome challenges of any type. One MD told me that he was aware of another physician who was permanently on Sarno’s list of those whom he wouldn’t talk to because this man had questioned him in a way that he didn’t welcome.

So I kept my peace and went home.

Many practitioners in the TMS  community do not touch patients at all. Some who do, physicians, cannot do the exam which I have used on all my patients.

I believe that without such exam validation one cannot have a confirmed TMS diagnosis.

Open heart surgery, collapsed diaphragm

Following open heart or bi-pass surgery it is fairly common for patients to note problems with breathing. Often this is due to one or more sides of the diaphragm, the major muscle of respiration, being collapsed. The surgeons say that nothing can be done to remedy this.

They are wrong.

Today I saw a patient who has this procedure done about a month ago. He has had a lot of breathing problems since then as well as being in pain from the surgery. I found that the surgery had created a pull in the ligaments and connective tissues in his chest, down to the diaphragm, as well as all the way into the pelvis.

In addition, since the breast bone is broken to gain access to the heart for the surgery and pried back like a claim shell, what commonly happens is that the heads of the ribs in the back are jammed. This will result in back pain as well as other problems in the years to come.

All of this can be permanently corrected with osteopathic treatment based on a specific diagnosis by a trained physician.

Today’s patient remarked that not only was he breathing a lot better following this initial visit but that also he was in less pain.

I had this procedure years ago. My right diaphragm was collapsed. I had an x ray to prove it. Two cardiologists who saw the x ray confirmed that as a result of the surgery my right diaphragm was collapsed. When I showed this to the surgeon he told me that I was mistaken and offered me an inhaler for asthma medicine to help with my breathing.

I never saw him again.

And neither should you.

Come get treated if you have had open-heart surgery. You will save yourself years of suffering and medical run arounds.

Comment on Hitting a medical wall, and turning to unproven treatments

The online NY Times published the following comment I wrote regarding their article, Hitting a medical wall, and turning to unproven treatments, by Jane Brody on 1 May 2017.

While I was doing my residency training in Washington, DC in the late 80s, I daily saw proof that much of the current medical approach to patient care is not only misguided but profoundly unscientific. Patients were ignored;their symptoms became the focus of their physicians.
For the past 27 years I have focused on meticulous physical examination of patients, figuring out why their bodies produce the symptoms they do. I do this using ever more refined palpation of physiology via the musculoskeletal system which is a reflection of the autonomic nervous system. The ANS, the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems, is often out of balance in our patients. Most patients are in a hypersympathetic state.

Using osteopathic examination and treatment it is possible to change this. In addition, using classical homeopathy and acupuncture, patients may be guided to their natural state of health. I rarely prescribe drugs.

As Andrew Taylor Still, MD, the man who discovered osteopathy wrote, To find health should be the object of the doctor. Anyone can find disease.

Our current medical model is focused on disease. This results in the treatment of symptoms which, while not always bad ( ex. stabilization of patients in the ER or other emergency and acute situations), does not seem to be the answer to most chronic problems.

When we truly treat the person versus their symptoms and focus on changing their physiology, then we may help them return to their natural state of Health.

Here is the link to the NY Times article:

Pink eye treated with osteopathy

Recently my husband developed pink eye. He went to his allopathic physician who prescribed an antibiotic solution. The entire area became so swollen and inflamed that he could hardly see out of the eye.

At this point he turned to me for help. I examined him and determined that the drainage to the eye had become impaired. The lymphatic  and arterial-venous systems to the eye and adjacent areas were treated. Within one day this resulted in marked improvement in symptoms. After three more such treatments, the swelling and most of the redness on the eye was gone.

However, a stye had developed on the upper lid. This was treated homeopathically with a single dose of Pulsatilla 200C. Within two days the stye was gone.

I only use antibiotics for infectious disease in my practice averaging about 1 -2 prescriptions a year. Using osteopathy and homeopathy even the most aggressive and serious infectious conditions may be successfully treated without antibiotics.

A possible cure for macular degeneration.

Macular degeneration is a very common condition which in many cases may lead to partial or complete vision loss and blindness. According to the  National Eye Institute, NIH there is no cure.

Recently I met with Richard Niemtzow, MD, a radiation oncologist who currently serves as the head of all acupuncture-related services for the Armed Forces. He has devoted much of his life to pioneering new approaches to curing such conditions as dry mouth, battlefield acupuncture for pain , and other areas of medicine. Dr. Niemtzow has a PhD in electronics and is a prolific researcher and writer in the field of medical applications of acupuncture.

Dr. Niemtzow has made a discovery that may change the way in which the medical profession helps people with blindness and vision loss from macular degeneration.

Using just two points on the body and a very low level electrical current between the points, he has shown that macular degeneration vision loss can be rapidly eliminated. He has just returned from Vietnam where a research trial of this approach was conducted with patients at an ophthalmology center in Saigon ( Ho Chi Minh City). The results were astounding with all the patients experiencing immediate return of vision. He told me that several treatments may be required for long term benefit but even the limited results are impressive considering that there is currently no cure for this ailment.

The procedure takes little time, may be done in an outpatient setting, is cost effective, involves no drugs, surgery or injections into the eyes, all of which are mentioned by NIH as current approaches, none of which seem truly helpful, to this problem.

I hope to be working with Dr Niemtzow to offer this treatment to patients in the near future. He told me that when the data from the work in Vietnam has been received and processed, he will publish it.

Osteopathic diagnosis and treatment also has much to offer in restoration of normal function, physiology to the eye and we hope to add this as well to make the treatment even more effective.


Expert in concussion. Maryland

Dr Goodman has been treating concussions for over 25 years.

He is a residency-trained specialist in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, having done a three year residency at the National Rehabilitation Hospital, Washington, DC. There he was taught state of the art approaches to the diagnosis and management of concussions.

What is especially unique in his approach to this increasingly common issue is that he uses osteopathic diagnosis and treatment as well as other non-drug approaches to support patients.

At the time of this writing, he is working with many young people who, besides needing to be cleared for school, camp, sports activities, and other things, require care so that they will have zero carry over effects from their injuries.

Most patients for these problems will see neurologists or other physicians who lack the hands-on background for diagnosing and treating these conditions. They may, indeed, clear a patient to return to school, work or other activities based on an imaging study ( MRI, CT, etc.) but do not actually put their hands on the patient to examine in real time what is going on.

This is critical for not only full recovery but also for identifying and treating the many things that happen with closed head injury, head injury, traumatic brain injury, concussion and do not show up on the MRI, CT studies.

Dr Goodman is a recognized expert in the evaluation and treatment of concussions.

His results with patients who were told that nothing more could be done for them and who today are back to leading a full life speak for themselves.

Sarcoidosis disappears with bee venom treatment.

Sarcoid or sarcoidosis is a systemic inflammatory disease.  It consists of the development of fibrotic or granulomatous tissues which interfere with the functioning of the system. Most commonly it develops in the lungs and also frequently in the heart as well as other parts of the body.

In many patients it may be asymptomatic but some people the symptoms are so bad that they interfere with normal life functions.

There is no treatment to cure sarcoid. The most serious complications are treated with oral steroids.

I am one of the few physicians I know of who uses apitherapy or the injection of honey bee venom in small amounts as treatment for inflammatory conditions like bursitis and rheumatoid arthritis. This form of therapy, which produces systemic inflammation and thus stimulates the body to remove it and the chronic inflammation, is not new. It has been in use for over 1,000 years according to historical records. I buy the venom from a supplier whom I trust and inject it using a syringe subcutaneously.

Multiple treatments are necessary for chronic conditions though usually the patient will notice an immediate positive response after the injections. However, after about 2 or so days, the effect disappears so more injections must follow. With many conditions this can result in the elimination of the systemic inflammation.

Honey bees produce many products ( pollen, propolis, venom, honey) which have salutary effects on our function especially to decrease inflammation. For example, raw, untreated honey put on an open wound will usually heal it much faster than conventional medical means. Pollen can be used in honey to treat patients who are sensitive to pollen ( ex. ragweed, hayfever). If the bees pollinate such plants locally, such raw, unprocessed honey will often be of help in desensitizing the patient to the local pollens if taken early on.

Back to sarcoid.

Several years ago, within a few months, three patients with pulmonary and cardiac sarcoid walked into my office.

All were in serious condition. One was unable to carry her child up a flight of stairs due to the cardiac and pulmonary involvement. All had refused steroids which their physicians offered in lieu of treatment.

Since I know that honey bee venom (apitherapy) has been long used successfully to treat systemic inflammation, I offered to inject these patients with it.

All three of them responded over time with elimination of symptoms and, in the case of the woman who could not carry her child up the stairs, a normal biopsy of the diseased tissue in the lung.

All three were able to return to a regular life.

I contacted one of the national sarcoid groups but did not receive a response. I also posted on one of the patient support sites but there seemed to be little interest.

Recently, I have signed up for a course in beekeeping since I find these creatures fascinating. While I do not look forward to being stung, at least I know it will be therapeutic. And with the local, untreated honey, pollen, propolis and related bee products, what’s not to like?

Osteopathic treatment of the common cold

Most colds are caused by viruses. I was trained in conventional medicine, having worked in two hospitals for a period of four years, and am  familiar with the allopathic or symptom- oriented treatment for most disease conditions.

Basically, physicians will treat the manifestations of the cold. The person who actually has the cold is ignored to the extent that there is minimal attempt made by the physician to check the function or working of the actual body.The physician speaks briefly with the patient, may look in their throat, nose, ears, auscultate their lungs but that is about it if even that is done. The diagnosis, common cold, is rapidly established and the patient given symptomatic treatments and told to take clear liquids, etc. etc.

But what about the person who has the cold? The critical elements that will help them recover are largely ignored. The lymphatic system, the circulatory system, the drainage from the sinuses and working of the various organs concerned with respiration, the rib cage, the clavicle which often prevents good drainage from the head and also makes it hard for the lymphatics to drain into the venous system, their final point of release are not examined. The spleen, which removes old red blood cells, and is vital in the function of the immune system  is critical in fighting off any infection is overlooked. In fact, one authority has described the spleen as one enormous lymph node. The diaphragm, the muscle of respiration, is also what is responsible for the movement of lymph in the entire body. It also has a tendency to spasm with any trauma, physical and emotional, which leaves the patient compromised in many ways. These and many more aspects of a living, functional whole might as well not even exist as far as most physicians are concerned.  There are so many important and vital structures and functions which the well trained osteopathic physician must examine in real time and treat until they are functioning as close to normal as possible, that truly help the patient to return to not only a state of health, which few people as they age ever again experience, but a glowing state of health.

The osteopathic treatment for the common cold, for which allopathic medicine has no specific treatment since antibiotics are not helpful in a viral infection, can have immediate and powerful benefits to the patient with this condition.

There may be general guidelines of which I have mentioned only a few above, but the reality is that every patient is totally different. So there is no cookie-cutter recipe for treating the cold. We must meticulously examine and treat the patient who presents with the condition which is usually labeled the common cold. In actuality, a lot more is going on with these patients than the symptoms of a cold. Each one must be evaluated and treated from a functional perspective with a hands-on exam and osteopathic treatment.

And this need not be a long, drawn out affair. The well trained, experienced osteopathic physician can accomplish the actual exam in a matter of minutes. The treatment will take longer but all of this can be done in less than 30 minutes with excellent and immediate results.

Today I treated a 55 year old man who had developed a bad cold which left him sounding horrible when he spoke. He felt lethargic and was going from bad to worse. He had already taken large doses of time release vitamin C, echinacea, and I gave him a homeopathic remedy, Ferrum phosphoricum, to further help. Following the osteopathic treatment his voice had returned to normal, his color was back to normal, he mentioned that he could finally take a deep breath and his entire system was functioning as it was meant to function in its healthy state. He felt truly healed in many ways. And, of course, his cold was now almost an after thought.

Head injury, loss of smell and osteopathy

Anosmia or loss of smell is common with concussions, closed head injury or traumatic brain injury. Osteopathic treatment can relieve it.

Not too long ago I began treating a young man who had undergone a severe head injury which resulted in a total loss of smell, headaches, problems sleeping, and pain in other areas of his body. He had been crossing the street when a bicyclist hit him, knocked him off his feet, and left him on the ground. He sustained loss of consciousness and a major laceration to the back of his head. He was taken to a local university hospital, the laceration sewn up, and kept for two days for observation.  He was then released.

He came home and shortly thereafter came to me for evaluation and treatment. From 1988 to 1991 I was a resident in training at the National Rehabilitation Hospital, Washington, DC. My residency was in PMR ( Physical medicine and rehabilitation). As part of my training I spent three months working on the brain injury unit which was staffed by neurologists. I was trained in the most current methods of treating head and brain trauma.

However, none of them seemed to really make a marked difference in the outcomes for these patients. Many of these patients were left with lifelong problems related to their traumatic brain injuries.

I used my osteopathic skills in diagnosing and treating my patient and after four visits he has made progress which I would like to report on.

He no longer has any headaches. He sleeps well. He has no cognitive issues reported. He is soon due to return to work full time.

But what is most remarkable is that, according to his conservative estimate, at least 50% of his sense of smell has returned. And it is continuing to return with each visit.

He went to see three neurosurgeons to follow him after his accident.

All three told him that he would never again be able to smell following such a trauma. They based this on his imaging studies and the clinical literature. The cranial nerve responsible for smell, the olfactory nerve, sends tiny roots through a bone at the front of the skull called the ethmoid. This bone was traumatized during the accident. So according to the neurosurgeons it would never again permit the olfactory nerve to normally function and the patient would no longer be able to smell.

During the initial osteopathic exam I found that the ethmoid bone had been traumatized and the membranous tissues around it severely strained. This resulted, in part, in the loss of smell.

I treated his diaphragm which had gone into spasm with the accident. This began to restore normalized respiration. I treated the major sprains and strains to the fascia of the chest and left side of the cranium where the most severe injuries were to be palpated. And I worked especially to get the ethmoid functioning as best as possible.

Many more dysfunctions were palpated and successfully treated with function normalized. This all resulted in improved function and less symptoms.

The neurosurgeons told him that he was just imagining the return of smell. It was technically impossible for him to be able to smell. But he insisted that not only was he able to smell but each visit he could smell more and more. At first ground coffee. Then chocolate. Then finally unpleasant smells like urine and feces from his young child. The progress continues on all fronts.

And the neurosurgeons continue to deny that he is experiencing what he says he does.

It is impossible they say.

But my patient knows differently.

What a blessing.

Sometimes I just stop and reflect on all the years that have passed since I began my journey to become an osteopathic physician in 1981.

Many thousands of patients from every conceivable background, from a few days old to almost 100, have come to ask for help with very real problems.

Like most medical students I initially believed that I would receive the tools and instructions that would enable me to cure my patients.

What a fool I was.

The first day of school an old doctor addressed our class. No one whom I later spoke with knew who he was or where he came from. He was a total mystery.

He stood quietly before the 135 assembled freshmen students of the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine, Class of 1985 ( I graduated in 1987 because I was awarded a two year Fellowship in Osteopathic Diagnosis and Treatment). Then he opened his mouth and said, None of you will ever cure anyone. We all work with the Great Healer, the Real Doctor. Never forget it.

Then he turned and walked away.

A few students looked at each other and said, What was that all about?

Well, I now know a little bit of what the Old Doctor was talking about.

It has taken me about twenty plus years to be humbled enough, beaten down enough, crushed enough by life, by cancer, heart attacks, major depression, having lost my practice three times and built it back up after devastating illnesses, to begin to realize that the man was telling us all what we really needed to know to become real doctors.

But at the time I had no idea what he was talking about.

I thank God daily that I am doing this Holy Work and that He is leading me in His Work.

And I am not ashamed to say that to anyone, anywhere, at anytime.

Andrew Taylor Still, MD, the man who discovered osteopathy, once said, I love my patients because when I look in their eyes I see God.

I couldn’t agree more.