TMS almost ruined my life!

Foot pain, back pain and stomach aches in a 19 year old college soccer player

TMS intruded my life in August of 2004. Only two weeks before I started my freshman year of college, I began to notice sharp pains in the metatarsals of my left foot whenever I ran. At the time, I assumed the pain came from the intense workout schedule that I was following as I prepared to try-out for my school’s soccer team in the fall. Looking back now, however, TMS was clearly the culprit. I was anxious about playing college soccer and overwhelmed by the intensity of our summer workout program. I worried about how I would measure up on this new team, and the thought of being away from home terrified me. My fears and anxieties were at an all-time high, and the pain in my foot manifested them. Eventually those mental strains would extend to other parts of my body. In fact, during the intervening thirty months I would suffer forefoot pain, lower back pain, stomach and intestinal problems, and lateral knee pain before finally beating TMS.

My foot pain, and then a year later my back pain, began as I was training during the summer for soccer—undoubtedly the most physically and mentally exhausting training of my life. Although I was killing myself six days-a-week trying to follow the team workout program flawlessly, I still feared that I would be unready for the season, and I obsessed about performing perfectly on the upcoming team fitness test. The stress of those two summers wore on me, and I was often in tears—frustrated and frightened that I simply would not “cut it” when the season began. All the stress and anxiety became more than I could handle and soon enough, I had developed TMS.

I played both seasons despite my “injuries,” all the while seeking answers to my ever-worsening pain. Throughout the soccer season and the off-season, I consulted countless doctors and underwent nearly every available therapeutic treatment besides surgery. Yet nothing helped. I finally gave up on solving my foot pain, since three doctors and a physical therapist had failed to give me a diagnosis, and decided to simply play through it. My back pain, on the other hand, was far more debilitating, and it was keeping me from doing anything active, particularly preparing for the upcoming junior soccer season. I was desperate to find answers and finally return to the life of a normal 19-year-old. By August 2006, after living with chronic back pain for a year, I had seen an orthopedic doctor, a pain management specialist, a sports medicine doctor, an osteopathic mechanical manipulation doctor, a neurosurgeon, three physical therapists, a muscle activation therapist, a chiropractor, and even a Pilates instructor, but my condition had not improved. Moreover, it had actually worsened. Unable to run, sit, or walk without low back pain, my occasional swims when I pulled through the water while my feet dragged pathetically behind me were a far cry from the intense six-day-a-week workouts of the previous two summers. I could not even open the refrigerator door without feeling the ache sharpening in my lower back.

Additionally, I had begun experiencing excruciating stomach cramps after each meal. Pretty soon, nearly everything I ate left me doubled over in pain. That summer my father had undergone a bone marrow transplant to treat a serious blood disease, and not coincidentally, my stomach problems began the day he entered ICU. TMS had turned my life’s stresses into even more physical pain. Still only a teenager, I felt as if my body was falling apart: I was miserable and frustrated, and it seemed that once again I would be forced to live with pain that no one could fix. Then, miraculously, I found Dr. Schubiner.

At first I thought the whole TMS thing was crazy, a little too hocus-pocus for me. Yet as I read the material on the syndrome I began to realize that it was not that ridiculous after all. My unexplained foot, back, and stomach pains were not uncommon for TMS sufferers. Also like other TMS patients, I had undergone many diagnostic tests and received several seemingly convincing diagnoses (Morton’s neuroma, osteoarthritis, a bulging disc, and facet joint inflammation just to name a few), but no treatment had ever provided significant, lasting relief. Moreover, like many TMS sufferers I possess a strongly Type A personality, and between my anxieties about soccer, my fears about my father’s illness, and my struggle for perfection in all aspects of life, I had certainly placed myself under a great deal of stress

Knowing that I had nothing to lose, I made an appointment to see Dr. Schubiner, who proceeded to diagnose me with tension myositis syndrome. The following day I swam harder than I had swum in several months without any pain. Just knowing that my pain was not an actual physical problem changed everything. A few days later I went for a twenty-five minute run—my first run in eight months—without any pain once again. My foot pain and stomach pain also disappeared. I was amazed: the pain that had controlled my life for almost two years was completely gone. A week later I left for my third soccer preseason completely pain-free, but unfortunately my trials with TMS were not quite finished.

On the first day of the season I began the workout my coach had given me to get back into shape after so many months of not running. Less than a quarter-mile into my run, excruciating pain along the side of my knee stopped me in my tracks. Both the team trainer and my coach tried to convince me that it was iliotibial band syndrome, but I suspected that TMS had returned to haunt me once more. I had been nervous about the daunting task of getting back into game fitness and fearful of what the season had in store for me. Once again, TMS had given me physical pain to prevent me from doing the fitness work that always placed such a physical and mental strain on me.

Although I had defeated TMS once, it had returned with vigor and this time it would take much more to beat it—but I did. I had to fight the doubts of coaches, doctors, and even myself that it was TMS. I was very frustrated and Dr. Schubiner suggested that I need to fully believe that it is TMS, that I need to be positive and that I should start counseling. I found the counseling to be extremely helpful and in hindsight, the counseling (along with Dr. Schubiner’s advice, and my subsequent determination to stay positive) was the major turning point for me. The counseling helped me to verbalize a lot of the issues dwelling under the surface, which helped me to understand myself much better and improved my understanding of what was causing TMS and what I needed to change in my mindset to beat TMS. After a month of barely being able to bend my knee, I decided it truly was TMS and set my mind to beating the pain. Now three months later, I have experienced no knee pain for over a month. Occasionally, I feel the outside of my knee start to twinge, but by simply reminding myself that I do not need that pain to protect me from my fears, it quickly fades away.

Dr. Schubiner has given me my life back. At 19 years old, I did not know if I would run or even sit without pain again; now I feel unstoppable. I am back to playing soccer and working out several times a week. I will be forever grateful to Dr. Schubiner for helping me beat TMS and reclaim the active lifestyle I cherish.

Jennifer J.

*The personal stories are from actual course participants and are used with permission. The names and photos have been changed to protect confidentiality.