When severe back pain 45 years ago rendered Cindy Perlin, LCSW, unable to function for more than three years and doctors were unable to help, she sought out biofeedback. She experienced, by her estimate, a 50% reduction in pain within a day.
The experience not only restored her quality of life but also provided a foundation for her future career.
Today, the veteran biofeedback practitioner, who is CEO of Alternative Pain Treatment Directory, alleviates her patients’ neuropathic pain using the same modality that restored her health. Perlin uses biofeedback to teach people how to reduce pain using their mind. She reflects, “I differentiate between focusing with fear and focusing with healing intention.”
Regaining agency through biofeedback
Biofeedback is a non-invasive therapy during which sensors are attached to the body to measure specific functions, allowing users to learn to self-regulate their physiology and reframe fearful thoughts.
Perlin remarks on the power of thoughts: “Let’s say you have peripheral neuropathy and you’re thinking, ‘My feet are burning; it’s going to get worse, and I’m not going to be able to walk.’ If that’s the way you’re focusing, you’re reducing your circulation.” Biofeedback teaches users to turn off the fight, flight, or freeze response—which, when chronically activated, withdraws circulation from the extremities, restricting healing.
Neurofeedback is a type of biofeedback, often called EEG biofeedback. Therapists place sensors on the patient’s scalp to measure brain activity, and biofeedback instruments provide audiovisual feedback to reward positive brain changes. Neurofeedback treatment can teach the brain to shut off pain signals.
One of Perlin’s clients with idiopathic peripheral neuropathy, trigeminal neuralgia, and fibromyalgia experienced significant pain relief after using hand temperature biofeedback and neurofeedback, which calmed her nervous system and increased circulation to her extremities.
Combining biofeedback with other alternative treatments
Mark Johnson, PhD, a psychologist at IPM Medical Group, a California practice that focuses on the management of chronic pain, frequently combines biofeedback with other progressive methods to serve his patients living with neuropathic pain.
For example, one individual with an amputated arm and severe neuropathic stump pain experienced significant relief from the application of microcurrent stimulation to his earlobes, which drives changes to the central nervous system in a similar fashion to biofeedback. Another person successfully diminished her neuropathic arm pain using a distraction application on a virtual reality headset that can help the brain learn to redirect attention from a constant pain focus.
Perlin and Johnson acknowledge the labyrinthian nature of successfully treating neuropathic pain. “Pain is complex,” Perlin says. “Often, more than one type of treatment is needed to attain full recovery.”
However, she is optimistic. She consistently finds that biofeedback arms individuals with tools to move from a fragile “Oh-my-God place” to a solution-centered “What can I do?”
“I differentiate between focusing with fear
and focusing with healing intention.”