Back pain is one of the common complaints I hear in my yoga classes.
So I was thrilled when I was introduced to one of Seattle’s most well known spinal surgeons, Dr. David Hanscom.
Dr. Hanscom, author of BACK IN CONTROL A Spine Surgeon’s Roadmap out of Chronic Pain, was recently a guest on the Dr. Oz Show discussing his proven method of reducing chronic pain without unnecessary surgery or medicines.
Dr. Hanscom wrote Back In Control as a way to share his five-stage plan for getting his patients in control of and free from pain. His method does not eschew surgery in all cases, but attempts to provide a tangible method for chronic pain sufferers to get a handle on their pain.
He found success with this method himself after living for many years with chronic pain and continues to help his patients take control of their own pain with remarkable results. Dr. Hanscom says that “Pain pathways cannot be unlearned, but you can re-shift from them. You cannot make them go away, but you can reorder the importance of them.”
He utilizes a five-step method called “Defined Organized Comprehensive Care (DOCC), “ which includes the following:
1.) Address anxiety: “Pain increases anxiety. By using Mind Body principles alternate neurological pathways are created to diminish it.”
2.) Deal with anger: Dr. Hanscom says many people are “addicted to anger.” So breaking the anger cycle is often required to free oneself of anxiety and pain.
3.) Reactive to creative: Learn to switch our energy from reacting to pain to living a more creative life.
4.) Take back your life: Pain feels isolating, so as the pain subsides it is important to learn to reintegrate ourselves into relationships and life. Social isolation is the norm with chronic pain.
5.) Live a rich full life: Experience returning to a life that is fulfilling and without pain.
“Anger is anxiety on steroids. Anger is a way of masking anxiety. So anxiety must be dealt with first before addressing anger,“ says Dr. Hanscom.
While talk therapy is useful in conjunction with DOCC, it does not address the pain pathways that are permanent. Dr. Hanscom suggests a three-pronged approach to anxiety and ultimately pain, all of which are incorporated into his DOCC plan.
These are: “awareness of what is causing the anxiety, detachment from the event/person/action, and reprograming the nervous system away from the permanent pain pathway.”
He describes pain pathways in a way that reminds me of a stack of important papers.
When our pain is the first pathway our nervous system senses, we feel pain. This reaction is similar to grabbing the top paper on your stack to read because it is the easiest to reach.
Dr. Hanscom’s method creates new pathways that become prioritized (or higher on the paper stack) than the pain pathway. So the nervous system no longer jumps to the pain reaction, but instead “sees” the newly created pathways instead. The pain pathway, which is permanent, is not removed, but the nervous system is too busy with the other pathways to see it. The result is no more or much less pain.
Dr. Hanscom’s book is unique in that it describes on both a mind body and neurological level how the body reacts and heals from pain. He puts the control back in the hands of his patients and gives them tools to step away not only from the pain but also the pharmaceuticals and surgery they may otherwise feel are necessary.
He combines both Western and more Eastern approaches to healing in a way that is refreshing in the field of orthopedic surgery. Dr. Hanscom’s method and book are great resources for anyone suffering from chronic back pain or chronic pain in general.
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Editor: Catherine Monkman