Ask Dr. Nick Wills: What Steps Does Summit Take To Manage Spine Pain Safely?

Spine problems are about pain. Summit has long recognized the problem with controlling pain through opiate medications, and Dr. Wills discusses Summit’s strategy for managing back pain in safer ways.


“When people are in pain, they want to feel as if someone cares,” says Summit spine surgeon Dr. Nick Wills. “At Summit, our approach to spine pain management differentiates us from other spine practices in the Twin Cities.”

Excellent care begins with highly trained specialists who stay at the forefront of medical advances with a commitment to the gold standard of care. “Even if all doctors were created equal—and I don’t think they are—we have built an approach to care around our physicians’ skills, and that approach is what differentiates us,” he explains.

Summit’s approach to care begins with patient access. “When someone calls for an appointment, we don’t want them to wait for six weeks to see us,” states Dr. Wills. “That means six more weeks of pain for the patient—pain depletes you and makes everything worse. That patient is going to be sleep deprived and unhappy and depressed. We want to get that patient in as soon as possible. If we can relieve acute pain sooner, it is less likely to become a chronic problem.

“If access is our first priority, having the right care at the right time is our second priority,” he continues. “Because most spine pain is successfully treated without surgery, we offer a depth of expertise in nonoperative modalities to get patients better. Our nonoperative spine physicians outnumber our spine surgeons. Unless someone presents with symptoms that require immediate surgery to prevent lasting nerve damage, we’ll begin with conservative treatments to relieve pain. Most patients recover without needing surgery. In other cases, nonsurgical treatments can calm pain symptoms until we are certain that surgery is appropriate.

In cases requiring surgery, Summit’s anesthesiologist, Dr. Doug Dubbink, has created intraoperative protocols that employ an array of non-opioid medications to control pain and keep patients as comfortable as possible. “We are using a multimodal approach to pain management,” says Dr. Wills. “These include a variety of non-opioid options like numbing medicine, IV Tylenol—that you won’t find in a hospital setting, and Celebrex to calm the initial pain so that it never spikes.”

The success of Summit’s pain management approach is reflected in patient outcome scores. “According to the Oswestry Disability Index, which is the gold standard for pain measurement, a spine surgery is deemed successful if patient pain decreases by a delta of 13 points,” says Dr. Wills. Then he grins. “Our delta is 30 to 40 points; that is a significant rate of pain resolution. We like being overachievers. But really, it is our patients who are overachieving. We believe that if we see people in a timely manner and take care of them properly and thoughtfully while working to decrease their pain medicine intake and their pain overall, we can deliver better outcomes. That’s the beauty of our practice: we’ve spent hours devising strategies and protocols and a comprehensive approach that is designed to get people better faster.”


  • Wills_2-16_1200x630

    Nicholas Wills, M.D.

    “I understand the concern of athletes to get back to their sport and working in combination with our therapists helps them there.”

    More about this expert

  • dubbink_1200x630

    Douglas A. Dubbink, M.D.

    “My goal is to improve my patient’s surgical experience. I strive to provide calm gentle reassurance for patients who are anxious about anesthesia and ensure that every patient is skillfully cared for throughout their entire procedure. When a patient awakens after surgery and openly wonders why they were so nervous previously, I know I’ve done my job.”

    More about this expert

Also see...

  • secure-tracks-recovery_blog

    Ask Dr. Hansen: What Can I Expect During Rehabilitation After Total Joint Surgery?

    Physical therapy during rehabilitation plays a critical role in the success of total joint surgeries. Dr. Hansen explains that understanding what to expect after a joint replacement can help patients to maximize the success of their surgical outcome.

  • Spine-3_herniation-vs-bulge_NEWSLETTER-1200x630

    Herniated Disc vs. Disc Bulges [Video]

    Ask the Expert: Spine Video Series

  • shutterstock_369261626_woman-decending-stairs_blog

    Ask Dr. Nestor: What Can I Expect During A Hip Evaluation?

    Summit orthopedic surgeon Dr. Bryan Nestor specializes in arthritic hip conditions and has more than two decades of experience evaluating patients who are considering a hip replacement. He explains exactly what patients can expect during their evaluation.