Neurofeedback for Chronic Pain
Neurofeedback for Chronic PainMay 31st, 2018 by Cindy Perlin
Neurofeedback is a little known treatment that is a powerhouse for reducing or eliminating chronic pain. Neurofeedback uses sensitive electronic instruments to measure the electrical activity of the brain. That information is fed back to the patient so that better control of the brain can be achieved to improve health and function.
Here are two examples from my practice of the power of neurofeedback for pain relief:
Pat’s lower back was crushed in a workplace accident when a heavy piece of equipment fell on him. He had several spinal fusions after the accident. After 12 years of persistent low back pain, he heard about neurofeedback and started treatment. At the initiation of treatment his pain was poorly managed with opioids and NSAIDs. Pat was also traveling six hours round trip once a month to get spinal calcium shots. The injection would initially make his pain worse for a few days then he will feel better for a few weeks then the improvements would wear off. After 18 weekly sessions of neurofeedback, Pat’s pain was gone. He was off his medication and decided to cancel his scheduled injections. He continued neurofeedback treatment for a few more sessions to make sure that the changes would last. Months after ending neurofeedback treatment, Pat was amazed he was still pain free.
Cathy was a 54 year old special education teacher who was experiencing numerous difficulties when she came to see me for neurofeedback treatment. Among her complaints were difficulty with sleep, poor concentration, depression, anxiety, flashbacks of trauma, mood swings, obsessive negative thoughts, suicidal thoughts, fatigue, heart palpitations, irritable bowel, migraines, abdominal pain, fibromyalgia pain, joint pain and jaw pain. She was taking two antidepressants daily, two antianxiety medications as needed, and ibuprofen and Tylenol frequently. She rated all of her symptoms as severe, in the 7-10 range on a scale of 0-10. She had been in psychotherapy for many years. Cathy described a traumatic childhood and her current life as very stressful. Cathy did neurofeedback treatment for 32 sessions over a period of five months. During that time, Cathy was able to eliminate her antidepressants and significantly reduce her use of pain medications while reducing her symptoms by an average of 72%. Her jaw pain and irritable bowel syndrome were gone. Her difficulty maintaining sleep, migraines, anxiety, fatigue and flashbacks of trauma were decreased by 90%. Her fibromyalgia pain was 50% less. Depression decreased by 40%. Cathy had to stop treatment due to scheduling and financial issues. I am confident that if she had been able to continue treatment a little longer, the results would have been even better.
Two mechanisms that change the brain to create chronic pain
Central Sensitization: Pain itself often modifies the way the central nervous system works so that a patient actually becomes more sensitive and gets more pain with less provocation. It’s called “central sensitization” because it involves changes in the central nervous system (CNS) in particular — the brain and the spinal cord. Sensitized patients are not only more sensitive to things that should hurt, but sometimes to ordinary touch and pressure as well. Their pain also “echoes,” fading more slowly than in other people. The brain also continues to send pain signals even though tissue healing has occurred. This was the problem in Pat’s case.
Chronic stress and trauma: When a person is under continual stress or has experienced trauma, especially chronic childhood trauma, the person’s nervous system remains continuously overaroused. The stress response, also known as the fight or flight response, is always at some level of activation because the brain’s “idling speed” has been set at a higher than normal rate. As a result, muscle tension, blood pressure, heart rate and respiration are persistently increased and digestion, immune response, tissue maintenance and repair are suppressed. Over a period of time, these sustained changes cause chronic pain and other chronic illnesses. This was Cathy’s problem.
Neurofeedback directly targets the causes of chronic pain
With neurofeedback, sensors are placed directly over the parts of the brain that are involved in central sensitization or chronic overarousal and the patient is taught to normalize the electrical activity in those areas for pain relief. A simple idea that really works. Neurofeedback in the hands of a trained professional is also very safe, with no known adverse effects.
Neurofeedback providers are usually licensed healthcare professionals, including psychologists, social workers and MDs. See our neurofeedback providers on the Alternative Pain Treatment Directory who specialize in treating chronic pain patients. You can also find neurofeedback providers at ISNR.org, BCIA.org or EEGinfo.com.
Do you want to learn about other safe and effective treatments for chronic pain and stay up to date on chronic pain news? Sign up for “The Truth About Chronic Pain Treatments Newsletter” HERE and receive a free download, “The Five Best Self-Help Tools for Healing Chronic Pain”.