“Pain isn’t actually in our bodies per se”
Dr. Veronica Anderson, Host, Functional Medicine Specialist and Medical Intuitive interviews Dr. Vance Johnson on how to reduce back pain, have safe sex and improve your sleep.
Do you have back pain? Specializing in spine pain care Dr. Vance Johnson helps patients to relieve spine pain with little risk. He has taught thousands of doctors the latest advances in treating the spine via outpatient operations, consulted in over 100,000 cases, and performed over 20,000 procedures.
In this episode, Dr. Vance will talk about methods for reducing pain, how taking medicine affects your progress, and ways to have safe sex without discomfort. Listen to the end for his perfect sleeping strategy and how you can adjust to changing time zones.
Listen to episode 37 on iTunes here or subscribe on your favorite podcast app.
37: Show Notes
Dr. Veronica Anderson’s Links:
02:55 – Dislocating my knee
06:40 – Interventional spine medicine
10:40 – Does medicine increases pain?
13:58 – Methods for reducing pain
16:50 – Is having sex safe? (Sciatica)
21:41 – Perfect sleeping position
23:00 – Adjusting to time zones
Female VO: Welcome to the Wellness Revolution Podcast, the radio show all about wellness in your mind, body, spirit, personal growth, sex, and relationships. Stay tuned for weekly interviews featuring guests that have achieved physical, mental, and spiritual health in their lives.
If you’d like to have access to our entire back catalog visit drveronica.com for instant access. Here’s your host, Dr. Veronica.
Dr. Veronica: If you really want to know how to take care of your health, this is where you want to go. You want to go to Wellness for the Real World. I’m Dr. Veronica, medical doctor, medical intuitive, homeopath, and all around fun person to listen to.
I have with me, my co-host Russell who he’s been adventuring across the country. For those of you who have been listening, you’ve heard about Russell’s father and he’s living until 94 but passed away. Russell is back with us in New York and has been going through it quite nicely, interestingly. He’s not falling apart. Russell, how are you now?
Russell: I’m doing okay, thank you. I really am. I missed the old bird but I feel actually very privileged to have been able to be part of his dying process. With these things I’d much rather be there. If someone must pass I’d much rather be with them than far away and wondering, and so on. So I’m doing well, thank you.
Dr. Veronica: As the audience keeps listening and we’re on our personal journeys as well as the journeys of our family. You’ve listened to the right to folly for older people. Let everybody know, my father is out there falling somewhere.
After I finished today on my show the social worker called and left me a message yesterday and said, “I’m very concerned. He’s forgetful.” I said, “This is what we knew before and why he shouldn’t have been let out on his own. It’s a disaster.” But he has the right to folly and I’m not sure they’re going to call me and my sister and expect us to rein him in somehow, but we can’t.
And so, what do we do? We take a deep breath and we say, “This is one more thing going on in life.” But we’re going to talk today about pain, pain, and more pain. I see people all the time with some type of pain. It seems like almost a part of everybody’s life, pain.
I can tell you about pain. Before this I used to inflict pain on myself. And the next doctor can tell you about the inflicting pain on myself. He seems like one of these elite athletes but I’m not an elite athlete. But I like to do distance running. When those of us who like to run 10-26 miles, and I have known people doing these ultra-marathons, 100-135 miles, things like that. There’s something about the pain that we kind of like. We feel like we accomplished something when we have that pain. But then we hurt ourselves.
And so tomorrow, three years, it will be that I went out for a run, tripped and fell, dislocated my knee in the middle of 5th Avenue, right past the Metropolitan Museum of Art, buses whizzing around my head as I laid on the ground, not being able to get my leg back in place, which was just amazing to me that I couldn’t just yank it back in place.
I cannot tell you the amount of pain that I experienced through that time until they relocated my leg, at least so it was back in position and wasn’t pulling on everything. Oh my god. People talk about labor. I’ve had labor. I remember it. I don’t think it compared to this dislocation of the knee thing.
But guess what, you know that those of us who do these type of activities, we are crazy. I’m happy to say that I’m running again and I got in to the Broad Street Run. I’m going to do my first run, 10 miles. Not my first run since my injury, but my first event since my injury, 10 miles. I’m very happy.
The Broad Street Run in Philadelphia. You know people around here. I was born in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love. I love to listen to my music and listen to the Rocky at the end of it. Probably that’s a Philadelphia thing, or maybe people in other parts.
Our next doctor deals with pain all the time especially back pain. We’re going to talk about that because a lot of people experience it. Russell, have you had back pain?
Russell: I feel quite fortunate that I’ve never really had that problem. I know people so terribly from them. So far, knock wood, I’m not one of them.
Dr. Veronica: Every once in a while I get a tweak, nothing long-term. I think it’s from straining and from doing stuff too hard, just too much stuff when I back off. But I also have a chiropractor, an acupuncture and acupressure team, as well as my trainer who does faster release therapy on me. I have a team of people besides doing my own stretches and staying physically fit. I have a team of people that helps me keep my back in order, in addition to eating an anti-inflammatory diet, and also taking supplements that decrease my level of inflammation.
And so I hope that Dr. Vance Johnson who is the author of “What Hurts?” is going to talk about not just what you can do from a medical perspective but what people can do for themselves like… By the way people, you are what you eat. And so if you’re eating things that will hurt you, you’re going to hurt. Dr. Vance Johnson, welcome to Wellness for the Real World.
Dr. Vance: Thank you Dr. Veronica. I’m glad to be with you.
Dr. Veronica: Dr. Vance, I’m going to call you Dr. Vance because we’re going to be almost on first name basis here. Dr. Vance, tell me first about the most common complaint that comes in to you. I know you’re into interventional spine medicine. Does that mean that you’re going into the operating room? I assume it means a lot more than that.
When you say interventional spine medicine it makes me feel like people come to you after they failed everything else. Is that the most common person that you see come in?
Dr. Vance: Yes. The most common problem that comes through my doors is my life is going down the drain. It usually is masked at first by something like, “I’ve got sciatica. It’s been going on for two years.”
Dr. Veronica: Whoa, two years?
Dr. Vance: Yeah, it’s a long time to hurt.
Dr. Veronica: What do you mean by “My life is going down the drain?” That’s what people tell you?
Dr. Vance: In so many words that’s often what I hear. Maybe they don’t use those exact words. But by the time they get to me they’ve usually seen several doctors. And a lot of things that you just talked about have gone down the drain. They’re not eating right anymore. They’re not sleeping. They’re not drinking clean water. They’re not exercising anymore. And they’ve lost a lot of important relationships in their life.
Dr. Veronica: And so I’m sure that you see a particular type. And when I say a type I’m talking about from a personality perspective. Because I know as a medical intuitive, which may not be something you go for or not, that there’s certain types of problems that happen in people’s lives from an emotional and spiritual standpoint that lead them to having back pain.
Specifically it happens in family issues. Think about it, you’re the backbone of the family. When people have major family issues and family problems, financial issues, they tend to get lower back pain. What have you found in people that you see?
Dr. Vance: I think you’re right, Dr. Veronica. The imagery is incredibly important. If I may just talk about pain in general and then narrow it down to the back, pain is actually in our bodies per se. I know it would be hard to convince you when you lay on 5th Avenue with your knee dislocated that it wasn’t in your knee. But just to be a little bit quirky the knee was sending signals via the nerves, electrical and chemical signals that eventually reach your brain. And there’s 100 billion neurons that are interacting in complex ways. And we have to insert a miracle here and then we have consciousness. If we didn’t have consciousness we wouldn’t be aware of that knee pain.
In fact the imagery that we have in our lives has a dramatic effect, the other direction from consciousness then down through our bodies. What that pain means is incredibly important. And most of the patients that I’m seeing have been hurting for a long time, long enough that we call it chronic pain instead of acute pain. Acute pain is that sudden pain you had when you injured your knee. If it stuck around long enough to become meaningful enough to you, and to change every other part of your life we would definitely consider it chronic.
There’s a tradition in medicine as you know that once the pain lasts longer than three months or just about any diagnosis we call it chronic. It’s just sort of an arbitrary line in the sand that isn’t always accurate. For some people it’s shorter, for some people it’s longer. But the kind of person that lives their lives with pain constantly is someone who has incorporated into their life, so much so you might think of someone with an amputation who has phantom pain. The limb is gone yet they still feel the limb. And that is holding on so tenaciously to their consciousness that it just cannot go even though the limb is gone.
Even when we have body parts that are hurting that can be like phantom pain. We hold on to that pain just the same as someone who has had an amputation still hurts in the missing limb. The kind of people that I see are people that have a problem with that. They have trouble actually adapting and their imagination getting beyond the pain.
Dr. Veronica: Actually when I’m talking about my knee that’s pretty acute and got taken care of. And I didn’t have pain long-term. In fact by the time I got out of the hospital I probably had very little pain, which was a few days I had to stay there.
For me the pain medicine made everything worst. Do you find people that the traditional pain medication that we prescribe makes people worst rather than better?
Dr. Vance: That’s a great question. There’s no question that when you’re in surgery and you’re given morphine, it is almost unequivocally helpful. There is little downside and a big upside. If you’re going to take that morphine though day after day, month after month, year after year the price goes up steeply.
So you just want to make sure that it’s a good trade off. And it’s like you said, particularly if you can find other ways, much less costly ways to get better, in your case your problem was short-lived. God forbid your knee pain continued on day after day for the rest of your life you would be stretched to use all the different methods you have to cope.
One of them maybe pain medication. It’s not a moral issue, it is simply a return on investment question. The cost high with long-term use of say opioids, or even Ibuprofen. The benefit may be there. That’s the part that gets to be difficult to assess three months into using a medication for a year.
Physical medicine is my background and my specialty is defined by trying to find physical medicine means of addressing problems non-pharmacologic. We do use medications as well but we’re certainly striving other ways to do it.
And often times when I see a patient that’s been hurting so long some of the basic necessities of maintaining the human body are gone. They’re not sleeping right. They’re not eating right. It doesn’t matter how many pills you take, it will not take the place of a good night’s rest.
And they’re not drinking clean water or breathing clean air. We often don’t think about the air that we’re breathing. Here in Southern California we used to have smog watches and smog warnings to warn the public not to go out today. That’s worrisome. If those things are not in place no amount of Advil is going to fix the problem.
Dr. Veronica: One thing I want to share with you Dr. Vance, what I do now exclusively is holistic health coaching for people. I was an eye surgeon. I saw the benefits of what you can do for people, cutting and using medication. But what is amazing to me is sitting across the table from somebody or on the phone from someone and giving them good coaching and getting their body clean and in order.
One of the first benefits that people share with me, even if they didn’t stress it when they came in is that their pain went away. I have a young lady, she started in my program. A week after starting she said, “Oh my god, I can sleep. I’m so much more comfortable. My pain is better.”
You realize I didn’t take away any medications. I added and tweaked a few things. I changed of course some things in her eating style and added some other things. I said, “Here’s the combination of what you want to do.” She came to me because she wanted to lose weight. And one of the first things she said to me was, “My pain is much better after one week.” Have you been able to get people to make those lifestyle changes that can dramatically decrease their pain?
Dr. Vance: Yes, I think, Dr. Veronica, you’re spot on. You didn’t even tough that patient but affected benefit. It was a great example of addressing a fundamental fear that we all have, our fear of loss of control, loss of our identity. You gave her hope and a chance to gain some control over her life.
I appreciate your background. You went from a very hi-tech field with amazing advances that I don’t want to disparage, they are amazing. And then you help somebody with something that’s almost free. It is a fact. I love the new advances in spine medicine. I love the robot that I use. I almost have a relationship with the robot in my operating room. It’s fabulous to be able to operate with 3D imaging, and to use amazing electrodes and computers to program nerves in the spine.
But the bottom line is every patient that comes to see me I want to find out what their fear is. What is it that they’re most afraid of? If I don’t address that or if I don’t have a way to give them hope it really doesn’t matter what I do to their body, it’s just not as effective as if they are able to address that fear, a fear that they will not be able to be the person that they imagined. They may have to go through some grief to let go of a fantasy of what their future was going to be and who they were going to become.
Somewhere along the way they need to get to a point where they feel like they’re an agent again in their own lives. And sometimes that’s as simple as changing what they have for supper. And that little step forward is empowering. It also benefits their body dramatically. But it can address that fear.
I think that kind of thing becomes a virtuous cycle, like that woman you helped, Dr. Veronica, with a good night’s rest. The next day she’s thinking a little bit more clearly. And she might address a third or a fourth issue in her lifestyle. It becomes a virtuous cycle out of a hole, instead of the vicious cycle spiraling down.
Dr. Veronica: I got to tell you, it is very rewarding to be able to hug somebody. That’s my physical interaction with them, hugging them only because they’re happy with a result that they instituted really. I coach them and they instituted particular changes, and we’re able to change just a lot of things.
You see wonderful transformations over a 90-day period that people go through that they never thought that they would be able to have. Because the traditional, conventional, medical establishment basically said, “We’ve done everything. We gave you all the medicine and all like that.”
We’re going to turn into a very important subject right here. For people who are having pain, especially back pains, let’s talk about the most important subject on earth, “We haven’t had sex since the pain started? Is it dangerous to have sex with sciatica, neck pain, back pain? What can we do?”
Alright folks, straight from the doctor, and his answer better be, “Here’s how you have sex when you have pain.” Go ahead.
Dr. Vance: That is a great question. The fundamental biologic imperative to procreate. Yes, it is dangerous to have sex Dr. Veronica. If I stopped the sentence right at, “It’s dangerous to have sex,” I think I’m doing best right there. It’s dangerous to have sex with back pain and sciatica. Not really much more than first sentence, it’s dangerous to have sex.
The challenge with back pain and sciatica is a prompt, an irritant, a stabbing in the back that can interfere with all the stages of sex. It doesn’t change though the same things that you do to have a good, healthy sex life. You might modify positions. You might plan a little bit more for it. But if your sex life is healthy and you’re attending to your sex life hygiene then you can’t do it with back pain and sciatica.
If you are far into that downward spiral we were talking about a little earlier, you are not sleeping well, you’re not eating right, your relationships with people have been cut-off. You’ve been isolated. You don’t sweat hard once every day, or laugh hard once every day. And you don’t have good social support…
We’re just not talking about your sex life. It’s kind of silly to be talking about your sex life when all those things are missing. It’s just as silly to talk about any part of your life if those things are missing. If you want a good sex life I think few things are as a helpful as a good night’s rest. Being rested clears our head and improves our attitude, our behavior, the way we treat others, and treat ourselves.
Yes, I’m asked that question often by patients and it really just comes down to logistics. If they have someone they love and someone that loves them then it’s just a matter of getting around some relatively simple physical obstacles. A person that has someone they love and is loved by them is blessed. And back pain and sciatica is not going to be the reason that their relationship falls apart. It’s really just talking about the place, the timing, and prep for it.
That’s a wonderful place for some of the hi-tech treatments. If they have a pinched nerve relieving that pressure on the nerve can be done quickly in an out-patient setting. They go home and can have relief that can be wonderful for that moment. It may not be what changes their life forever, they still got to get their sleep back, and eat right, and all those things. But it certainly can interrupt an irritating process that can allow them to get something back.
I know for a patient one comes to mind that talked about not having sex for most of the year and their partner was with them, and they really wanted to talk about it. It was very meaningful to both of them that she got relief quickly. She’s going to have the sciatica occur again, but they got to touch each other in ways they hadn’t for a long time. And that’s part of the virtuous cycle that you were talking about Dr. Veronica, that goes along with all the other things like breathing clean air, and sleeping, and eating right.
Dr. Veronica: I love it. Here you got on air two surgeons who are talking about the fundamentals of breathing, sleeping, and eating clean. I’m going to segue in, we’re talking about sex, but let’s go on to talk about where people have sex.
Mattresses, we hear all these mattress commercials, you go in… I’ve seen mattresses that have crazy prices. I have the opportunity that I actually live between two places. In one place I have sleek number of bed. In another place I have some type of good mattress. I think mattresses make a big difference. What is for you the real low down on mattresses?
Dr. Vance: I get asked that question every single day. It would be wonderful if we could pick the right mattress and all our problems went away. My favorite mattress company is the one that gives a 30-day money back guarantee. It is not possible to really assess a mattress in the first night or two. So many times I am told by my friends, family, and patients that tried a mattress quite costly. And two weeks into it it’s just not working.
There is a traditional story that goes with back problems use a firm mattress or even sleep on the floor. I’m all for it if it feels good. I don’t have a favorite mattress, but I do invest a lot in sleep. I think you should go to great lengths to create your cave, a cool, dark place with no distractions. The only thing you do in the bedroom is have sex and sleep. It is not for watching TV or doing your email.
And so if you’re on a super deluxe mattress but you’re up with your laptop answering emails or surfing the web you’re just not taking care of sleep hygiene. I do invest a fair amount in my mattress. I use eight pillows in my bed. I have a pillow between my knees when I’m sleeping on my side. I hug a pillow or hug my partner. I don’t let my shoulder or pelvic girdle collapse when I’m sleeping on my side. When I sleep on my stomach I don’t let my facets get overloaded. I don’t let my neck get in a crink.
I may be a bit extreme. I am a spine doctor after all and I’m conscious that my spine is going to be in some position for seven or eight hours every 24-hour period. I want that position to be a good one. I don’t want to be in a pretzel. I just make sure that I got everything there to get in the right position without having to think about it.
But more importantly I protect the edges of my sleep. My ritual for going to bed is sacred. And then my ritual for getting up is as well. And I almost never vary. It would take an emergency to get me to vary from those. If I have trouble in the middle of the night I cut myself some slack. I forgive myself. We often feel guilty about not being able to sleep in the middle of the night. If I can’t sleep I only struggle for about 15 minutes, and then I get up. And I do something that is productive that I will feel good about getting something done. And then if I get tired enough I go back to sleep. If I don’t, I don’t struggle anymore. It is a wonderful, simple reset.
Dr. Veronica, you travel, you know about changing time zones. One of the rules of thumb is to get into the time zone that you move to as quickly as possible. If you fly to Paris and you have to move nine hours it’s a struggle to stay awake when everybody’s awake. But you fight it and try to go to bed when everyone else goes to bed. If you’re tired enough you’ll fall asleep.
And so many of my patients are struggling with sleep. And night after night they struggle. They get two hours, they’re up. They sleep another two hours, they’re up. And then they sleep one hour and that’s their night. And they spent seven or eight hours with that struggle. It would be much better to just stay awake the whole night and crash the following night, reset just as though you had changed time zones. And you know about some supplements that can help with that. And then you can get back to your rituals and sleep hygiene.
Dr. Veronica: Dr. Johnson, how can people find you if they’re interested in getting a consult?
Dr. Vance: Uspineinstitute.com is a webpage in which they can ask for an appointment. It’s the University Spine Institute in Murrieta, on the Murrieta Campus of Loma Linda University Medical Center.
Dr. Veronica: Okay. I’m telling people out there, if you want to get better you will travel to see a good practitioner. This gentleman runs marathons, operates on back, and is an organic fruit tree farmer in Southern California. And just think, if you go to California you’re just going to feel good, because California is just fun and you will feel good.
Dr. Vance Johnson, I thank you so much for your work. I love it that you’re encouraging people to eat clean, sleep clean, drink clean, breathe clean, and exercise. And think about this, you have two people here who have the means to be able to give you drugs and surgery, and what are we telling you to do, because we’ve had our come to Jesus moment, and we know that the right way is to go back to the basics and let our food be our medicine.
Female VO: Thank you for listening to the Wellness Revolution Podcast. If you want to hear more on how to bring wellness into your life visit drveronica.com. See you all next week. Take care.
Dr. Veronica Anderson is an MD, Functional Medicine practitioner, Homeopath. and Medical Intuitive. As a national speaker and designer of the Functional Fix and Rejuvenation Journey programs, she helps people who feel like their doctors have failed them. She advocates science-based natural, holistic, and complementary treatments to address the root cause of disease. Dr. Veronica is a highly-sought guest on national television and syndicated radio and hosts her own radio show, Wellness for the REAL World, on FOX Sports 920 AM “the Jersey” on Mondays at 7:00 pm ET.