Chronic pain affects 1 in 5 Americans.
For some, the pain is so bad that it interferes with everyday activities. They hurt when they move. They hurt when they work. They hurt when they just want to relax and enjoy life.
Cindy Perlin knows how that feels.
She’s dealt with disabling back pain and foot pain that lasted for over a decade. Today, she calls herself a chronic pain survivor. She’s been helping clients manage chronic pain for over 25 years. She’s also the author of The Truth About Chronic Pain Treatments and the creator of the online Alternative Pain Treatment Directory.
In this interview, you’ll learn why your family doctor isn’t the best person to treat chronic pain. You’ll discover treatments you may have never even heard of, like Rolfing and EMDR. You’ll find out what your childhood has to do with your likelihood of having a successful back surgery, and you’ll learn why Cindy believes you should never give up hope on getting rid of the pain.
Also featuring several appearances by Cindy’s therapy cats!
What You’ll Learn
Just over 40 years ago, Cindy hurt her back while running.
“I stopped running,” she explains, “but the pain didn’t go away. I got to the point where I had so much pain I couldn’t function. I had to drop out of graduate school. I spent three and a half years in that state, just beside myself with pain, not finding any answers from the doctors.”
For those of us with chronic pain, that story feels familiar.
Doctor after doctor, trying everything with no relief in sight, suffering from loss of income, loss of health, and sometimes even loss of relationships.
Then a friend recommended a book about a man who healed himself with laughter. It was there that Cindy read about biofeedback for the first time. The idea intrigued her, so she booked a few sessions. Within a day, she was 50% better.
Today, Cindy is a nationally-certified biofeedback practitioner. She works with clients with physical and emotional problems and help them get better at her private practice in Albany, New York. Her therapy cats (which you’ll meet in this video!) work alongside her.
Cindy emphasizes the mind-body connection, which is the idea that what we think has a real impact on how we feel.
“One of the things that I discovered was part of my problem,” she says, “was [that] I was in so much fear because I felt so out of control. When I learned about biofeedback—and I learned I could have some control—that made all the difference.”
When she was struggling with back pain all those years ago, she spent a lot of time lying in bed. To occupy herself, she watched a miniseries on the Holocaust. It wasn’t the best choice, she later learned. She decided to give laughter therapy a shot and switched to comedies. Sure enough, she felt better.
Pain conditions can be looked at in terms of whether they’re mainly physical or mainly mental/emotional. What works for one may not work for the other.
Cindy found that the mind-body approach really helped her back pain but was not effective for her foot pain, which was caused by a muscle imbalance. “So you do have to look at what the root causes are,” she says.
Some little-known physical causes of chronic pain include nutritional deficiencies, such as a deficiency of vitamin D; consuming foods and beverages containing aspartame, the artificial sweetener found in Nutrasweet; and lack of exercise.
So pain management is not one-size-fits-all. “You need to look at each case differently and try to determine which factors are causing the pain and and what will relieve it,” Cindy says.
But what you’re just extra susceptible to pain? Are some people genuinely more sensitive than others? Cindy thinks that’s a difficult question to answer. “One of the issues with pain is it’s subjective. You can’t really measure it. You can’t say, ‘Well, this person has more pain than that person.'”
She adds, “But there are factors that can predispose people to more pain.”
One of those factors is childhood trauma like abuse or neglect.
“If you’ve got trauma in your past and you haven’t worked it through, your body tends to be in hyperarousal all the time. That means that your muscles are always tense, you may not be sleeping as well, your digestion is impaired, and your immune system is impaired. All those things affect whether you develop pain and, if you are injured, it determines how well you heal from it.”
No wonder therapy has been proven effective as a treatment for chronic pain. Not because the pain is all in your head, but because what’s in your head affects your pain levels.
There are several different types of therapy you can choose from. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps address the way your thoughts impact your pain. Any intervention that “makes you more aware of your thoughts and how they’re affecting your pain or your body in general can be very helpful.”
Cindy offers an “energy psychology technique where you work with the energy of your emotions around trauma. If you can diffuse the charge that’s related to memory, then you can often get rid of pain.”
EMDR is another technique that “works with eye movements and and reconnecting the different parts of your brain that that can get dissociated during that trauma.”
All those pain treatment options have been proven to be helpful for many people, but they may never be mentioned by your doctor. Why?
Cindy is blunt. “Most of the time, when people are in pain, they don’t get the right answers from their doctors … and sometimes they get the wrong answers.”
Pain management is so complex that it’s often beyond the scope of a family doctor. “Medical schools on average give doctors about two hours of training on pain: diagnosis, treatment, medication, alternatives.” That’s not enough.
Take back pain as an example. Cindy explains, “There was a study that found that the more types of childhood trauma someone had, the less likely they were to have a successful back surgery … yet for the most part surgeons don’t screen for that.”
“The very best option,” she says, “is what’s called an interdisciplinary pain clinic where you go in and you get evaluated by different specialists, who then look at your situation and what its possible causes are and give you a comprehensive plan.” Yet they’re hard to find now, as they’re costly to operate.
In the end, it may be up to you. Instead of relying on a doctor, take your health into your own hands.
“People stumble around for years,” Cindy says. “They suffer, and they get worse, and nobody tells them there’s a simple answer—or maybe not such a simple answer, but things that they can do themselves that will make a difference and alternative practitioners who can help them.”
Things like massage therapy, Rolfing, physical therapy.
For clients who can’t get to Cindy’s private practice, Cindy offers phone consultations where she goes over the type of pain you’re experiencing, what treatments you’ve already tried, and what your resources are, as many types of pain treatment can get expensive.
What she wants chronic pain sufferers to know is this:
There is hope out there. Just keep looking. Just keep learning and trying, because there is a way out of your pain.”
Jump to Topics of Interest
02:58 Cindy’s experience with chronic pain
04:17 The help Cindy offers clients at her private practice
04:50 The mind-body connection
07:00 Root causes of pain
09:18 Childhood trauma and chronic pain
10:37 Effectiveness of therapy
12:55 Why you won’t hear about these options from your doctor
14:52 Interdisciplinary pain clinic
16:55 Other pain treatment options to try
18:28 How you can work with Cindy
19:34 Don’t give up hope
Cindy is a licensed clinical social worker, certified biofeedback practitioner and chronic pain survivor. She’s the author of The Truth About Chronic Pain Treatments: The Best and Worst Strategies for Becoming Pain Free and the creator of the online Alternative Pain Treatment Directory. She has been in private practice in the Albany, NY area for over 25 years, helping her clients reach their health and wellness goals. Find out how you can work with Cindy.