Finally a free moment, thought Faith Nelson Eagles, as she collapsed into her desk chair. “During the time between patients at my integrative medicine clinic, I slipped off my shoe and quickly massaged the painful bunion torturing my joint,” she recalls. “I mentally tallied the time until my next bunion removal surgery, hoping it would bring relief to my joint discomfort. But deep down, I had another worry: I don’t want to become dependent on pain medications.
“Like my grandmother and mother before me, I suffered from recurrent bunions, a hereditary condition that triggers debilitating pain in the big toe. I experienced a deep aching that felt like an eight out of 10 on the pain chart.
Over the years, I used all kinds of pain medication, but as a healthcare provider, I had witnessed the opioid epidemic unfolding around me, and I had more concerns than ever about putting myself at risk of drug dependency. I constantly researched pain-management alternatives for myself and for my patients.
“Through my work as a physician, I knew about therapies that utilize flashing lights and keywords to ‘biohack’ or change body chemistry to improve health. So when I read that the technology could be used to ease pain, I took notice. The research showed it could synchronize brain frequencies with visual and auditory stimuli, shifting the mind into a meditative state to ease pain — without the time and effort of true meditation.
“As my surgery approached, I decided to try it. I downloaded the BrainTap app onto my cellphone and ordered a special BrainTap headset, which looks like a pair of virtual reality goggles. I’d seen biofeedback therapies work for my patients, so I was hopeful.
Relief at Last
“For my first session, I sat on the couch, selected the 20-minute pain management program, slipped on the headset and tried to relax, despite my bunion aching. The headset began flashing blue lights, designed to calm my brain waves. Though my eyes were closed, I could sense the brightness, like when you’re asleep but feel the sunrise peeking through your window.
“Next, I began to hear binaural beats, soothing tones that promote relaxation. A voice walked me through a visualization, imagining my joint discomfort as colors transforming into white. I was instructed to think ‘white, white’ and notice the pain was gone. I learned I could use this verbal cue to bring myself to a relaxed state whenever I was in pain. After the program, I felt refreshed, like I’d had a nap.
“I repeated the program several times leading up to my surgery to further train my brain. After my procedure, I listened to it four times a day to continue my training. Then, whenever my foot started to throb, I’d just repeat the mantra ‘white, white,’ and my pain instantly began to ease. The results were miraculous. It worked so well that I didn’t use any pain medication! At my follow-up appointment, the doctor offered to refill my pain prescription. When I told him I’d never filled the initial prescription, he was shocked. I just smiled and told him I’d learned to control my joint discomfort.
“I was so impressed, I started using BrainTap with my own patients to help with everything from insomnia and chronic headaches to weight loss and addiction. I find that even those who’ve never tried brain training before experience the benefits — and those who don’t invest in a headset get similar, if less impressive, benefits just by using the app to listen to the verbal cues through regular headphones.
“Now I feel compelled to spread the word. No one has to risk addiction or overdose — we can get pain relief without opioids!”
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.