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A Conversation With Dr. David Hanscom, MD
Interviewed by Eden Kozlowski,

ATH Co-Editor of Meditation




Editor's Note from Eden Kozlowski: There is hope for pain. Many of us, like Dr. Hanscom, are showcasing healing work that delivers options beyond pills, traditional methodologies and surgery. The only challenge... to have these options work for you, you must be willing to take responsibility for your pain and the treatment of it on a deeper more passionate level. Are you willing to do that? If so, the rewards can be endless. Read or listen to learn more...

Dr. David Hanscom, MD

Eden Kozlowski: Hello, All Things Healing. Eden Kozlowski here from the beautiful meditation page on ATH. Today I am speaking with an out-of-the-box renegade in the field of chronic pain… David Hanscom, MD. David, how are you this morning?

Dr. Hanscom: Doing great. Appreciate being on the show.

Eden: Thank you. We’re so glad to have you. I give you that quick introduction, and then I’m going to talk a good bit. So, everyone hang on a minute we’ll get back to David as I have a great lead in for him. I little background… I became familiar with Dr. Hanscom via his excellent PR rep, Beth. She sent me his book titled… “Back in Control - A Spine Surgeon's Roadmap Out of Chronic Pain”… and it sat on it for a while. One day we were chatting via email, and she asked me if I’d read it yet ~ and I basically said something to the effect that I didn’t see how it related to me as my field is mindfulness and meditation. She said emphatically, ”YES, it does. Would you please pick it up.” So, I still waited a while… and finally I did pick up the book, and I was hooked immediately. Turns out she was right, the book really does speak my language. I’m eight years now into teaching mindfulness/meditation and have worked with all types of pain, depression and anxiety but had never lead a class, until recently, specifically focusing on these challenges. After reading David’s book, it really prepared me in a sense. It helped me structure the class and strengthen how I spoke about the neurological aspects of these issues. I’m really grateful for that. David, thank you on many different levels.

Dr. Hanscom, let’s tell you a little bit more about who he is. He is a board certified orthopedic surgeon specializing in complex spine problems. He has expertise in adult and pediatric spinal deformities, however he is now a “salvage surgeon” and operates only as a last resort. He has successfully treated hundreds of patients for chronic pain (and this is a biggie) without surgery. In his book “Back in Control,” he describes his “DOCC” approach. It stands for “Defined, Organized, Comprehensive, Care.” This non-surgical rehabilitation program for chronic pain includes sleep management, reprogramming the nervous system (via stress management using applications like mindfulness, meditation, writing, visualization) and goal setting, to name just a few… which is why I'm so hip on sharing his work. Ok, David… good enough lead in there? Anything to add? 

Dr. Hanscom: That is great. The whole process for me as a surgeon – surgeons are not calm people. So the idea of calming down the nervous system to us is a foreign concept. But you are right on; I am very excited that you are connecting with this so well.

Eden: That leads me back to you. One of the things in the book that I really liked was you sharing your own personal story of pain. I love that because it makes you so real. So, can you tell us more about that please?

Dr. Hanscom: The book is my story out of chronic pain. I was in quite severe chronic pain for about 15 years, with the last seven years being just extreme. From 1995-2003 I was in really big trouble – I couldn't sleep, I had back pain, tendinitis, migraine headaches and extreme anxiety. I didn't know what was going on; I had no idea. I tried everything… psychology, medication, seminars, self-help books, and nothing seemed to help.

I ended up getting lucky. I started doing these writing exercises that in retrospect were simple semantic tools. And I realized sleep was a big deal. So I combined sleep with these simple semantic tools, and for the first time in ten years, things started to change. In retrospect it was a concept of calming down the nervous system and rerouting my neurological pathways. What I inadvertently ended up treating was the Mind Body Syndrome, or as Dr. Sarno calls it, Tension Myositis Syndrome. Every thought you have has a corresponding physical response. Cognitive scientists have known for many years… you think with your body as well as your mind, it is not disconnected at all, it is all one unit. At one point I had 16 out of 33 of these mind body syndrome symptoms. It was unbelievable. So, I got very lucky coming out of this hole.

In 2001 I wanted to help share my tools with my patients, because surgery wasn't working. I simply wanted to share the tools with them to help cope with the pain; I had no idea they would be going pain free someday. The first part of it was just energy to help share with them ways to cope with the pain that they were experiencing.  

Eden: Explain the neurology of pain, as simply as you can, and how you believe meditation/awareness assists in rerouting these impulses.

Dr. Hanscom: Every pain impulse – it does not matter where it comes from, be it soft tissue pain or a structural pain – it has to travel up your nerves to your spinal cord to the brain. What happens is a repetition, just like with an athlete. An athlete takes decades to learn how to throw a baseball and pitch and basketball, etc. The problem with pain impulses they come in like a machine gun; they come in very fast.

We think these pain pathways, just like the athletic pathways, lay down in about three to four months. And once they are in your brain, just like riding a bicycle, they are permanent pathways. The problem is that when you try to fix and analyze them, it actually just strengthens them. So what you are doing with pain pathways… which are always mixed with anxiety and frustration pathways… it turns out anxiety is also a mental reflex, not psychological, is that you are simply calming down the nervous system. When you are agitated and frustrated, you amplify the signal. With mindfulness meditation you deamplify the signal or calm things down. But you can also reroute new pathways around the old pathways. So it is a shifting process, not a fixing process. A combination of calming down and shifting is very consistent and effective.

Eden: The reference to the machine gun is pretty dramatic. But it is so true. This leads into something that I find to be very interesting.

I teach a form of meditation that is really deep… so when folks come to me they realize that wow, if I’m going to do this I’m going to have to get deep into myself… which can be daunting and sometimes be too much.

You reference in the book, too, that you have these patients who come to you who are at the end of their rope… they start to do some of this awareness work and they leave and end up going and getting another surgery instead of taking the steps inward… to go, “Ok, if I want to make a change, I’m really going to have to look deeper.” So, do you think this still showcases the prevailing American mindset that surgery and pills are the fix. That we really don’t have control over ourselves?

Dr. Hanscom: It is an interesting problem, probably the only real obstacle that I see to people really changing is that people don't like anxiety, they don’t like anger. They try to avoid it, but they also become addicted to their pain. It is a very powerful role. For instance anxiety… you feel helpless. Whereas when you are angry… you feel powerful, and it also covers up the feeling of being anxious. What happens when you are in pain is that you are a victim, you have a circumstance that you blame… you are angry. And people often, in fact I think most people, will not let go of their pain long enough to look inward, they can't let go of the role of being a victim. It is a very powerful role, and it is my most highly developed skill. I was raised in a very abusive background. I was truly a victim, and that particular behavioral pattern is as deep as I exist. Yes, it is very hard for people let go of being the role of being a victim.

Eden: When I try… knowing that I can’t make people change… I can at least talk to them. The one thing that I notice – when you can get past that [the resistance to change] – there is such a freedom. If you were going to tell someone, “If you could just look at this and go deeper, this is where you can get.” Did you experience this huge release, this freedom, like suddenly your life had taken a whole new route? How would you describe that, once you get over the hurdle, what the result is.

Dr. Hanscom: It’s a completely different life. I have probably three times the energy I had in high school. I don’t have to fight these circuits. When you are angry and frustrated your body chemistry changes, it just drains you. And it is just a completely different life. So it’s extremely frustrating to me when I see people that can’t get past it. They will actually go into more surgeries, and do whatever they can to validate their pain.

So people seem to be validated at very high levels to be able to hold onto their victim hood. But once you get past this hurdle… I call “letting go of anger” – the continental divide to chronic pain. You cannot heal until you let go of the anger/victim pathways, because it’s not psychological. If you look in terms of anxiety and anger being connected with always pain pathways, it’s just neurons that wire together, fire together. Pain makes people angry; anger fires up people’s pain. So until you truly learn to let go and process anger, you actually cannot get rid of your pain.

Eden: That leads into this question. Which is perfect because that was great… thank you. What has been the most fulfilling aspect of your DOCC work compared to how you did things before you embarked on this new way of healing. I’m going to give three powerful stats from your book… (1) Back fusions help in less than 1/3 of cases. (2) Every adult has deviations from textbook spinal anatomy. (3) Physicians can make an exact diagnosis of the source of lower back pain only 15% of the time.

Dr. Hanscom: Right, the problem is that it has been remarkable because what happens by definition is when people go pain free (and we have hundreds of patients going pain free), they have to let go to the anger. When they do that, their awareness goes up, the richness of their relationships goes up, their family becomes a source of joy instead of a target. I've had two people get remarried to their original spouses with very thriving families, their jobs thrive, their relationships thrive. They come in and are excited and engaging.

I have to tell you about this one story that happened last week. There was a woman injured in a car accident in 2000, slipped and fell in a supermarket in 2001, and by 2004 was in total body pain. She was in an electric wheelchair with 66 degrees scoliosis. She then came to me, about a year ago, on high dose narcotics. She wanted me to fix her scoliosis. I told her fine, but we needed to bring her anxiety and pain down. She wasn't embracing the program, so my colleague and I both let her go and told her that she was in charge of her own care.

She came into the office last week, pain free. No wheel chair, no medications, no pain. It was like she hadn’t been sick a day in her life. I asked her, “What happened?” She read the book, which gives you the framework. But, what really happened is that she forgave everyone: she forgave her ex-husband, the supermarket, everyone. She just let it go. And it was just unbelievable, the transformation. 

Eden: That has to make you feel really good.

Dr. Hanscom: Yes. It’s not just the pain disappearing, it transforms their entire life.

Eden: Right. What’s coming down the pipe for you. Do you have any upcoming projects, discoveries, books, speaking engagements that you would like to share with everyone. [We’ll include your recent appearance on Dr. Oz here, too.]

Dr. Hanscom: The big one… last summer my wife and I put on a workshop in Omega Institute in New York. We had eight of our 11 patients go pain free after five days. It was a remarkable experience. So we are doing that again this summer, August 10-15 (2014). Further information is on the Omega Institute website. We are pretty excited about that.

We also shot a special on another woman who was in a wheelchair for 20 years that is now out of that wheelchair in Seattle. I am also giving lectures in Bellingham, Washington. We’ve launched a new non-profit called “Creating Compassion in Class.” The one obstacle to people engaging is their openness to change. We feel that these tools should be started in preschool and first grade because they don’t have the resistance to change. It’s been a bit of a story, but that is my biggest project coming up… trying to put this in every classroom for every student.

Eden: That is fabulous. Anything else… not that that isn’t a ton of wonderful stuff.

Dr. Hanscom: I’m also almost done with another book called “Successful Spine Surgery” because there are ways of making successful decisions for spine surgery. I am a busy spine surgeon. I do lots of surgery. I’m also very specific about the things that people do very well.

Eden: Dr. Hanscom, thank you so much. Thank you for your book and especially the passion you have behind all this. So, if you are challenged with chronic pain, I hope this interview gives you HOPE and the true acknowledgment that you can gain control back over your life and then you can have a life that is filled with even more happiness and joy. Check out David’s website at: www.drdavidhanscom.com and his book: www.drdavidhanscom.com/book. Also, here is my review of David’s book on AllThingsHealing. Finally, for more information on the “Rewire Your Brain to Alleviate Pain” workshop at the Omega Institute with Dr. Hanscom, Frederic Luskin and Babs Yoai, go here. Thank you for the time today.

Dr. Hanscom: Thank you very much. I really enjoyed it.

Eden: Until next time. See ya, AllThingsHealing.


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More about Dr. David Hanscom, MD

Dr. David Hanscom, MD, is an orthopedic spine surgeon at Seattle Neuroscience Specialists with Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, WA. He specializes in complex spine problems in all areas of the spine, and has expertise in adult and pediatric spinal deformities, such as scoliosis and kyphosis. Dr. Hanscom is a salvage surgeon and operates only as a last resort. He has successfully treated hundreds of patients for chronic pain with out surgery.

Website: www.drdavidhanscom.com
Back In Control: www.drdavidhanscom.com/book








About the Interviewer


Eden's passion is helping people, her community and her world live the way of the heart – an inspired and rich way of being. Founder and CEO of Just Be, LLC – a dynamic company rooted in meditation/mindfulness practices – she gracefully shows individuals, teachers, students, companies and professionals how to de-stress and foster mental, physical and emotional wellness. Listen to Eden's free meditations and Be-isms and contact her for private sessions or classes via just-be.info. Also, read her blog on The Huffington Post.




Website: just-be.info
Blog: The Huffington Post
Facebook: www.facebook.com/JustBeMeditation
Twitter: @JustBeMeditate

Akron, OH USA








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