In the quest to find the most effective balance between modern medicine and personal self-care practices, Dr. Erich Anderer has some very, well, balanced ideas.

As chief of neurosurgery at an academic center in New York City, Anderer’s job is to perform surgery on a variety of spinal conditions. However, he estimates that nine out of ten of the patients that come in with back pain for consultations do not actually need surgery.

Self-Care or Surgery? Understanding Spine Health

According to Anderer, before pursuing surgery, many of his patients ought to try simple alternatives to regain mobility and strength in the tissues that move, support and stabilize the spine. So with patients, and through his quarterly back pain show on Doctor Radio on Sirius XM, he regularly recommends yoga, pilates and other conscious fitness and regeneration practices to fend off the need for surgery and enhance spinal health.

Over here at Tune Up Fitness® we are quite optimistic about the future of healthcare with people like Dr. Erich Anderer at the helm. So we are delighted he agreed to share his perspective on a few key themes that impact all of us who wish to live pain-free, active lives.

First we asked what inspires Dr. Anderer about his work as chief of neurosurgery and assistant professor of neurosurgery in prominent school of medicine (he also serves on the boards of the NY State Neurosurgical Society, the Japanese Medical Society of America)…

What inspires a neurosurgeon about his work

Neurosurgeon Dr. Erich Anderer on the job

I love the fact that there is so much yet to be discovered about the way the brain and spine work. There is a huge push to utilize slick technology and bring exciting bench research into the operating room.

That being said, I am hoping there are major paradigm shifts in how we treat patients with neurological disease, because there is so much we still don’t know. Also, there is great potential as a neurosurgeon to completely alter the course of someone’s life based on a procedure you do. That’s the best part of my job.

Why Would a Spine Surgeon Be Interested in “Self-Care Healthcare”?

Even though I’m a surgeon, I don’t advocate surgery for most spinal conditions. It used to be that if you had acute back pain, you would wear a brace or be on bedrest for a week.

Now, we generally advocate a return to normal activities as soon as possible. There’s statistical evidence showing better outcomes if you do that.

Keeping active and fit tends to prevent a lot of back pain, since most of the time this has more to do with muscle spasm or some deficit in core strength, rather than a structural issue requiring invasive types of treatment.

Are more western doctors opening up to self-care strategies?

I think many more physicians are starting to embrace non-invasive treatment modalities such as yoga, pilates, meditation, and acupuncture to treat a lot of conditions, not just spine pain.

It’s hard to ignore the fact that there is now scientific evidence showing some of these modalities to be at least equivalent, if not better than, the more traditional modalities.  

I think there are a lot of practitioners out there who believe in these techniques, but there needs to be more research done so that insurance companies will eventually have to cover them.

Right now, I can prescribe a week of an opiate medication for someone and have it covered by insurance, but if I suggest they do a week of yoga, they’ll need to pay out of pocket. I believe this will change in the future.

The way our healthcare system works, practitioners and hospitals used to be incentivized to perform billable procedures. There is a current push by the healthcare industry to reduce the need for inpatient care.

This is fueled by a focus on so-called social determinants of health (home situation, nutrition, access to resources, etc)–and I believe increased awareness and implementation of self-care techniques goes hand in hand with these.

Should other medical professionals check out nonsurgical self-care practices?

I think all of us can benefit from thinking outside the box. We’ve gotten to the point that most physicians will admit opiates are not a good treatment for chronic pain. Many surgical procedures, such as spinal fusions, continue to be studied to determine who are the patients that most benefit from them.

So, why not consider techniques that are inexpensive, don’t require a visit to a specialist, and have a low risk profile?

Tune Up teacher Ariel Kiley and Dr. Erich Anderer in a modified Gate Pose

How do you hope to shape the future of healthcare?

There are certain medical conditions that need to be evaluated by a physician, no doubt. But there are many conditions, garden variety neck and back pain among them, that can be well managed at home. This could potentially avoid unnecessary office visits, health care expenditures, and lost work days.

I believe the general push toward treating all but the most serious conditions on an outpatient basis is a good one. We’ll better be able to achieve this goal if people are fully invested in their own treatment and recovery, which the self-care movement helps facilitate.

Amazing! We couldn’t agree more. Thank you so much Dr. Anderer for your time and insights on spine health!

When Dr. A isn’t suited up in scrubs you can find him serving on the board of the Open Space Alliance, which is a parks conservancy in North Brooklyn. Or back in the day you might’ve even seen him onstage playing in a popular band here in NYC… but now he mostly just plays guitar at home with his kids.


Liked this article? Read 5 Ways to Take Healing into Your Own Hands:  Where Self-Care and Western Medicine Meet

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