What is Tension Myositis Syndrome?

Tension Myositis Syndrome occurs when the brain signals pain where there is no injury. Sometimes, an initial injury has healed, but the brain keeps signaling pain so that the pain becomes chronic. TMS is curable. Read on to learn about how I found freedom from chronic pain.

Almost any type of chronic pain or chronic discomfort can be TMS. Below, I list some of the most common conditions that may very well be TMS, and this is excellent news because TMS, also known as Neuroplastic Pain or Mind-body Syndrome, is treatable.

I made a full recovery when I had no hope at all. Read on to learn about my journey with chronic pain and how I recovered.

Common Symptoms and Conditions of TMS

  • Chronic Back Pain is probably the most common form of TMS.
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Vulvodynia
  • Migraines
  • Pressure head pain
  • Chronic neck pain
  • Tinnitus
  • Chronic Itching

These are just the most common symptoms and conditions. There are many more. 

What Causes TMS?

Tension Myositis Syndrome usually starts in childhood because that is the time when our coping patterns begin, and TMS is about coping. It is about our brains developing patterns to keep us safe, whether or not these patterns are healthy.

However, unconscious patterns persist until we become aware of them and decide we are worth trying to change them. 

Our job is to make them conscious so we can rewrite our story and create new, healthier ways to live. It’s not easy and takes practice and repetition, but if I can do it, anyone can.

When Chronic Fatigue and Pain Ruin Your Life

My Story

My story with debilitating symptoms began after college when I was working in retail management. It started with back pain. Being a workaholic (one of my unhealthy coping mechanisms), I was working excessively.

Running an hour a day was another habit I couldn’t give up, so the compulsive need to work excessively and running was a recipe for disaster.

Back Pain

One weekend, my back started hurting so badly that I couldn’t get comfortable enough to sleep. I went to the doctor, and they couldn’t find anything wrong, and none of the treatments worked. 

I went back to work and couldn’t lift a thing, but I forced myself to do what I could. After a couple of weeks, the pain got better. I wore a back brace for support and returned to working as much as before. 

You have to understand that not being able to be busy all the time was worse than death to my type A personality. I was a go-getter. My resume said things like “Self-motivating,” “multi-tasker,” “hard worker,” and “ambitious,” which are all good traits and can get you far, but they have a cost.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia

About two years later, I had difficulty driving home from work because I would get so sleepy that I could barely drive. I would get home, go straight to bed without eating, and sleep all night.

This went on for a couple of weeks, and then one day, I was walking through my store when I had the strangest body aches and intense fatigue, unlike anything I had had before. I went home and didn’t return to work for a month. 

The Diagnosis

My doctor could not find anything wrong. His nurse called a few days later and told me they believed I had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, or both and didn’t know what caused them.

I bet you can guess my next question. I asked the nurse how long it lasted, and she said about a year. Little did I know they would last twenty-plus years.

Wanting to advance in my career as fast as possible, this news left me feeling frustrated and perplexed.

Back To Work Once Again

I felt pretty good after a month, went back to work, and hit it hard again for another year. Then, the symptoms came back and got to the point where I had to take 3 months of short-term disability leave.

After jumping full force on the hamster wheel of going to doctor after doctor and practitioner after practitioner looking for answers, nothing helped. I returned to work for a few months but quit in May 1997.

Becoming A Mom

In 1997, I married a man who had two sons I adored (and still do), and in 2000, we had a baby boy named Eli. He was and still is a true blessing. I had been worrying that I wouldn’t be able to have kids, one of the many concerns I had about my life.

My husband and I worked through it, hired some help, and all went reasonably well until I pushed myself to go back to school in 2005 to get a Master’s in Counseling. 

Back to School

By now I believed that what was going on with my health was psychological, I just didn’t know what to do about it.

If I went back to school for counseling, I could learn more about the mind and what was happening. I hoped that I would be able to recover and then help other people.

After attending school part-time for two years, I developed another condition called Multiple Chemical Sensitivities and ended up dropping out.

New Symptoms (Multiple Chemical Sensitivities)

I became sensitive to scents and foods. Only eating meat, vegetables, and nuts for a few years left me feeling dismal. I couldn’t enjoy eating because everything had to be bland to keep my reactions minimal. 

Having to give up most of the things I enjoyed, I became depressed and anxious. My world was very small.

Occasionally, when I went to church or to the grocery store, I would wear a mask to prevent myself from reacting to all the perfumes and cleaners. Life was rough.

I had had terrible pressure headaches that made it difficult to read or watch television. Most of the time Eli was in school, I lay in bed and listened to relaxation tapes to keep me from worrying about the fact that this was my life.

As a kid, I was an adventurer. I wanted to live in the mountains, hike, bike, and ski in all that beauty. I loved to travel and explore; however, I couldn’t do any of that.

My Brother

My brother Pete, who was three years older than me, had some episodes of anxiety after our mother passed away from having a heart attack at his house in Minnesota in 1998. He had anxiety most of his life, but I didn’t know that. He kept it pretty quiet.

But after our mom passed, he was having heaviness in his chest. He thought he was having heart issues. He had PTSD from seeing our mom pass, and then he was also afraid of his symptoms, and this kept the anxiety going. 

Dr. John Sarno

As mentioned earlier, tension myositis syndrome occurs when the brain causes the pain, not the body. Dr. John Sarno, who wrote the books Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection and The Mind-Body Prescription in the 1990s, termed TMS.

Dr. Claire Weekes

Years ago, my brother Pete found a book called Hope and Health for Your Nerves by Dr. Claire Weekes. Anxiety was called ‘nervous illness,’ or ‘nervous breakdown,’ in 1969 when the book was written. She describes the 3 main pitfalls of falling into nervous illness as being:

  • Sensitization
  • Bewilderment
  • Fear


Sensitization is a state in which our nerves react exaggeratedly to stress; that is, they bring very intense feelings when under stress, and they may react this way with alarming swiftness, almost in a flash.” 

Claire Weekes claimed that nervous illness was no more than sensitization kept alive by bewilderment and fear.


Dr. Weekes had a past of anxiety and panic attacks and came up with a cure for any condition that falls under the umbrella of anxiety. Her theory is that something causes us fear, and then we are afraid of the fear or bewildered by it, which she termed Second Fear, and it becomes an endless cycle.

Second fear must be interrupted in order to stop this cycle. In short, to prevent second fear, one needs to:

  • Face (instead of run from)  the first fear 
  • Accept (instead of wanting it to go away) the first fear.
  • Float (instead of fight) past the first fear
  • Let time pass

Dr. Weekes was crucial to my brother’s recovery from anxiety, and he began helping me to get on the road to recovery from chronic fatigue syndrome, back pain, fibromyalgia, and multiple chemical sensitivities in the same way.

Sensitization, bewilderment, and fear are what happened to me in 1992 when I had that sudden bout of back pain and what happened again in 1995 when I came down with massive fatigue and body aches. Again, this happened to me when, in 2007 or 2008, I started reacting to food and different environmental triggers.

I kept the cycle going by Second Fear.

Personality Traits of People With TMS

Dr. Sarno started noticing that most of the  people he was treating for chronic pain had similar personality traits and learned behavioral patterns such as:

  • Perfectionism
  • People pleasing
  • Anxiety
  • Hypervigilance
  • Hyper-critical (primarily to self)
  • Type A personalities
  • Low self-esteem
  • Worrisome or apt to ruminate
  • Emotional suppression

Dr. Sarno held two-hour seminars where he went into detail as to the process that was going on in his patient’s brains that kept them in chronic pain. Some were cured immediately. However, this was not the norm.

They understood that emotional pain causes physical pain. The primitive brain attempts to protect us and keep us safe. 

The main takeaway is that when our primitive brain receives dangerous messages for an extended period, it will go to extremes to protect us. Giving the brain more safety messages and fewer danger messages is the cure because the brain will turn down pain or stop sending pain signals unless there is an actual danger.

The Research

The Washington Post reported on the Boulder Back Pain Study,

It is increasingly clear that chronic pain is often neuroplastic — generated by the brain in a misbegotten effort to protect us from danger. And that’s good news because what the brain learns, we are discovering, it can unlearn.

What Treatment is Available for TMS? (How I Found Freedom From Chronic Pain)

I was able to find freedom from chronic pain, and you can too. What treatment is available for TMS? It is good news if you meet most of the diagnostic criteria above and believe you have neuroplastic pain. Treatment is available for TMS; in fact, you can make a full recovery. Read on to find out how.

Dr. Howard Schubiner and Alan Gordon

Dr. Howard Schubiner and Alan Gordon, among others, took on the torch late in Dr. Sarno’s life after he passed away in 2017. This is where Dr. Claire Weekes comes back into the picture.

Dr. Claire Weekes paved the way for the latest anxiety treatments, which paved the way for Pain Reprocessing Therapy, created by Dr. Schubiner and Alan Gordon to reduce or eliminate pain.

Pain Reprocessing Therapy (PRT)

There are 5 components to Pain Reprocessing Therapy, a method of techniques used to teach the brain to signal pain accurately.

  1. Education about the brain origins and reversibility of pain
  2. gathering and reinforcing personalized evidence for the brain origins and reversibility of pain
  3. attending to and appraising pain sensations through a lens of safety
  4. addressing other emotional threats
  5. gravitating to positive feelings and sensations
Somatic Tracking

The main technique used in PRT, called Somatic Tracking, is aimed at reducing or eliminating fear around symptoms. This is done by going into the body and noticing sensations or symptoms from a lens of safety. The opposite of running from the symptoms. 

This creates safety in our primitive brains and will turn down pain.

Pain Education

Pain Education is vital. Becoming aware of what our brains are doing and why is very comforting, and this alone helps our brains feel safer.

With practice and repetition, our brain will begin to turn the pain down because we have taught it that it is safe to live in peace and calm. We have taught our primitive brains that it is safe to let go and not always be on high alert.

We can learn new, healthier ways to cope with stress. 

In my case, I had to stop pressuring myself all day long and learn self-compassion. I learned I was safe in my life now, and my old living patterns of fight/flight/freeze were no longer necessary. 

My brother (unknowingly) taught me PRT, and over time, I started doing all the things I loved again.

I still had issues with head pain and insomnia, and in 2020, I began working with a Pain Recovery Coach and was able to recover from all of my symptoms. 

This is a life-long process. We cannot improve and then return to the thinking, believing, and feeling patterns we acquired early in life. This is a life-long, fulfilling journey and so worth the ride.

Healing is Possible – My Life Today

For decades, I thought I had chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and chronic back pain. I waited for a cure and felt hopeless and helpless like many of you.

Depression took over, and I kept getting worse. New symptoms kept showing up, and I took a passive stance in my recovery. I thought it had to come from outside of me.

Now, I know that this is NOT TRUE. I had Tension Myositis Syndrome and was able to recover, and my life is so much better now than it’s ever been. I play tennis again, run again (in moderation), hike, bike, and spend quality time with family and friends. 

And most of all, I have become certified in Pain Reprocessing Therapy and am now walking alongside others, such as yourself, to help you to recover from TMS.

I feel safe in my life. When I wake up in the morning, I look forward to the day instead of fearing what the day might bring. 

I went from feeling like a victim to feeling fulfilled and empowered. Life being this good was only a fantasy. I didn’t know this was an option, and I didn’t understand that I could choose how I wanted to think, believe, and feel in my life. 

Claire Weekes taught us to interrupt perpetual anxiety by responding to the anxiety or fear differently, and Dr. Sarno, Dr. Schubiner, and Alan Gordon taught us how to respond differently to pain to break the pain/fear/pain cycle.

If I was able to recover from the multitude of symptoms that I had, YOU CAN TOO.

Now I’m Ready to Help You

I feel blessed every day to be able to move my body again, eat and drink what I want, and not have to wear a mask in the grocery store. This was before Covid, so I looked pretty silly.

Does depression around your pain and your life in general have you in its grips? Have you given up hope and resigned yourself to a life with chronic pain? Do you find yourself feeling a lot of guilt for not being able to do things with your kids? Does putting yourself first result in you feeling guilty? Do you find yourself making plans and then worrying that you won’t be able to keep them? 

There Is Hope

If so, I understand, but I want you to know there is hope. You can recover and learn to live your best life.

The pain-free journey is about putting yourself first and reducing the stress in your life, with very little exception.

Today, I understand that taking care of myself is okay, and if people in my life don’t like it, that’s okay, too. I have learned to have compassion for myself like I do for others. That was a foreign concept before I started working with my coach. 

And now, I cope with life from a place of resiliency instead of fear. I can be comfortable in solitude and don’t need to be hypervigilant or always on high alert. Being busy and proving myself all the time is no longer my MO.

Be Happy and Live Your Best Life

I do less than my best, and that’s okay. I’m kind to myself when I make mistakes. After all, we are human. 

Living lighter and in the moment brings me so much joy and happiness. The Bible says, “Do unto others as you would do unto yourself,” but in the case of people who have TMS, I say, “Do unto yourself as you would do unto others.”

Click here for Pain Recovery Coaching with Stacey, email us at [email protected], or fill out our contact form.

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