An interesting aspect of TMS/MBS is when pain symptoms move about.
You’ve worked diligently to rid yourself of back pain or another menacing pain that has been disrupting your life. You’ve repudiated the diagnoses that structural damage is the reason for your pain. You’ve journaled your feelings, engaged daily in successful self-talk, read testimonies of others who overcame TMS/MBS and studied and learned as much as possible about this syndrome. But without warning, excruciating knee pain takes you down. The pain is so bad, you can’t walk. What the heck is going on?
When one pain is exchanged or substituted for another, it’s called ‘symptom substitution’. Without understanding this new twist, fear about your health rears its ugly head.
But wait. What this means is that you are still experiencing a neurological/physiological response to stress. You took control of your brain, but now the brain, like a small child pushing the envelope, is trying to protect you by developing pain in another area. The brain doesn’t give up easily. It’s dedicated to protecting you. Symptom substitution merely means that there is more work to be done in understanding and overcoming TMS/MBS.
I was in the grips of symptom substitution recently, and it took me a few weeks to figure it out. I had resolved my fear about falling into a deep sleep at night. I was sleeping much better for several weeks when suddenly numbness and tingling in my neck, shoulders, arms and hands started waking me every 1.5 to 2 hrs at nighttime. It was painful and annoying like when your arm or leg or foot falls asleep and the pressure on the nerve pathways stop the nerves ability to transmit electrochemical impulses properly.
Last week the symptom substitution theory popped into my thoughts, and I realized that the numbness and tingling that was waking me every 1.5 to 2 hrs each night started when I received an email from the condo association, telling us that a convicted sex criminal was living in the apartments next door to our condos.
Without my conscious awareness, I had became afraid to fall into a deep sleep once again. My brain, bless its heart, was trying to protect me by waking me multiple times throughout the night with numbness and tingling in the arms and shoulders to prevent me from falling into a deep sleep in case I needed to protect myself from a break-in.
As soon as I realized I was caught in an undertow of symptom substitution, the problem subsided. At this point, I once again engage in self-talk before falling asleep, reassuring myself that my doors are locked and I am safe. Although I still suffer a little numbness and tingling, I have resumed sleeping until about 3:00 am or 3:30 am and then until early morning which is 90 percent better than it was before I identified the need for the tingling, numbness and wakefulness. When I put my brain on notice that I understood the symptom substitution, it backed off.
According to Dr. Schubiner, symptoms substitution is a good sign because “you’ve got your pain on the run,” he explains. Recovery from MBS/TMS lies in awareness and education.