shoulder and neck black and white

The second groundbreaking book I recently read on the topic of chronic pain is Unlearn Your Pain, Fourth Edition, by Howard Schubiner with Michael Betzold.

In contrast to the slender, fun, anecdote-packed The Way Out (read my blog posts on this book here), Unlearn Your Pain is more of a textbook/workbook. While the book can be ponderous and repetitive, this is in many ways a strength. For one, Unlearn Your Pain is more comprehensive and wider in scope than The Way Out, which means that many more people can benefit from it. The book also includes an extensive selection of exercises, for people who prefer pencil and paper to an app (that is, the Curable app, which Schubiner helped design). Even the book’s repetitiveness is a strength, because when you have chronic pain, it’s hard to believe you have chronic pain, and it helps to hear it again and again. The book also includes access to online meditations, which are integral to Schubiner’s healing program.

If you decide to buy this book, take care to purchase the fourth edition, which was published in 2022. Earlier editions will not contain the most recent updates.

When I wrote that Unlearn Your Pain is wide in scope, I was referring to the fact that the book—despite its title—addresses not just pain, but also other, non-pain symptoms. For example, one of my “chronic pain” symptoms was dizziness. Other non-pain symptoms I had included, at times, trouble processing sentences while reading and trouble processing moving images on a screen. In a future blog post, I will write about the truly astonishing number of conditions that can be caused by chronic pain.

But, clearly, we have a terminology problem. I just Googled “chronic pain,” and on the first results page alone, I found several websites defining it as a synonym for “long-lasting pain,” regardless of the pain’s cause; several websites using the term as I have been using it, as pain with a source in fear; and even one website that states that it cannot be cured (which, as we know, is untrue). None of the results acknowledged that fear-based “chronic pain” does not have to be painful or involve long time periods.

Furthermore, every book and media source I encounter uses different terms to describe the same phenomenon. The Curable app, for the most part, uses simply “pain.” (Though it sometimes, as a sort of inside joke, uses the term “bananas.” The point of this is to use a term that is not threatening to the unconscious mind.)

The Way Out mostly uses the term “neuroplastic pain.” However, making things more confusing, the book uses the term “chronic pain” in different ways—sometimes to refer to long-lasting pain and sometimes to refer to fear-based pain.

Unlearn Your Pain uses “pain” and “chronic pain” at times, but mostly it uses “mind body syndrome.” I like “mind body syndrome” because I think it best expresses what is meant. As a bonus, this term does not use any negative or difficult words that might come across as scary, insulting, or incomprehensible. Meanwhile, Schubiner’s website uses not just “chronic pain” and “mind body syndrome” but also the baffling “tension myoneural syndrome,” all to refer to the same condition. (At least I think they are referring to the same condition—it’s not entirely clear.)

My point is that I wish we could all, as a society, agree that the fear-based phenomenon I’ve been writing about is a real condition, and I wish we could decide upon a good name for it. I prefer “mind body syndrome,” so I’m going to use it from here on out.

I mean, no wonder so many people with mind body syndrome are going undiagnosed. How can we raise awareness about this often devastating condition, affecting millions of people, if we don’t even have an established name for it?