The rate of spinal surgeries – particularly complex and riskier procedures like multilevel spinal fusion surgery – has been steadily on the rise in the U.S. over the last couple decades. This has raised concerns about unnecessary risks, costs and recovery times associated with these procedures. Surgery should be reserved only for the most severe cases of back pain, when other conservative measures have been tried to no avail or when surgery is the only thing that can address an issue that is immediately putting the patient in danger.
The reason why an activity like writing may be more effective for treating chronic back pain than a physical procedure is that, as researchers learn more and more about chronic pain, they’re finding that many instances are not perpetuated by actual physical tissue damage or injury. Rather, the central nervous system gets kicked into overdrive and learns to constantly detect pain, even when no harmful stimuli are present. Emotions are an important component of this process; in 2013, researchers found that, after 12 months, pain processing shifts from the “acute pain processing” center of the brain to the emotional processing center, for example. How a person feels emotionally about pain is more and more believed to be relevant to how he or she physically experiences it.
Chronic pain is a ripe situation for anxiety. Often a nebulous condition with no definite, identified cause, patients experience fear concerning what to expect, how much the pain will interfere with their lives, and so on. Anxiety puts the central nervous system into a heightened state of alert, meaning it is highly reactive to physical sensations like pain as well.
Dr. Hanscom explains how the act of writing works to throw a wrench in the anxiety-pain cycle. Writing “creates space” between you and your feelings; when you write down your feelings, you’re turning them into an object for you to analyze – getting them out of your head and onto paper. Hanscom recommends that patients practice “negative writing” – writing down their negative thoughts, then destroying the piece of paper. He doesn’t give too many specifics in terms of how much or for how long to write, loosely suggesting once or twice a day for anywhere from five minutes to half an hour. Some patients may wish to depart from a regular schedule and practice writing on more of an as-needed basis.
Learn more about Dr. Hanscom’s recommendations at www.foxnews.com.
People with chronic pain may find it hard to believe that relief could come from something like writing, but there’s really nothing to lose. It’s free, accessible and relatively simple. Get started today and see if this activity is a useful component to your chronic pain management plan.