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Dr. Hanscom's Blog Optimizing (Avoiding) Spine Surgery

Discussion in 'Mindbody Blogs (was Practitioner's Corner)' started by Back In Control Blog, Jun 6, 2015.

  1. Back In Control Blog

    Back In Control Blog Well known member

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    About three years ago my staff noticed that our surgical patients who participated in the DOCC project principles were doing much better. The successes were better and we were having fewer failures. The postoperative pain seemed less and more easily controlled. Patients were moving forward quickly with rehab while re-entering a normal life. Additionally their anxiety often dramatically improved.

    Prehab

    We decided that if the surgical results were so much better that we would have all of our patients engage in at least 8 to 12 weeks of “prehab” before any surgery, regardless of the magnitude. Our protocol included:

    • Learning about chronic pain through my book, Back in Control: A Spine Surgeon’s Roadmap Out of Chronic Pain.
    • They were sleeping at least six hours a night (usually required meds)
    • Working on their stress. We asked them to engage in the negative writing exercises combined with active meditation. They had to have some improvement in their mood and pain.
    • Narcotic medications were defined and stabilized

    Most of this was coordinated through rehab and pain physicians who share the same philosophy. If a patient did no want to participate we encouraged them to return but we were not going to perform surgery. Many patients went elsewhere.

    What Happened

    I am enjoying my practice at a level that I could not have imagined. Our patients are doing well and excited about their progress. What I did not expect was that so many patients would become pain free without undergoing surgery. We are writing a research paper reporting on over 40 patients who would come in for their final preoperative visit and their pain was gone. Of course we cancelled the surgery.

    What was even more surprising was the severity of the problems. Normally the diameter of the spinal canal is about 15 mm. I do not schedule surgery unless the canal is less than 8 mm and the patient has leg pain. I have one patient who avoided surgery with a four mm canal.

    Janet’s Story

    The following letter is from a woman who I saw last summer with a large synovial cyst. This is a problem where a sac of fluid is formed off a facet joint off of the back of the spine. It was not only pinching her sciatic nerve it was calcified, which means it could not shrink. I immediately offered her a small operation to remove it. The outcome of removing the cyst is predictably positive with few complications. It is one of my favorite procedures. It took every ounce of restraint I had to offer her the prehab process through our pain center. She never returned to see me and I received this letter from her last week.

    Dear Doctor Hanscom and Dr. ________,

    Last summer an MRI scan revealed a synovial cyst in my back. I had severe pain from cramps in my butt and calf muscles. My family doctor referred me to your office.

    I am writing to update you on my status, which is greatly improved. In July of 2014 the Pain Center doctor asked me to keep a journal of what I could not do.”

    What I cannot do because of pain:

    • I cannot get up in the morning in a flash. I need to exercise and stretch my right leg in bed, roll carefully out of bed to ice my butt and calf, do stair step exercises, and then finally do a 20 to 30 minute “working with pain” meditation.
    • I can’t sit in any chair I want because my butt muscle will spasm.
    • Car seats are hard to sit in. I have to get out at least every 45 minutes to stretch.
    • I was on Gabapentin, Cyclobenzaprine, and Ibuprofen

    I followed the Back-in-Control program, writing down my negative thoughts and beginning to focus on what I wanted to do, including returning to dance class. In early October I began sleeping in a semi-upright position, with a pillow under my legs and the cramping began to subside. I also had biofeedback training. By mid-November I was able to get off all pain medications and start lifting weights again.

    I have very occasional twinges in my right butt when sitting or walking but I am basically pain free. I am so grateful for the chronic pain management program and extremely grateful that you offered the program rather than immediate surgery on the synovial cyst.

    Many many thanks.

    Sincerely,

    Janet

    Do Surgery Now??

    I had forgotten about her case so I reviewed her MRI scans and was shocked to see the size of the cyst. However I have been surprised at the severity of the pathology with every surgical patient I have witnessed becoming pain free without an operation. In fact, in my book I comment that if a patient has a significant structural problem with matching symptoms that surgery should be performed quickly so as to move forward with the comprehensive rehab program. I thought the pain would be too distracting to really be able to participate. The opposite scenario occurred in that when I performed surgery in the face of a fired up nervous system the pain would frequently be worse. I eventually discovered this problem has been well documented in the medical literature. Chronic pain can actually be induced as a complication of any surgical procedure, including painless ones such as a hernia repair. One of the risk factors is pre-existing chronic pain in another part of the body.

    I now have dozens of stories similar to Janet’s. There are many times that I do perform urgent surgery for compelling problems. But if there is any room to have my patient participate in the prehab program that is what we have them do.

    Ask for This Approach!

    I am very excited about this turn of events, although it is becoming a little challenging maintaining a surgical practice. The medical literature has clearly documented that this process is effective. Ask your doctor to help you out with setting up your own program. You don’t need a major pain center. The resources are readily available.

    Every surgery has risks. No one thinks a complication will happen to him or her. I have seen them all. They are unpredictable and the outcomes can be catastrophic. Do you really need surgery? Be careful!!

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  2. Mtngal

    Mtngal Peer Supporter

    I admire you tremendously for your "maverick" approach to spinal surgery. Too bad you are in the minority. I'm wondering, though if something called "segmental instability" is an actual true structural problem that can be solved by surgery. I was given that diagnosis when I was 28 and it put me into years of chronic disabling back pain. I had healing one time when I was in a new relationship; then had another bout and was again healed by a very amazing occurrence that I have yet to explain; my last bout was 2 years ago, along with interstitial cystitis; then I followed Steve O's method and got pain free and was running 20 miles/week, playing racquetball etc. At beginning of August, had an IC flare and the back pain inevitably follows. My question: I do feel my lower back "shifting" and moving sometimes, esp. during Yoga. But it has done that for quite some time without any pain. Could it be that my vertebrae are truly unstable and moving around and aggravating facet joints etc. and hence the recurrence? Can those nerves affect the bladder?
    I am starting to write down my negative thoughts as you suggest but I get incredibly anxious with this pain and am terrified of it. I know I would never want surgery because I'm a perfect TMS personality anyway so I know some of this or maybe all is TMS? Could you tell me about "segmental instability"? I have to work full time and am single and now 61.
    By the way, your blogs and book helped me heal two years ago as well.
     
  3. JanAtheCPA

    JanAtheCPA Beloved Grand Eagle

    Hi Mtngal - I don't know that Dr. Hanscom will answer your question, because this is a re-posting by us of his June 15 blog at http://www.drdavidhanscom.com/insights/blog/

    You can go ahead and ask the question to the community on our Support Subforum (if you haven't already) but be prepared to hear that if you have any doubts about your TMS, you can't possibly recover if your head is full of visions of your "segments" flopping around being unstable. So the first thing you have to do is be checked out in person by a medical professional, preferably one with a mind-body approach, who will be able to tell you that there is nothing wrong with your "segments". LOL - can you hear my skepticism? I'm sorry, but we've just seen too many of these hokey names applied to conditions that the docs can't find a scientific name for, because they can't actually find anything wrong. That, plus your own story of pain-free experiences is a pretty compelling argument for continued TMS. But I'm a tax accountant, not a doctor, so I certainly can't tell you that you DON'T have a pathological condition. More importantly, YOU have to be able to visualize the fact that there's nothing wrong before you can convince your brain to stop creating these distractions, so the sooner you start with a professional exam, the better.

    I know all too well the weird neurological symptoms and feelings that my brain can contrive. Remember, your brain is completely in charge of all sensations, including pain, tingling, numbness, shakiness, and the sensation of movement, and it can create all of those sensations for no reason whatsoever. Not only that, it will keep doing so for the rest of your life. There is no such thing as a "cure" from TMS. There is definitely healing and recovery, but it's done by changing your perceptions, and changing your relationship to new symptoms when they appear (and they will). However, that alone is a life-changer.

    Keep up the good work, clearly you've done it before!

    Jan
     
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  4. Mtngal

    Mtngal Peer Supporter

    Thank you Jan for your well put reply. I know intellectually the diagnosis doesn't really make sense, esp. Since it's gone away before. But as you know, when one is in pain it's really hard to not think structural. But you are right our brains are capable of all kinds of weird things.
    Thanks for your input!
     
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