Complementary Compliments Pain Care

Complementary Compliments Pain Care

By Cynthia Toussaint.

It’s no secret - when it comes to pain care, I dig the three-legged integrative model. Besides using conventional medicine, it just makes darn good sense to use complementary and self-care as well. More menu and delivery options equal more chances for better wellness.

Cynthia Toussaint

Over my 35 years of CRPSy-ness and a dozen other auto-immune conditions, I’ve dabbled in my fair share of complementary therapies. WARNING - while many have helped me, like western medicine, some have done me harm. It’s true that complementary care is generally non-invasive, but I’ve learned the hard way that I still need to be super protective of where I go and who treats me.

Physical therapy is one of my favorite complementary methods – and no wonder because I love movement. Even during my bedridden years, I got exercises to do while lying down. If it was just core crunches, I did a ton and that bit of movement helped me maintain sanity.

These days, besides swimming and walking in a heated pool, I do ballet Pilates and Feldenkrais. These movement therapies keep me trim, flexible and strong-hearted. The movement and exertion also helps lessen my anxiety, stress and depression. Hey, that’s better than winning the lotto!

After getting vulvodynia, it was a physical therapist who got me going with pelvic floor exercises, which is how I eventually regained my sex life. Can’t beat that with a stick! And let’s not forget the medieval-like traction. Hanging upside down with a belt and stirrups relieved my pain and stretched my body, which took me from torture to heaven. Only trouble was I couldn’t get much done head over heels.

Having a trusted psychologist remains a lifeline for me. Debra understands the scope of my pain and loss. She’s my memory when I don’t think it’s possible to feel hope again – and is forever in my corner. Turning over those hot, steaming rocks of grief is sometimes excruciating, yet necessary. During lighter periods of life, I can’t tell you how many sessions Debra and I have spent laughing while trying to solve the world’s problems. Heck, when I remodeled my condo, she even helped with paint swatches. One-stop counseling here! Most importantly, Debra’s a sounding board, even if I fall apart mid-week and need a pep talk.

I treasure my monthly acupuncture treatments with my wonderful UCLA integrative doctor. The ritual is heavenly. After looking and listening to the ocean on a screen in the waiting room (yes, I’ve put in my suggestion for a Hawaiian island retreat!), I’m escorted to a room of relaxation-inducement. Soothing music, heat lamps, dimmed lights. Ahhh…  My doctor listens carefully, giving me the time and advice I need. He then literally lowers the stress in my shoulders with trigger point injections before inserting the needles. Soon I’m off to meditation-ville for half an hour. Bliss follows, with the only bummer being the session inevitably comes to an end.

Biofeedback is an amazing tool that literally taught me how to relax my body using my mind. After being pummeled with pain for fifteen rounds, I need both to throw up the gloves and make peace. Several years ago I had sessions with a USC pain psychologist to learn this practice. Using wires that connected my body to a machine, I witnessed in real time on a screen my unhealthy reaction to stress. I was then taught relaxation techniques that caused the screen marker to descend. This was better than Ms. PacMan.

On a less conventional and successful complementary care note, I once tried Reiki. While it didn’t give me lasting pain relief, the kindness and energy of the two healers felt good and I kept the dreamy CD despite the technique being a bit woo-hoo. Also, I tried aromatherapy when my fibromyalgia began robbing me of restorative zzz’s. The lavender oil smelled swell and was relaxing, but I didn’t get off to sandman land until I was prescribed medication.

On the “failed to launch” front, I saw a chiropractor about 33 years ago just as my CRPS was spreading into my back. I was desperate for pain relief as I was about to leave for a seven-night-a-week dance gig in Vegas. The chiropractor assured me all would be well with a few manipulations, but I had far more pain with every twist and turn - which turned into twist and SHOUT! The flight to Vegas was pure hell as I couldn’t move my neck without moaning.

On a darker note, a physical therapist once insisted on trying to straighten my severe right arm contracture. I didn’t want to do this range-of-motion therapy because I felt there was too much to lose and little to gain. I finally agreed to let the PT work on my head, neck and back. But when she cheated and yanked, she broke my right arm. I’ll save you the fractured details of the disaster that followed.

On balance, I’ve done pretty darn well using complementary care for chronic pain management and its accompanying mental and mood challenges. For the most part, these out-of-the-box techniques have sparked better quality of life – and for that I am grateful.

I urge all women in pain to get a bit fringy as I think we often focus too much on pills, procedures and surgeries. Of course, like all healthcare decisions, we need to be sure to do our research and know our practitioners before the healing begins.

Take a walk on the wild side…

Cynthia Toussaint founded For Grace in 2002. It is a Los Angeles-based non-profit organization dedicated to bringing awareness to gender disparity in the treatment of pain. She is also a frequent contributor to the National Pain Report.

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Cynthia Toussaint founded For Grace in 2002. It is a Los Angeles-based non-profit organization dedicated to bringing awareness to gender disparity in the treatment of pain. She is also a frequent contributor to the National Pain Report.

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Edward Hirsch

Iam a 61 year old male. I hae bi lateral knees and hips. I was crushed by a car a few years ago that only drove the pain levels higher. I have to come to realize that there will never be any real pain relief because of the abuse in this country. I pray every night the lord will take me. Please do the same for me

Jude Borghi

I too have been through every modal of care known to man in an effort to keep my CRPS 2 at a livable level. 12 years now. But surely knowing that CRPS is a progressive, chronic and often lifelong disease, why aren’t all verifiCRPS patients under the Palliative Care umbrella? The World Health Org states that such care is NOT just for life threatening diseases but ANY long term chronic disease that affects the quality of life of the patient and their family members? Palliative Care reduces health costs overall, provides us with ONE director who organizes everything we need, gets us the pain meds we are now without due to the CDC’s bogus report that clearly used bogus info. Palliative Care also offers all the modals of care you discussed AND because it includes a social worker as well as a therapist, it guarantees that patients have access to equipment they might need at home, and builders that can make a home more livable for the patient as their condition worsens. And we all know it will get much worse in the end. Palliative care reduces hospital visits, hospital stays, streamlines a patients care and has been proven conclusively to be a better way to help chronic illness patients. Why are we not part of palliative Care yet? Seems so obvious doesn’t it?


What the medical community is doing to the pain patients is absolutely heinous. Giving us one week of Medicine in place of a full month and have us paying for it after a career of 30 years where we supposedly earned our coverage for a lifetime. I can’t believe our doctors are not even pushing back. This is where the militia talked about in the Second Amendment came from. Our founding fathers did not want our government to take our freedom away but unfortunately they’ve not only taking our freedom but our lives as well.


Cynthia. Thank you for saying that some alt. treatment is woo woo and that some is dangerous. Thank you for not pushing pain meds out of the window and lying about how it’s all better without them. We all see through those b.s. filled back patters.

Thank you for the first article I have read that didn’t make me want to strangle the author for unrealistic and cruel thinking. You presented a balanced experience with realistic out comes.

Most of us don’t have the same choices, I for one am grateful you do. Maybe some reader here can afford it and you have given them tx to try without blinding them to possible pitfalls.

Bobbie Hudson Penick

Like most here I’d love many of these therapies if I could afford them! All I can manage is some doc visits and can’t even afford many mainstream treatments with my Medicare coverage!


I agree with kelly. I am also one of those pain patients that isn’t receiving any sort of pain treatments. We have private insurance but that doesn’t mean that we can even afford the basics.Hopefully there are others that may be able to on here. In my state, from which I reside, have turned away from such people alike. Of course, I’m one of them). One size does not fit all! Once again, I am an untreated pain patient and, not only has it wreaked havoc on myself, but also to my kids and husband…as well.


I’ve had CRPS since 1990 and full body since 1992. I can agree with a couple points, especially biofeedback. This one of the absolute best modalities for anyone with chronic pain. With CRPS you can have the body temp of any involved limb either go beyond the boiling point or well below freezing. Biofeedback can be used to either raise or lower the temp of that limb and bring with it welcome relief. The second is Movement. If you don’t use it you’ll lose it isn’t just a phrase - it’s the godshonest truth. With CRPS come atrophy - that’s a given. Pain and atrophy put this very active guy in a wheelchair. That for me was a dealbreaker! A combination of biofeedback, physical therapy and a whole pile of determination broke the hold of atrophy . I’m walking, working, hunting and fishing again. Am I in pain? Sure, and I fight the atrophy daily. If I were to spend one entire day and night in bed I’d be stiff as a board and fighting to walk. So KEEP MOVING keep using your meds correctly and try each of the modalities above. Keep an open mind and don’t expect miracles - those you make for yourself.

Lee Ann Landis

Glad you can afford treatments .But in every day People that do not have the means to afford Treatments are left to suffer .
Trust me I would love to live a pain free ,pill free life .But i can not afford copays .or out of pocket expenses .Nor can we pick and choose excellent Doctors.


Im with most of you. Insurance sucks. They want you to take prescriptions. Im in pain everyday and i do understand how people are driven to suicide because of pain, and just giving up. This is why the treatments that work would save the insurance lots of money in the long run. Im at my witts end. Joy

John Jones

Ur right Mackenzie!!! Not everyone can afford that. I don’t work an office job are some pie job I actually do manual labor which means I sweat an work my butt off for not alot of $.If I don’t have my meds I can’t even get out of bed in the morning.. I was hit by a drunk driver.thats a bigger issue then pain med’s!!! God bless everyone that has sense enough to realize that everyone doesn’t abuse are shoot there meds in there arm.

A. MacKenzie

It must be nice to be able to afford all these treatments that insurance does not cover. Please keep in mind not everyone lives where these alternative treatments are available, and not everyone can afford them! We must not allow the one thing that really works consistently for a lot of us (and that insurance … at least for now … will cover) and that is opioid pain medication. We cannot allow this option to be stripped away because of the politically-drive opioid “crisis”!

I am all for pain patients having access to any therapies they can try to improve their quality of life; in the last 40 years, I’ve tried most of them. For much of that time I was able to (barely) hang onto a good job with good health insurance, so could pay for most of the alternatives that weren’t covered. Now I’m on medicare, & the options are now virtually non-existent, b/c I’m broke & medicare won’t pay for even proven therapies (I could really, really use a good pain therapist, for instance).

It’s rather ironic when writers encourage pain patients to try all those other therapies, since many pain patients can’t keep good jobs. How are we supposed to pay for them? I already have to choose between necessary bills & buying fresh vegetables & other healthy foods. Now there’s a huge, hysterical campaign to take away the one thing that helps millions of people -some of them to keep working- those opioids that have been so overblown & overblamed in the media. Watch the suicide rate of untreated pain patients skyrocket. Watch for who feels bad about it… not those that caused it, I’ll wager.

Denise Bault

Loved all the complementary types of pain relief, WHEN I COULD STILL AFFORD THEM. It sucks to know there are things that will help, but the almighty dollar -or lack thereof- stands in the way of treatment.


Can you please tell me who your sponsor is? Or, who your health insurance is?
Please, I’m not being rude, I’d really like to try all these treatments you list on this blog! And all these routine therapies you are blessed to receive on a regular basis whenever you need them, or when the mood strikes you.
I’ve not these options, or, if I do, not to the extent of quality that would give me the relief which you obviously receive from them.
Thank you though, for giving me some ideas for sharing with me doctor at my next visit.
May God bless you, my dear in your non profit to help people to reach their goals.


Well said Cynthia. Without my Cranio Sacral and Trauma Resolution Therapist who has been with me for my entire 14 year pain journey to date, I don’t think I would still be here. He fully diagnosed me at 14 days after my car accident yet no doctor did so for another two years. He is trained in neurology and understands how pain states work and how to calm the nervous system. Calming the CNS is the key to pain management and relief, as you say re, biofeedback. He understands that trauma is held in every cell in the body even if the trauma was “psychological” and that the physical and mental are one and the same: the CNS cannot tell the difference. I also have massage weekly which keeps my body in better condition as I am unable to exercise as much as I would like. I have tried other therapies but these are the two that work. You might like to try Margaret Morris Dance. She designed it for the “differently abled” to be able to join in at any level. I found it not only possible for me to do but joyful, creative and fun. I was sure I would be sore afterwards but I wasn’t. That shows how well,designed it is for broken bodies even though there are members of my class with no disability. Look her up on Wiki. Good luck….


I also believe in 3 part pain therapy.
Physchology…physiotherapy…and pain meds
Loved acupuncture!
Not allowed to have chiro…might permanently paralize some….
But I get exscercise and keep weight low…and focus on positive not pain.

Thoughts effect our bodies…
And keep us from happiness at times.

Don’t. Moan….Motivate!!!!?


I have ehlers danlos syndrome. It has been very difficult for me. Physical therapy was a nightmare on my ribs. My autonomic nervous system is out of whack which makes my heart best over 200, I cant sleep, I easily get angry. The pain in my ribs crushes me at times. My last psychiatrist told me he did not know or treat this disease but was willing to give me meds which caused me gain 40 lbs in two months. I pray God sends me where I need go for proper treatment.