Can 3-D Sound Technology Silence Chronic Pain?

By Pat Anson, Editor

Cognitive behavioral therapy. Mindfulness meditation. Acupuncture. Massage. Yoga.

The list goes on and on.

You name it and most chronic pain patients have probably already tried some type of alternative treatment for pain relief. Many give up after a short trial period or simply can't afford to continue treatment.

But there's an innovative and inexpensive new way to treat chronic pain -- a CD that uses binaural sound technology to help listeners relax and "deamplify" pain signals. Think of it as a three-dimensional (3-D) stereo sound that reaches parts of your brain that regular sound can't.

"It's so easy. Anyone can pop in a CD and listen to it. The trick is to use it over time because when you use it regularly, you're training your brain away from pain, says Beth Darnall, PhD, a pain psychologist, clinical associate professor at Stanford University, and author of The Opioid-Free Pain Relief Kit: Ten Simple Steps to Ease Your Pain.

In addition to several practical tips at relieving pain, the book comes with a 20-minute CD that Darnall narrates using binaural technology, which she says is the "gold standard" in psychology for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety.  Darnall believes her CD is the first to use binaural sounds to treat chronic pain.

"The person just puts on headphones and I walk them through a total body progressive relaxation. Layered behind my voice are tones that go in one ear and in the other ear, in rapidly alternating sessions," Darnall told Pain News Network while attending PainWeek, a week-long conference in Las Vegas for pain management practitioners. 

"Most people will not perceive these tones, but your brain perceives them. This is called binaural technology and what it does is stimulates the different hemispheres of your brain in rapid alternating secession."

Wearing headphones is the key to making binaural technology work. So is listening to the CD at least twice a day. Darnall says it works in a way similar to cognitive behavioral therapy -- by "calming"  the brain and quieting the constant barrage of pain signals it is receiving.



"Its only when you use headphones that the binoral works because the tones are going in one ear and in the other. And they're talking directly to your nervous system," explains Darnall.. "Even if you don't hear it, they're there.

"When you use it regularly, you're training your brain away from pain. You're literally retraining your neural networks to a calmer -- I don't want to say pain free --  state that helps people de-amplify. You're basically dampening the pain processing over and over again. And so over time your brain is less likely to go straight to the pain and amplification. You keep things at a calmer level where you have less pain and less distress."

You can click here to download an mp3 file and listen to a sample one-minute recording from the CD.

"We have observed is that it is very effective for pain," says Darnall, who recommends that users not be driving, doing chores or be engaged in anything else while listening to the CD.

"Sit. Close your eyes. Be present because we really want to induce a total body state ofdeep relaxation. If you're multi-tasking and doing other things, you're not fully relaxed."

Darnall recommends other relaxation techniques in her book to help people reduce stress and sleep better -- techniques she says can help reduce the need for opioid medication. She says listening to the CD will help enhance that process, but like any alternative treatment it takes time and effort to make it work.

"Most people with chronic pain, have been living with pain so long, if you listen to this once or twice, you're not going to scratch the surface. But over time we can train the whole nervous system away from pain," she said.