Back Pain

Case 1: This 33 year-old man broke a thoracic vertebra in a football accident nineteen years before his session. The bone healed with a quarter inch deviation of the spinous process (the bony protrusion felt through the skin). He complained of chronic back pain originating from the fracture area, severe at times, radiating around his rib cage to the front. He had already tried various alternative therapies, with minimal relief.

At the time of his session, the subject had dull back pain. As he relaxed and focused attention on the injury site, he felt local warmth and tingling initially, followed by a sharpening of pain, which then subsided completely. The sharper pain indicated a strong contraction and discharge. There was no pain when he left the office, nor had there been any by follow-up, six weeks later.

This subject’s discharge was facilitated by a combination of 1) his own attention to sensation, and 2) light touch to the injury site from the practitioner. In some cases, the injury site cannot achieve pain discharge via the subject’s own attention alone; discharge requires additional support in the form of physical contact from another person, which helps the body to focus on the sensations in the injury site. Just as contact with emotional pain is needed for emotion discharge, focused awareness is also necessary for pain discharge. This use of touch is not manipulation or energy medicine.

Case 2: This 30 year-old woman requested the Arneson counseling method, mainly for pain relief, presenting with chronic and often acute neck and back pain throughout, two years after her second car accident. She was a classical pianist, previously accustomed to sitting painlessly at a piano for several hours at a time. She had unsuccessfully attempted chiropractic, different forms of medical massage, acupuncture, and physical therapy, persisting with the latter two methods despite little relief. Importantly, she had a history of acute fear episodes, having suffered several traumatic childhood incidents.

As I observed her eyes in her first session, it became apparent that she had a severe, chronic contraction (stress response, sympathetic alert) in her central nervous system (CNS: the brain and spinal cord). I gently exercised her eyes, thus mobilizing the block that extended throughout her head. She then lay flat to relax while I lightly massaged her back. She reported having almost no pain after her first session, for a few days, until she sat at a piano for an hour.

In subsequent sessions, childhood fear surfaced in steadily stronger waves. She was encouraged to tolerate the fear, which allowed her body to discharge it, with deep relief. Her eyes became more alive, while she became more expressive and self-possessed overall. After a dozen sessions of mounting fear and deeper relief each time, she reported that her pain had ceased altogether. Only two sessions involved touch, in the form of light massage over clothing.

Her fear was trapped in the head and eyes, therefore affecting the brain, too. Severe CNS blockage freezes vegetative functions of the whole body. Apparently, her second car accident compounded the preexisting block enough to freeze her trunk muscles, rendering them unresponsive to common pain relief methods. Contact with and discharge of fear freed her CNS, and therefore the trunk muscles as well. Had it not been for the childhood trauma and the consequent CNS block, her car accidents likely would have produced a simple whiplash and pain discharge case.

This case represents the opposite end of the discharge spectrum, which ranges from simple pain to intense emotion. The same mechanism is expressed in both scenarios, differing only in magnitude and the specific feeling discharged.

This subject required multiple sessions in a counseling format, in which she was permitted to sit upright, speak candidly, and observe her surroundings. The short-term Arneson Method relaxation format, with the subject lying flat, would have been entirely inadequate and potentially dangerous. Depending on procedure specifics, deep relaxation methods may tempt the body to discharge an overwhelming volume of blocked emotion. The body cannot discharge this volume during a relaxation session, which typically entails lying flat with the eyes closed. Such scenarios are not only unproductive, but can also be injurious, both physically and psychologically. In alternative medicine, this unfortunate phenomenon is typically referred to as “healing crisis,” but is actually counterproductive trauma, misunderstood by practitioners. This particular risk seldom applies to simple massage therapy.

© 2019, 2020 Portland Pain Institute LLC