Health Beat

Health Beat: Alternatives to back surgery

'Chronic pain is a neurological problem'

SEATTLE - It's music for Charley Pavlosky: the sound of a solid tee shot on the back nine. Even sweeter today than just a few years ago: competing in the U.S. Open. Chronic pain stole away his favorite sport.

"Imagine the worse tooth ache you've ever had and it being your whole body 24 hours a day, and you can not stop it," Pavlosky said.

After seeing countless doctors, Pavlosky found an ally in Dr. David Hanscom, a Seattle-based spine surgeon. He believed the root of Pavlosky's pain was not an old back injury, but a fired up nervous system. Surgery was not the answer.

"I see patients every week that have major complications from surgeries that probably never should have been done," Hanscom said. "Chronic pain is a neurological problem."

How so? Our brains are designed to memorize pain that lasts for three months or longer. Once that happens, the ache may feel the same, but it is now controlled by our nervous system, not the original injury.

"About five years ago, my staff took that seriously, so it started with every patient that we would address sleep, stress, balance medications," Hanscom continued.

Along with recommending better diet and exercise, Hanscom said the pain fades. For Pavlosky, that was better than a hole in one.

"I have zero pain, and that’s most of the time," said Pavlosky.

In the last two years, 97 of Hanscom's patients have canceled their surgeries after their pain vanished. Now, to help more people, Hanscom has a book out, called "Back in Control."

"Within three to six months, 90 percent of people get better without surgery," Hanscom said.

"I came to see a doctor and I wound up meeting a healer, and that was an extraordinary awakening moment," Pavlosky said.

Hanscom said one of the most effective ways to keep our nervous system calm and avoid pain is through expressive writing. Simply write down what's on your mind and then tear it up. Doing this helps separate you from your thoughts and creates a sense of peace. The doctor credits this exercise with helping him get out of his own pain years ago.

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