Alternatives to fighting chronic back pain

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Healthbeat: Fighting chronic back pain (WLS)

Millions of people suffer from chronic back pain, turning to surgery and pain meds. But a Seattle doctor said the answer is more sleep and less stress.

For Charley Pavlosky, the sound of a solid tee shot on the back nine is like music. Even sweeter today than just a few years ago when he competed in the U.S. Open. Chronic pain stole away his favorite sport.

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

After seeing countless doctors, Pavlosky found an ally in Seattle-based spine surgeon, Dr. David Hanscom. 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. Chronic pain is a neurological problem," Hanscom said.

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 said.

Along with recommending better diet and exercise, Dr. 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. 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.

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

Hanscom said one of the most effective ways to keep our nervous system calm and avoid pain is through expressive writing. 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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