Today, for those of us in the chronic back pain field, Dr. Sarno is a bit of a legend. He has a perpetually best-selling book, multiple celebrity endorsements, and an established place in the NY medical community. When I wrote my own book on chronic back pain, I looked at him as a leader in the field.
But the movie All The Rage brings that idea into a sharp contrast with the reality of Dr. Sarno’s ideas being largely ignored by his colleagues. Not just ignored, disregarded as foolish. In a world where we cut, inject, and numb with our strongest painkillers, Dr. Sarno’s solution of the mind has no place. His results were disregarded as placebo, and his colleagues did not refer their patients to him because they did not believe what he was doing could work.
In the past year we have had the medical realization that our strongest painkillers are not more effective than lesser, over-the-counter medication. They are also addictive, creating a crisis that kills patients and robs others of their health. Our surgeries are not as effective as advertised, leaving half of those going under the knife still in agony. We have no better solutions, and Dr. Sarno seems all the wiser for seeing the obvious well before the rest of his colleagues.
Is Dr. Sarno’s mind-over-pain the answer? No. But it is half the answer. The half that has been silenced, ignored, and ridiculed. Today we know that a patient’s emotional state before a surgery has as much effect on the pain after the surgery as the best surgical team. We know that chronic pain can appear and continue with or without any visible mechanical problem. And we know that the mind, when used properly, can be more effective at pain management than our most powerful drugs.
All The Rage captures the profoundly personal journey of chronic pain, detailing one family’s issues with chronic pain and their encounters with the enigmatic Dr. Sarno. Through them, we see his own journey, his progression from traditionalist to staunch pioneer in the pain field. All The Rage captures the beginning, the middle, and the end of Dr. Sarno’s career seen through the lens of a filmmaker forced to cross the fourth wall from objective observer to unwilling participant. In so doing, the film becomes as much autobiographical as biographical, giving us an intimate portrait of the true effect of chronic pain on a family. We see the origin, the arc, and the possible resolution of a lifelong dance with pain. By the end, the viewer wants to see more of the family’s journey, but hopes for their sake that no sequel is ever necessary.
If you have experienced chronic pain and wondered if perhaps there was an emotional aspect, Dr. Sarno is here on the screen to squinch up his bushy eyebrows and tell you, “Of course there is a direct relationship.” All the more helpful, now that he has left his practice and gone to that medical classroom in the sky. He passed away in June, 2017, leaving his books, his legacy, and this movie to catalogue his passing. While they did not appreciate him in his life, the medical community may yet learn to use what he left us to help solve the puzzle of intractable pain.