Conversation with Dr. John David Mullins
‘I’ve become a lot more open-minded than I was when I first started. I became more accepting of new therapies and not so closed-minded, asking if is there a better way to do this?’
When he first treated patients with SoftWave in 2018, Dr. John David Mullins was skeptical about the benefits. “I really didn’t think it would do anything,” he said.
Then, one day a patient with a terrible foot infection visited his office at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital. The prognosis from several other doctors was grim: the foot needed to be amputated. The patient begged Dr. Mullins for a way to keep his foot saying the experienced surgeon was his last resort.
Instead of surgery, Dr. Mullins offered to treat him with SoftWave. After one session, the man’s foot showed signs of healing with improved blood flow.
Dr. Mullins was astonished by this result. “It saved the man’s foot. And it was totally unexpected,” he said.
Since that time, many other patients have seen Dr. Mullins and experienced remarkably positive results from SoftWave therapy.
Dr. Mullins is a plastic and reconstructive surgeon practicing at Piedmont Atlanta hospital and the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. He is the former Chief of Surgery at Piedmont hospital as well. Dr. Mullins graduated from Emory University School of Medicine in 1975 and served four years of active duty in the U.S. Air Force and then the Air National Guard for an additional 37 years, retiring as the Chief Medical Officer of the Georgia National Guard. He started practicing plastic surgery in 1985 after five years of General Surgery training plus an additional 2-year fellowship for Plastic Surgery Certification.
William Smith, managing partner of Clear Media Strategies, interviewed Dr. John David Mullins for a wide-ranging conversation about his practice and the changing state of pain relief.
Smith: How has your approach to surgery changed over the years?
Mullins: I’ve become a lot more open-minded than when I first started. I’ve become more accepting of new therapies and not so closed-minded, asking, is there a better way to do this? I’ve found that there are other ways to create a therapeutic effect than simply making an incision, taking something out, or removing it. And so that’s part of what’s changed going forward.
Smith: How you integrated SoftWave into your practice and how do patients experience it?
Mullins: I have a machine in my office. Certain wound care centers have machines, and there are certain practitioners out there that have machines. It’s a fairly steep learning curve of how to use it. But the most important thing about this thing, and I can’t emphasize this enough, is that so far: It’s been used in tens of thousands of patients here and in Europe, and there’s never been a downside reported. We haven’t had any adverse effects from this. And so the question becomes, not should you use it, but why not?
Smith: What should patients expect when they do SoftWave for therapy?
Mullins: We’re writing the book on that. We’ve got the European experience to some degree, I’m finding that if I’m getting no results, after a series of three treatments, maybe a week apart, then maybe you won’t think of it maybe going a different direction. That rarely happens. I usually almost always get some results. Some of them are indeed a one-and-done like that plantar fasciitis case, or even painful knees. Or maybe some incisions that won’t close. I will ask my patients to give it three treatments, one week apart.
Smith: You told us about a patient who avoided amputation after SoftWave therapy. Can you give other examples of when you were surprised by the results?
Mullins: I’m a surgeon, and I don’t easily embrace technology that doesn’t involve scalpels. But I had to admit I’ve seen some results with SoftWave that are quite remarkable. One time, I had a female patient who was expecting amputation. She’d already had an amputation on one side and really didn’t want to lose the other side. She would be relegated to a wheelchair forever. So she asked me to save enough of the foot and leg that she would at least have something to stand on.
SoftWave was successful in that as well. And so that sent me down the road to really diving into what this thing can do. Pain relief is one part of it but it’s really a superior way to make tissue want to heal.
Smith: Those are incredible stories given these results. Are other doctors in your practice using software therapy?
Mullins:To some doctors, it sounds way out there. A lot of my colleagues are not aware of it.
Most of the time when you do a surgery it’s going to heal in the normal fashion. There’s a cascade of events that goes into wound healing. I’m getting patients sent to my office when they’re having difficulties, and I will work on them. Sometimes they will require further surgery and sometimes they don’t. But as a group, SoftWave technology is still lagging in this country as compared to areas in Europe, particularly in Germany and Switzerland.
Smith: Why is it more popular in Europe and not in the USA?
Mullins: That’s a tough question. And you can do finger-pointing into the way the medical industry is a very rigid, closed system. It’s designed to protect the public from either harmful or useless therapies that have not been shown to be effective. And I understand that and respect that. And we need to do that.
When the patient is in chronic pain or the patient is having trouble with things, they’re very vulnerable. We don’t want them going down a rabbit hole in trying something that may be harmful, or at least something that’s not effective and will cost them money. And so it makes them easy prey for predators. And so our country and our medical industry have been pretty rigid about embracing something that is not proven or does not have a good study in the US. Sometimes even foreign studies are not well accepted until they get to the point where they can be put into a well-respected, peer-reviewed publication of some sort.
Smith: What can surgeons do to prevent patients from becoming addicted to opioids which are commonly prescribed to ease pain after surgery?
Mullins: I’m obviously aware that anytime you start someone on an opiate, it’s incumbent upon the doctor to not lead them down a road of addiction. Opioids when used properly in the right amount, are very, very useful and a very, very good way to manage post-operative pain.
One of the things that I had been doing with SoftWave, the acoustic wave, has been trying to address some of this post-operative pain and in some cases even preoperative conditions.
And so it’s pretty exciting. I think, in my practice, even in the cosmetic type surgery, I will try to start patients with SoftWave therapy and reduce their need for opiates.
Smith: How is Softwave therapy being used to help the spinal patients you treated at Shepherd Center?
A big problem we have is paraplegia, or loss of sensation is pressure ulcers. And, these wounds need to be addressed sometimes, surgically. But sometimes we can stop that need. And so we’re using it for tendonitis. A lot of sports people are using SoftWave. They’ve been using it to train for the Olympics for years. They will very often get painful joints and painful muscles. And we’re finding that it helps heal wounds. And so they are starting to use this more and more over there as well, as I’m trying to get my patients there. And then we’re seeing results and so it’s being accepted.
Smith: What does the research say about SoftWave?
There have been some really good developments in the scientific literature. As recently as 2021, a Nobel Prize was awarded to some scientists who identified certain receptors on cells that will respond to things like this shockwave. We have now identified an actual cellular process.
Whereas before, for instance, we didn’t really know what causes pain. Well, we knew that a nerve was stimulated, but we didn’t know exactly what caused it to then produce a signal that went to the brain that says I’m in pain, which is a very important thing for the survival of all creatures, protective. And so pain is very important. But we’ve only recently started seeing on a cellular level, how that happens. And I’m really pleased that fits right into what I have noticed clinically, with using this SoftWave, acoustic wave therapy.
Smith: Any final thoughts or comments on the topic of better healing?
Mullins: Personally, I’ve become a lot more open-minded. Over the past few years, I’ve become accepting of some of these therapies, like Softwave and the discovery of mechanical transducer receptors in cells.
I personally think that that is going to explain a lot of the benefits of Eastern medicine and acupuncture, where it’s very difficult to find the scientific underlying basis of it. But it’s been around for millennia, and it works. And I think that eventually, we’re going to find out a physiological basis for how these things work.
I’m just one voice out there. But I’m again impressed how SoftWave has not shown to have any bad effects. Looking at the past, I wish I could have started this 20 years ago. And I think I’d be farther down the road.