Rewiring Our Brain’s Pain Pathways with David Hanscom, M.D.

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Hanscom describes two sources of pain: “The source of pain can be non-structural, which is inflammation of tendons and ligaments. Probably 90% of pain in the body has to do with the size of the blood vessels, inflammation, etcetera, but you can’t see it on a test. So we call that non-structural. The second source I call structural. In other words you have a bone spur with matching symptoms. That’s a structural problem. The only time that surgery is effective is if you have a structural problem that you can correct. You can’t surgically correct pain unless you can see the source.” He goes on to talk about how we create “pain circuits” and how they are permanent and can’t be unlearned although you can create new pathways around the old pain pathways. He says, “If you are “managing” your pain you are concentrating on the pain . . Chronic pain is unresolvable by trying to resolve it.” He also talks about anger and anxiety and giving up the habit of being in pain. And he suggests a process of expressive writing in order to circumvent our “pain circuits”. Writing down your thoughts is the first step in physically separating from these thoughts. He has further suggestions as to how to release them. (hosted by Justine Willis Toms)


David Hanscom, M.D. is a board certified orthopedic surgeon specializing in complex spine problems in all areas of the spine. He has expertise in adult and pediatric spinal deformities such as scoliosis and kyphosis. A significant part of his practice is devoted to performing surgery on patients who have had multiple prior spine surgeries. He works for Swedish Neuroscience Specialists in Seattle, Washington with eight neurosurgeons and a physiatrist. Besides performing surgery, when it is called for, he advocates a comprehensive and effective program of pain reduction he labels DOCC (Defined, Organized, Comprehensive Care), which takes into account the Mind/Body Syndrome.

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To learn more about the work of Dr. David Hanscom go to

Topics Explored in This Dialogue

  • Hanscom’s personal experience with pain
  • What is the way the nervous systems works with pain
  • What is the difference between structural pain and nervous system pain
  • What are pain circuits and what are some antidotes to them
  • What is the process of expressive writing
  • What are the success rates of reducing pain by lower-back surgery
  • Why there is never a single answer for chronic pain
  • Why anger makes us feel powerful
  • Why sleep is important to our health
  • What is Hanscom’s advice regarding meditation and expressive writing as a healing process
  • Why emotional and physical pain are considered equivalent by the brain
  • Why we tend to get into the habit of being in pain

Host: Justine Willis Toms         Interview Date: 7/22/2017          Program Number: 3618

Music Playlist

From Album: Bloom Road
Artist: Dan Kennedy
1973 Mt. Pollux Music

Opening Essay: Track 02 Prayer for Janet
Music Break 1: Track 04 Falling
Music Break 2: Track 05 Beautiful Day (With You)
Music Break 3: Track 10 Heaven