Episode 25: P. Brendon Lundberg

With a vision to build the safest, most consistently effective and non-invasive solution to the epidemic of chronic pain, Brendon Lundberg (a chronic pain survivor himself) co-founded Radiant Pain Relief Centres in Oregon. The centres use an FDA-approved and Mayo Clinic-tested treatment for chronic pain called Scrambler Therapy, which targets the brain’s response to pain in the body and aims to retrain its feedback loop by encouraging neuroplasticity. Brendon combines his mission to change the way chronic pain is treated with deep experience in healthcare management and business development; he and his co-founder, David B. Farley, M.D., released their book, Radiant Relief – A Case For A Better Solution To Chronic Pain in 2018. In this episode, Brendon sits down with Lauren to discuss his work and the growth of Radiant Pain Relief Centres, as well as to share some beautiful stories of healing – and triumph over pain.

Key links mentioned in this episode:

Radiant Pain Relief Centres

Russell’s Amputation Story

Investor Info

Free book download – Radiant Relief: A Case For A Better Solution To Chronic Pain

The Opioid Epidemic on 60 Minutes

Listen in as Brendon shares…

  • about the therapy, education, and experience that Radiant Pain Relief Centres deliver
  • how chronic pain affects patients, and the joy of helping them heal
  • that all pain is neurogenic, though experienced in the tissue – its origin is in the brain
  • that most doctors are trained in outdated pain research from the 1960s, and newer technologies and research are much more comprehensive and offer hope for relief
  • that many chronic pain patients are disbelieved or brushed off by medical practitioners
  • the definition of chronic pain, and how chronic pain is a protective function of the brain that’s become maladaptive
  • that Radiant Pain Relief Centres use an FDA-approved and tested treatment for chronic pain called Scrambler Therapy, which encourages neuroplasticity: attaching electrodes to the skin in proximity to the site of pain, and sending signals to the brain to rewire its understanding of pain at the site
  • how neuroplasticity works: it dynamically re-trains the brain; and the brain learns through repetition
  • that patients average an 84% reduction of pain using the technology at Radiant Pain Relief Centres, over the course of a few weeks of treatment
  • how life-changing chronic pain relief can be
  • his take on the opioid crisis
  • why Radiant Pain Relief Centres shares a heart-centered mission for Brendon: because he is a survivor of chronic pain, which he has successfully treated using Scrambler Therapy
  • the neuroscience of pain: how the brain triggers the nervous system and tissues in the body to experience pain
  • the most prominent side effect of Scrambler Therapy: fatigue, because the brain is working overtime to balance and adapt
  • that, because of pain’s origin in the brain, pain relief treatment can be accelerated when a psychological element is at play
  • the few restrictions on treatment at Radiant Pain Relief Centres: expectant mothers and MS survivors
  • Brendon’s take on the current US healthcare model
  • that the relief of chronic pain begets patient empowerment and freedom

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P. Brendon Lundberg Radiant Pain Relief Centres Uninvisible

Lauren: All right guys, thank you so much for joining us today. I am joined today by Brendon Lundberg, who is the president, CEO and founder of Radiant Health in Portland, Oregon — and elsewhere. You’ve got more than one center now, I believe. So you can tell us all about that. So Brendon, why don’t you tell us about what you do at Radiant Health and what sets you apart from practitioners out there in particular, who are dealing with chronic pain? 

Brendon: Yeah, thank you. Honor to be here, and to share our message! We’re building clinics called Radiant Pain Relief Centres — and ‘centres’ is spelled the British way … because I like it!

We have the mission to change the way that chronic pain is understood and how it’s treated, and to advance the therapy that’s based upon the most recent understanding of pain, and chronic pain in particular. Which is all about the brain.

So I’m excited to talk about what we do. But yeah, we’re delivering a therapy and an education and an experience that is highly empowering to clients. And that is literally changing lives and saving lives. Most of our clients have been in chronic pain for years or decades. They’ve tried “everything”. And they really have in most cases. They’ve tried a lot of things and they come to us typically in high levels of pain, but it’s also very complicated because they’ve been hurting — so they’ve been moving less, they’ve probably gained weight, their sleep has been chronically disrupted. They’ve withdrawn from the activities and the relationships that bring them joy. And many times the medications that they’re prescribed to manage their pain actually make these things worse. To be able to see them unbundle this complicated mess as we help them feel better is a really awesome thing to be a part of. 

Lauren: So tell us about the technology that you’re using at the pain relief centres, and how that works. 

Brendon: The important thing is first to understand that pain, even though we feel it in our bodies, and the tissue in our back, and our hips and our knees and our hands — wherever we’re feeling the pain …

… all pain is neurogenic … meaning that it’s coming from the brain, and it’s experienced in the tissue.

That runs a little bit counterintuitive to how we experience it, and probably how we’ve been taught, and even how many clinicians have been taught; most doctors are trained in pain science from the 1960s. And they really, frankly, lag behind in understanding the most recent advances in understanding pain.

If pain comes from the brain, chronic pain is actually a problem of the brain, not a problem of the tissue in many cases.

And in fact, there are studies that show a high percentage of people who have no pain; they’re asymptomatic. But if you image them under MRI, you find a presentation of arthritis, herniated disc, torn meniscus … you know, a variety of tissue pathology that should warrant pain in our minds, but it doesn’t really … they don’t know it. And conversely, you could take 1000 pain sufferers, image them where they say their body is hurting, and you don’t find a correlated presentation of tissue abnormality. So there’s actually a disconnect, which is the most important thing to understand.

Many of our clients who come to us in chronic pain say, “My doctors have told me they’ve done all they can do. They don’t know why I’m still hurting. There’s this implication that it’s in my head, that I’ve made it up, or that I’m a drug seeker, or something like that.” And it’s not true. Pain is a very real thing. But its origin is not what we experience it to be in the tissue. It’s coming from the brain.

And in the short term, it’s a pretty protective function … if you have your hand on the hot stove, if you’ve broken a bone, if you have cancer growing in your tissue, you want to feel pain — because it gets your attention more than anything else, right? It says, ‘Hey, pay attention here, something’s not right! Stop doing this! Avoid doing this! Learn from this.’ And then, you know, seek care if you need it, and let it heal … and the body should heal and normalize typically in a matter of months. So we define chronic pain as pain that’s growing in presence longer than is appropriate. Typically, that’s at least three to six months, but in most of our clients’ cases, it’s years, or it’s growing disproportionate to a cause. Or in some cases, no clear cause; fibromyalgia, for example, is a case in which this happens. So understanding the science — instead of trying to fix it at the tissue site or mask it at the tissue site; or give somebody a drug, which changes the entire chemistry of the body and results in side-effects and this whole opioid addiction epidemic that we’re now facing …

Lauren: I was going to ask you about that!

Brendon: We can talk about it. We use a very novel FDA-cleared technology that lets us retrain the brain through artificial nerve impulses. It’s really remarkable.

The way it works is, we attach electrodes on the skin, in proximity to where the pain is being experienced in the body — but actually in tissue that’s healthy, so not painful. We turn it on, and it transmits these artificial nerve impulses that basically tell the brain or tell the nervous system … no pain. It’s sent through the peripheral nerves of the body up through the central nervous system and into the brain. The brain receives this, and it almost immediately begins to ease the pain experience in the body.

And the messaging coming out of the technology is dynamic and changing. So the brain is forced to work to interpret what’s happening. If the message was unchanging, in time the brain would probably say, ‘Hey, background noise. I’ve heard this before,’ and kind of start to ignore it. But because it’s changing, the brain is forced to work to understand it, to interpret it and try to make sense of it. And that causes what’s called a neuroplastic change, or neuroplasticity — the brain’s ability to learn. So essentially, in the first session, which we give for free, we can typically make a noticeable improvement in the pain.

And then over a series of treatments, most of the time daily for a few weeks, we can retrain the brain — just like learning how to speak Spanish or how to ride a bicycle, through repetition and exposure. 

Lauren: Wow. So how many treatments do patients typically end up having? And how long a period of time are they in and out of care with you as an outpatient procedure? 

Brendon: Well, we’re building clinics so that we can create a highly refined care experience and business structure to support this therapy exclusively. So we’ve really taken that into account in what we’ve modeled. But the process is variable — depending on the person, the type of pain, the severity of pain, and the location in the body. But it’s typically a process that’s born out over a few weeks, in daily sessions. Each session is about an hour. It’s Monday through Friday, in most cases; weekends off.

So over two or three weeks, we average an 84% reduction in pain.

Lauren: That’s unbelievable.

Brendon:  It’s unbelievable. It’s life-changing, it really is, yeah.

We’ve had clients in such severe pain that … for example, one guy I think about all the time … after about a decade of failed therapies using drugs and physical rehab and injections and more drugs … in fact, he got addicted to opioids. He tried a spinal cord stimulator. None of these things resolved his pain. And so he was so fed up, he went to his doctors and he elected to have his leg amputated. He said, “I can’t deal with this pain. Chop my leg off. Hopefully I’ll have a better quality of life with less pain even though I’m missing my leg.” And so they did. They amputate his leg, and it doesn’t resolve the pain; it becomes basically phantom pain.

Lauren: Yeah, you hear about that, especially among veterans coming back from the war, with PTSD … and they’re feeling a phantom pain and and the limb is no longer there. 

Brendon: Yeah. And really, all chronic pain is kind of like phantom pain because it’s existing regardless of what’s going on in the tissue. The phantom pain is very clear to understand that it’s not a tissue problem —because the tissue is gone. There are no nerves left in that part of the body. So anyway, this poor guy was essentially suicidal at this point because, what do you do at that point … you’ve had your leg amputated and you’re still in excruciating pain. So fortunately, he didn’t take his life; we were able to treat him, and on our website clients can see a news clip about him in which he tells a very emotional story about being able to play with his grandkids and live a normal life. 

Lauren: So tell me, when people are getting these treatments, and they’re having them over a series of weeks, are you creating a permanent pain reduction, or do they need to sort of top up from time to time? 

Brendon: I would say semi-permanent. Again, because we’re getting more to the root of the problem, which is the brain, and we’re actually letting the brain and the body go through its own natural healing. I think it’s arrogant to say it’s our therapy that’s changing it. We’re the conduit by which that’s happening. But all healing is endogenous; all healing happens from the body, inside — not from some medication, or something.

We’re getting more to the root of the problem, but it is a process.

And so we sell our therapy on an annual membership, because that allows us — even though it’s every day in the first few weeks — to push the cost off over a year, making it more affordable. And then they can come in for what we call boosters — like a refresher course to reinforce the neuroplastic change of the brain, which is often necessary. You can think about it like this … if you study Spanish but you never practice Spanish, inevitably, you’ll start to forget it. So the brain will kind of deviate back to … you’ve probably heard this term: What we fire, we wire.

So the more things that we practice and do and repeat, those become kind of grooves in our brain if you will, or patterns in our brain, and that becomes dominant. So it sometimes takes a lot of time to unbundle.

Pain is, frankly, very complicated. When you understand the most recent pain science, it’s not just injury cause-and-effect, very clear black-and-white. It’s multifactorial, and so there could be lots of reasons why the pain does come back — autoimmune disease being one of them, for sure. 

Lauren: Well, and it’s interesting because a lot of the practitioners who come on the show talk about how we’re never really looking at cause-and-effect. It’s always a multi-system approach that you have to take to full health and wellness, and to getting better. And, you know, there is the Band-Aid of something like an opiate — which for some people really works, and you can’t knock it. But by the same token, this treatment you’re doing — it’s called Scrambler Therapy, if I’m correct, right? 

Brendon: Yeah, that’s what it’s called in the medical literature. It’s an unfortunate name, not one I would have picked. It was named by its Italian inventor, and I think something was lost in translation!

Lauren: I don’t know, when I heard the name, I thought, ‘Oh, yeah, because it’s scrambling … you know, fixing a couple of pathways in your brain.’

Brendon: Well, the reason it’s called that is, because, again, the messaging is dynamic. So it’s sent, it’s scrambled, it’s resent, it’s scrambled.

The brain is always flooded with novel information, which causes a brain to have to work, which causes the neuroplastic change. So it’s not that we’re causing the brain to get scrambled; we’re causing the signal to get scrambled — which causes the brain to have to react.

So that is really what’s happening. But again, it’s not a very flattering name. So we typically just talk about radiant therapy.

Lauren: Right. Now, can you … address the opioid crisis? Because this is one that comes up a lot, as well … people who have chronic pain in the invisible illness world; some of them are responding to opiates, and others aren’t. I’d love to get your take on the crisis that has developed, and your response to it in the work that you do.

Brendon: Sure. Well, first, I would say, both as a pain sufferer, and somebody who has devoted my career and spends time every day with chronic pain sufferers … I never fault anybody for doing anything they can do to try to feel better. You and I spoke off-air, too … my wife had dealt with an invisible illness; with Hashimoto’s disease, and Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome [CIRS] for over a decade. And you know, I never fault anybody for just doing anything they can to try to manage the circumstance of what they’re dealing with; my heart goes out to everybody that’s dealing with these types of things. So I want to be clear … I place no blame on anybody. But the science has really changed. And I think it’s really important to understand this, because when we go through our process with our clients, there’s a level of education and empowerment that comes from that — where they no longer feel hopeless; they no longer feel like, ‘I can only use an opioid to manage my pain’; or ‘I can only do this,’ or ‘Nothing works. Why is that?’ There’s a level of internal hope that begins to be rekindled, an empowerment that happens when somebody gets educated about these things. And, you know, when it comes to opioids, they are in most cases very, very effective. If we think about our caveman ancestors — when they hurt they would drink alcohol, or they would take probably opium or some other plant-based analgesic, a biochemical approach — and industry has been born out of that.

And [opiates and painkillers] are so effective in the short-term that they’ve really mitigated the necessity to understand pain at a deeper level.

It hasn’t really been until the last 10 years that we’ve said, “Holy cow, we’ve got hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of people who are addicted to these things.” In 2017, 72,000 people died in the United States of opioid overdoses. These things are effective at masking the problem, but not really, frankly, solving the problem.

Lauren: It’s a Band-Aid.

Brendon: It’s a Band-Aid.

So again, I think I understand why people seek it because they just want to feel better. They want to be able to at least try to function through the day as best they can. And I understand how it’s happening from a business standpoint, because it’s low-cost to produce. They’re replicable; they work most of the time, effectively, for most people. So insurance chooses to endorse something like that. Doctors are trained in pain science from the 1960s in biochemistry, and then they’ve been a product of the marketing functions of these businesses, just like we have been at a consumer level. And so here we are, thinking that that’s the course of action that’s the most effective.

But you also hear stories of people saying they were cured through meditation, or chiropractic care, acupuncture, or lasers, or diet, or a variety of different things. And when you understand the neuroscience of pain, you can understand: okay, anything that helping the nervous system and the brain to calm down and to relax will have a pain reductive property to it. And so I think it’s all good. And what we see with our clients is when they get educated about this and get empowered, through our therapy we’re able to reduce the urgency of pain very quickly, very effectively, very consistently, and safely. We help people get off their medications, and then they become empowered on their own to say: I want to eat better, I want to move better, I want to address my sleep, I want to change my environment, I want to replug back into activities and relationships that bring me joy and make me feel connected. And then you see a spiraling up of healing, versus the cascade of decline that they’ve been in, typically, for years prior. 

Lauren: You mentioned that you are a pain sufferer yourself, and I’d love to hear a little bit more about your story — and if that’s what brought you to the therapies that you’re using now with your clients. You’ve also written a book about pain as well, haven’t you? So tell us a little bit about how you came to all this, and what your background is. 

Brendon: Yeah, I’m a pain sufferer. I’ve had low back pain since I was a teenager, and it was always a little bit inexplicable. I grew up around — primarily — allopathic medicine. My dad was the CEO of hospitals so we had a lot of doctor friends in the house, and around that type of approach. And then I had an uncle that was a chiropractor. So I saw both sides of it, and I would get regular chiropractic adjustments because it was on the house —you know, family discount! I always loved him, and I still have a warm spot in my heart for chiropractic care; it’s something that my family and I choose to do pretty regularly, as well as acupuncture and a lot of other things. I am a pain sufferer so that gave me some insight. But I started Radiant primarily, to be honest, because I saw a business opportunity to deliver a therapy in a more effective way. But that ‘why’ has really shifted for me over these last several years of doing it.

When you see people who take such drastic measures as to cut their leg off, or who have contemplated suicide … get their life back … the ‘why’ for me is so much bigger.

I mean, it’s almost crass to think about this being a business, because it’s really life-changing for people. But … so I’ve had this low back pain, and I would go to get adjustments and they always felt good, and they helped relieve the discomfort short-term. But it never fully resolved it. And I remember my uncle saying, “Well, it looks like your hips are a little bit misaligned; maybe there’s some scoliosis, or one leg is longer than the other.” Into my early 20s, my younger sister became a licensed massage therapist, and she became an instructor at the massage therapy school that she went through — and is a great massage therapist. And she did something called structural integration on me, which is like really deep, uncomfortable massage — not pleasurable massage. But I remember her commenting, too, that my hips looked like they were kind of rotating. I thought, why is that … scoliosis? I mean, that was the common thing … your spine is creating this curvature. But I just kind of kept living my life. When it would get worse or better, I’d talk to pain doctors and orthopedic doctors. Everyone approaches it from their level of training and their level of insight. And again, I think people are well-intentioned — but everybody looks at it a little bit myopically, based upon how they’ve been educated. So the pain doctors would say: “Well, let’s give you some pain meds. Let’s mask the problem. If it gets worse, we can do injections. Eventually, maybe we’ll need to go in there if there’s disc degeneration or abnormal structures to the tissue; we can go in there and carve it up and try to help straighten it.” The orthopedic guys took basically the same approach: “Here are some pain meds. At some point, we could go in there and put rods in your back to make your back nice and straight so that scoliosis doesn’t advance further.” Fortunately for me, I didn’t do those things because they’re pretty drastic. I just kind of lived my life. Flash forward … starting Radiant … having gone through the treatment myself. And I developed, at some point, sciatica pain down my right leg.

Lauren: Of course!

Brendon: Yeah, pretty uncomfortable! That’s been gone for three years; it hasn’t come back at all in three years.

Lauren: You did Radiant therapy on yourself? 

Brendon: Yes; well, I had a technician treat me; I didn’t do it myself! (Laughs) And then the mechanical pain that I’ve had in my low back has been significantly reduced. In fact, it never probably spikes more than a 2, maybe a 3. But typically, it’s not even there. And I’ve really learned, if I stay active and I keep moving, and I mind my diet, and lots of other things … I can keep it pretty well under control. But the question has always been: Why do I have this problem? And why did I develop it at such a young age? So in understanding the nervous system … and this is something that I think is really, really fascinating myself … I kind of geek out about it … is that the nervous system’s primary job is to keep us alive. That’s its number one function — to keep us alive. And so that means it’s going to pay attention to the things that are threats to its ability to keep us alive. And to do that, it records or remembers those things, probably from the time that we’re in utero, as we’re being conceived and we’re in the womb. Environmental toxins and threats could be part of that. And then throughout our adult growing life and into adulthood. But the nervous system’s functions are: our vision, to see the landscape to know that we’re safe; the organs of the inner ear — that’s called the vestibular system — that keep us balanced and being able to be agile in our environment; the touching/feeling senses, so we know this is hot, or this is cold, or this is sharp, or this is dull, all those inputs; and then what’s called proprioception, which is our orientation in space so that we know where we are in space. So all of those things are working so that the brain gets information to know: ‘Okay, Mr. Human or Mrs. Human, we’re able to keep you safe.’

What we find happens for almost all of our chronic pain sufferers is, there begins to develop some level of disconnect between one of those sensory systems [of the nervous system] and the brain.

It’s not capturing the information correctly or transmitting it correctly, or the brain’s not interpreting it correctly. And what happens … it then becomes kind of a void; it becomes kind of like a spot in which the brain says, ‘I’m not getting the information to know how best to keep you alive and to keep you safe.’ And again, phantom pain is a great way to understand this. We used to think phantom pain happens because the nerves are cut. And that’s why the trauma to the tissue is what’s causing the phantom pain. Well, it certainly causes pain in the short term, but tissue heals and nerves heal. So the reason that we now understand, from the neuroscience of pain … the reason that somebody has phantom pain is not because they used to have a foot and they don’t any more and the tissue has been cut. It’s because they have a brain that wants to get information from that foot, to say, ‘I know you’re standing on stable ground … your foot is not stuck in an icebox and you’re not getting frostbite … or you’re caught in a bear trap,’ or something else like that. It wants to get that information. And so, when it’s not getting that information, the nervous system creates this pain experience that gets our attention more than anything else. So that hopefully we can help give the brain the information it needs, so that it can keep us safe. Does that make sense? 

Lauren: Yeah, absolutely. And I’m just wondering … it brings up the question for me … if we’re retraining the brain with the therapies that you use at Radiant Pain Relief Centres, you’re retraining the brain to recognize something that has been previously recognized as pain — as not pain. Is there a risk factor there … that it would stop recognizing pain? If someone held a hot poker to that area of tissue, would you still register that pain? Or is it just local to the pains that are being experienced at any given time? 

Brendon: Great question. So again, understand that chronic pain is really a dysfunction. It’s a protective function that’s become maladaptive. So we’re really just restoring it back to normal. We don’t make people superhuman; we can’t have them crash through walls and not feel pain or go play in the NFL. It’s really more of a normalization. In fact, we have a lot of clients that come in maybe with a diabetic neuropathy, and they have pain, but they also simultaneously have a numbness associated with that condition. And even the numbness, in most cases, normalizes. And so it becomes a more normal sensory experience — versus, again, a disconnect. In my case … and I’ve known this for a very long time, and I don’t know if it’s because of eye infections (I wore contacts and glasses before that), or a head trauma from skateboarding or sports or something … but I walk around all the time with my right eye kind of disconnected from the world. If I go to the eye doctor, I see just fine out of both eyes. But because my right eye is not really focusing like it’s supposed to, my nervous system perceives that as a vulnerability, and it says, ‘Look, if a woolly mammoth were to come out of the bushes and attack you, Brendon, you’re more vulnerable on your right side. So we’re going to keep you safe by creating a very subtle, physiologic shift in your posture so that your head is tilted and your left eye is in a position to be a little bit more dominant on the landscape.’ That gives the brain a level of security — because now it’s seeing the landscape more fully, accounting for my right eye that’s not doing its job. Well, that adjustment is very subtle, but it creates compensation that has to happen throughout my spine so that I can keep walking forward. Otherwise I’m going to be veering to my right or walking in circles, right? So the focal point of where this impacts is the low back. And it is this reason, not because I have scoliosis, [that I had back problems]. It’s almost like an adaptation in terms of the adjustment in the physiology, because my right eye is not doing its job. And so what we do at Radiant is treat people through our therapy. We get them out of the urgency of pain; we help walk them through some very simple and safe assessments that help identify what may be an underlying neurologic deficiency. And then give some very simple, kind of prescriptive type drills, that help rehab that area of the body or that nervous system dysfunction. So that if the right eye starts focusing and bouncing out and seeing the world more evenly with my left, then my head doesn’t have to tilt anymore. And physiology, of course, corrects itself, and the pain goes away. It’s pretty remarkable. And so almost inevitably, there’s some sort of … this hand hurts, but it also feels different to the touch than this hand … and we can help rehab the sensory inputs through a variety of different assessments and drills. 

Lauren: That’s amazing. So you’re really working with each patient as an individual, and not using protocols that are standard. You’re really looking at each person’s pain individually, and treating from there. 

Brendon: 100%, yeah. 

Lauren: Are there side-effects to this work as well? Or is it just a really amazing therapy that doesn’t have any side-effects? 

Brendon: Yeah, well, it is that — and it sounds too good to be true. And part of the reason this hasn’t taken off more prominently in the medical establishment is because doctors are trained in pain science from the 1960s. The therapies that are out there are limited, and they know that.  And to say that there’s a therapy that’s this effective, that can have an 80%+ reduction in pain on average, and over 90% of our clients conclude at zero or 1, 2 or 3. So, a mild level of pain. There are some exceptions to that. And, because what we’re doing — we’re not introducing any foreign chemicals into the body; we’re not giving an injection of anything.

The body’s own healing process is taking place. We’re just giving the brain new information so that it can make a better, healthier kind of determination about its safety.

There are no side-effects to it. In fact, I’ll say this … if there’s a side-effect short-term it’s that people feel sleepy because the brain is, like, going back to school. It’s working really hard to learn all this stuff. But people typically like that, because they haven’t been sleeping well because of the pain or because of medications, or both. If you’ve had sleep disruptions or chronic sleep deprivation, you know that it just makes everything else worse. So getting restorative sleep is so beneficial to a variety of things.

Lauren: Now it’s sort of my journalistic duty to ask: Do you have an occurrence of hypochondria at your pain relief centers? Do you have people coming in, saying, “I think I have pain,” but they’re not sure? It sounds like, largely, your clients are people who are coming to you because they’ve tried everything else, as you mentioned.

Brendon: That’s definitely true.

Pain is probably the single most human condition denominator. There’s not a single person who’s ever lived on earth that hasn’t experienced pain, right?

I would even say, maybe it’s part of the reason that we have this human experience — whether it’s from some deity, or because we’re genetically or biologically or evolutionally here. Pain is a teacher. In the short-term, having our hands on a hot stove is teaching us very clearly … don’t put your hand on a hot stove, going forward, because it’s going to hurt. Right? There’s some level of clarity to that. Chronic pain becomes less clear. But it also becomes very complicated, because it does impact every aspect of somebody’s life.

When someone has lived in chronic pain for so long, they’re less likely to be plugged into the things that really make them the best of who they’re capable of being — whether it’s relationships or work or activity levels or function. And so, at some point for some people, they begin to correlate their identity to that pain.

And in some cases, they use that pain as a reason to not face other circumstances in their life that probably need to be addressed. I’m not here to place any sort of judgment upon that. But at the same time, we have a priority to help the people that want to be helped the most. So we’ve modeled our business by giving the first treatment for free. We spend over two hours with each client, at zero cost. We ask them to identify: What is your definition of success? What is your WHY? Who needs you to show up? Why do you need to get out of pain now? Why is this a priority? 

Lauren: There’s a logical element at play here as well.

Brendon: For sure. Because it’s the brain. And when I say brain, I don’t want to imply that it’s made up — because it’s a very real physiological experience happening in the body. It is driven by the brain, but it’s driven by the more primitive brain — the brain stem, the ancestral reptilian brain, the limbic brain. And then we have a more modern brain or frontal brain; our frontal cortex is for higher reasoning and and thinking. When someone has been in chronic pain, those older, more primitive functions of the brain become more dominant in the function of the brain. And that’s why meditation does work to get people out of pain. The problem is, it’s just a slower, longer process. But realizing there is a psychological component and having somebody choosing to want to get better for a very specific reason accelerates the process by which they get better. Does that make sense? 

Lauren: Absolutely. And in that case, I think you’re really looking at people not as hypochondriacs at all.

Brendon: Not at all. 

Lauren: You’re taking their pain seriously, and wanting to treat the root cause. 

Brendon: Yeah. I mean, pain is very real. The problem is that because doctors can’t see it on an MRI machine, they go, “We don’t know, Miss Jones, why you’re hurting any more. We’ve done all we can do, we’ve given you [unintelligible],” or whatever it is.

Inevitably, most of our clients have been made, at some point along their care journey, to have felt like they made it up — like it’s in their mind, not in their brain — or they’re a drug seeker, or they just don’t want to have to go back to work, or whatever it might be. And we’re saying: no, that’s not the reality. We hear you, we know that you have a real pain experience, and we want to help you get better.

But you need to first tell us: Why? What is your motivation? And then as we go through the process of explaining our therapy —and we talk to them about their definition of success and what pain has cost them — and then as we educate them about this neuroscience of pain … almost all the time, there’s tears of joy. Because it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s a chance I could feel better? There’s an explanation as to why I’ve felt like my body’s been tricked, has betrayed me for the last 5, 10 years (or whatever)?’ And, you know, to see people get their lives back, that is my WHY, as I mentioned earlier. And it’s a beautiful thing to be a part of.

Lauren: That’s really, really gorgeous. And are you finding that there are illnesses or conditions that people are coming to you with more frequently than others? Are a large portion of your patients living with fibromyalgia or CRPS, or something like that? What do you see is most common in your practice? 

Brendon: We really see it all, to be honest, and the commonality is the brain. So frankly, we’re quite effective at all types of chronic pain. There are a few exceptions. And there are a few — what we call contraindications — or disqualifiers. Like, we won’t treat a woman that’s pregnant. Frankly, it would probably be safe. We just never want to even perceive that we put mom or baby at risk. So we just have a hard line; no pregnant mothers.

Lauren: But that’s something temporary.

Brendon: Temporary, yes. In fact, we’ve had clients that have come to us with fibromyalgia or some other pain condition, and they’re concerned because they want to start a family or have another child, but they’re concerned about being on these medications. And so we’re able to help them get off those medications through having a safer, more effective therapy. Then they can conceive and have babies, and if they need to come back after that, they can do that. This has happened on a number of occasions.

Lauren: Oh, how wonderful.

Brendon: Yes, so no pregnancy; no implanted device like a pacemaker, generally speaking, because we don’t want to disrupt that and put somebody’s life at risk. Other than that, it’s pretty much universally safe. We’ve learned that multiple sclerosis and the pain associated with it can be very difficult, in part because when somebody has MS, it’s actually the nerve fibers themselves that become …

Lauren: Myelinic.

Brendon: Yes, demyelinated. The stimulus of our therapy can actually increase the pain for them. And that’s not what we want to do; obviously we want to avoid that. There are varying degrees, but in almost every other type of pain, we can typically make a pretty significant reduction.

Lauren: Wow. When you hear things like this, and you hear that it is ‘too good to be true’, there’s a reason that so many people haven’t necessarily been exposed to these newer ways of thinking in the “alternative health” arena. A lot of it is connected to where the money flows, isn’t it? In terms of the opioid crisis, a lot of it is connected to the fact that there are large pharmaceutical companies who are making money off of it and lining some doctors’ pockets. So it’s really great to hear that there are people like you who are advocating for an alternative to that.

Brendon: Well, it’s a lonely road.

I mean, when the world has been promoted as being flat forever, and you’re saying ‘no, it’s actually round’, you’re a heretic until people really realize that you have something that’s kind of special here.

And I don’t want to throw people under the bus. Because I think most physicians — most clinicians are well intentioned. The problem is, they’re just not educated about this. And they’re so busy, and they have their clinical realities that they have to deal with.

It’s like, “I only have five minutes to spend with you, Mr. or Mrs. Patient … what’s the best thing I can do?” And typically, it’s writing a prescription.

But because of the opiate addiction in the news now … you can Google it and look at this … many states are suing the drug manufacturers … and in that are being disclosed internal memos that those companies did know the reality of the addictive nature of these drugs, and they were lying about it. And so that’s unfortunate.

I don’t think the doctors in most cases really realized what was happening. They were just trying to serve and help the patients have the best quality of life.  But it is clear that it’s time for a better, safer solution. 

Lauren: Yeah, I think actually 60 Minutes did a really wonderful piece on the opioid crisis, exposing a lot of these drug companies for being responsible parties. Now, you were saying that you spend two hours with a new patient in their first appointment. In doing that, and taking the time with them … and understanding that so many of these people who have chronic pain and live with invisible illness have been shuttled from specialist to specialist … when they come to you, and they’re exhausted … aside from spending the time with them, how else are you addressing that need for a better bedside manner? Are you offering special training to the people who are working within your clinics? 

Brendon: For sure. Again, our whole entire care model was built around delivering this therapy in the most effective, and appealing, and consistent way. If you think about any successful business, it doesn’t matter what the businesses are — product or service, a high price point or a low price point — the underlying fundamental key to success is one thing. It’s consistency. You can take, for example, two retailers: Walmart on one side, Nordstrom on the other side. They’re both very successful retailers; they sell very different products at very different price points. The shopping environment is very different. The experience is very different. But they are consistent in delivering to that customer what the customer expects. The Nordstrom customer isn’t expecting a Walmart price point. At Nordstrom, they’re expecting a Nordstrom price point and a Nordstrom level of quality and experience and service — and vice versa. And so, understanding that we had to deliver consistency and excellence, consistently, made us say we have to look at this business structure a little bit differently. And then because it’s not covered by insurance … and because, frankly, there’s been so much snake oil, if you will, and there’s a real tendency to dismiss our therapy — because it sounds too good to be true — as ‘snake oil’ … we work really hard to create a pricing structure that’s frankly, very, very affordable, and very fair. And we invest a fair amount on the front side, like the two hours of time that we spend with each client before we ask them to write a check to us — so that we can make sure that they feel like they’re really getting a lot of value in that. And then that puts the responsibility on us to make sure that we operate a business that can work within that pricing structure and still be profitable to us as a company, and returned back to our investors. And as you know, the cost of health care in most circumstances, and hospitals in particular, has become so contorted and inflated, it’s impossible to operate a new therapy like this without a higher reimbursement from insurance. And that’s just not viable for this product at this time. 

Lauren: Well, that leads me to the structure of the US healthcare system as it is right now … Is it something that you’d like to see, a therapy like this, being more widely accepted by larger medical establishments so that it could be something that people could get covered on insurance? And would you like to see the system change in favor of these more … I don’t want to say ‘experimental’ because it’s not experimental … you’ve been working on it for years. But, you know, these considered “alternative” therapies. And how do you see that change happening? 

Brendon: Well …

… if we’re honest about it, we don’t have a health care system. We have a sick care system. And that sick care system makes a lot of money, frankly, on keeping people fairly sick.

If you’re crushed in an automobile accident and you need your body repaired, we have remarkable solutions for that; our ability to treat acute trauma is unparalleled in any place in the world — or certainly in the history of time. However, when it comes to chronic diseases, and particularly invisible diseases like you talk about right here on your podcast, we’ve done a pretty miserable job at understanding them and addressing them in a very effective way. And our current system is not set up to ever accommodate that, or to be really very proactive at being preventive. It’s just not set up to do that. I’m not smart enough to know what the solution is to change that. And so what we’ve made the decision to do at Radiant is [to] say: How can we control our controllables as best that we can? And that has been to say: instead of trying to sell this into an existing healthcare world that’s fairly fragmented and broken and driven by economic incentives that aren’t necessarily serving the client, or that would make this very effective … let’s operate outside of that confine. So we’re building clinics that allow us to create a higher level of experience and efficiencies and care like we talked about, and to make a pricing that works for the consumer as well as for the company. And then to create alignment through the rest of the healthcare world by saying: Instead of selling you a device, which costs a lot of money … and then there are opportunity costs because you’ve got to figure out how to use it, which means you’re spending time doing this versus something else that you might either make more money at or be better at … it allows them to invest and have a passive opportunity to participate in what we do. I think an analog to this is to think about Starbucks. Starbucks has fundamentally shifted and changed society … they changed the way that we value coffee, the way that we experience coffee, how much we consume coffee, how much we pay for coffee, the role it plays in most of our lives. And they didn’t do that by selling a better coffee product to the local diner or cafe. They did it by creating these stores, this experience — and that’s what we want to do.

We want to create a better healthcare experience.

And many clients tell us that even though there’s a cost to our therapy, that it’s the best investment they ever made — not only in the management of their pain, which is almost 100% — but almost 60% say it’s the best investment they’ve ever made in any sort of healthcare-related expenditure. 

Lauren: I’ll contribute from my own experience. I haven’t tried your therapies myself, but I will say that when I look at the cost of my healthcare … I recently did my taxes, and looking at the cost of my health care over a year … with the exception of monthly payments into health insurance, the additional fees that add up — they add up so fast. It costs so much to stay well, even if you’re insured. And I think ultimately, the decision that a lot of us in this invisible illness world are making is that our health is the most important priority in our lives, and that’s where we’re  going to put the money. It’s not going to be a Porsche! And really, treating our bodies as best we can. And that starts with something as basic as sleep and rest, and the food we’re putting in our bodies really works its way up through all these various therapies. I really respect companies like yours for operating outside of a system that’s broken. If the system can’t be fixed — if we’re too far in — then at a certain point, you need to just say … right, in that case, let’s not take part in the system, but let’s find a way to make it affordable for people, especially people who have high medical bills. And the fact that you’re willing to work with patients and create payment plans, from what I understand, is remarkable. Because not everyone can afford it, and just finding ways for people to raise money to pay over time and make it affordable for them is the best thing that we can possibly do. That’s how we help people the most, isn’t it?

Brendon: Yeah, totally. And to answer your question that you asked a minute ago …

I do want insurance to cover this, and I think at some point, they’ll come knocking on our door because clearly we’re safer — more effective. And we can save those companies a lot of money because we’re avoiding a life on drugs, or avoiding very costly surgeries. It’s clear it will happen. I have zero doubt about that.

But what we see happening right now on a micro level with our clients is, the way that we model the business, the process that we drive our clients through with asking them their ‘why’ and their definition of success, is that they look at this as an investment — not in Radiant, but in themselves and in their opportunity to reclaim a life that’s been lost because of pain. And as they make that investment, and as they get their health reclaimed — we’re only doing pain, that’s all we really focus on — but most of our clients end up losing weight, they end up sleeping better, they end up plugging back into relationships and activities and work to make them much more prosperous, and then they become empowered.

Like, ‘Wow, man, if I can shift my life so much because of changing my brain, and my pain is this much improved, what else can I do?’ And the pendulum swings … not just back to normalcy, but to the right, further down the road towards a much more empowered, desirous kind of holistic health experience. 

Lauren: And that kind of joy, which is something that is so easily lost because of either circumstantial or clinical depression that can often set in when these illnesses are thrust upon us, is incredible. If you’re able to offer that opportunity to people, I commend you for the work that you’re doing. 

Brendon: Thanks so much. 

Lauren: We’ve covered so much today, and I usually wrap up my episodes with some Top Three Lists. And I would love to know what top three tips you would offer to someone who might be on their last legs — forgive the pun! — but might be on their last legs with treatment options that have heretofore been available to them? And what you would recommend they do if they’re experiencing chronic pain? 

Brendon: Well, the first is: Have hope. I hope that we can be very effective at growing the business and reaching and helping a lot of people. But I’m sure I’m not the only person out there that’s trying to be creative and ambitious about how we approach these types of problems. So whether it’s us or somebody else, have hope. There are therapies that are emerging 

that can help you. Having been part of my wife’s health journey — and what I see so often with our clients — is that …

When you don’t have answers from your doctors as to why your body’s acting the way it’s acting and the experiences that you’re having, you become a seeker. You become your own advocate, you become your own ambassador; you’re the one going to your doctor and saying, “What about this … I just read this study? Or this — is this something that we should consider?” And keep doing that, because even though that’s a lonely place to be, you are your boss. You are the CEO of your body.

And don’t just take a recommendation from a professional if you don’t feel like it’s the right thing for you and for your body. And that’s, again, part of why we model it to give the first treatment for free; we want people to come in here and have the option to choose to invest in this if they really feel like it’s for them. If somebody is in pain, and they ask, “Can Radiant help?” … we have clients that do fly to us, even though we’re only in Portland right now, from across the country, from Canada, from Mexico, from Europe.

People come to us and they get their lives back.

Obviously it’s not as convenient as if we’re down the street. And so we’re working hard to raise money so that we can hopefully be everywhere for everybody, soon. But I would say that: Don’t give up hope. From a business standpoint, one of my favorite quotes that has come to mean a lot to me, and I think it’s very applicable on a health journey is  … I think it’s Thomas Edison, and I’ll probably butcher the quote … but essentially, the gist is …

When you think that you’ve run out of solutions or options, remember this: You haven’t. There is always another option. And what I fear is that people give up hope. And when you give up hope, you just quit trying, and that’s not okay for anybody.

I want to see people have hope and be empowered; in our case, pain is what we do.

Lauren: You also mentioned advocacy; people coming with their advocates to appointments. I certainly do that. I go to the doctor’s office with my advocate, who’s my mom. Sometimes when you have all of this thrust upon you, you don’t necessarily have the wherewithal to navigate this. Literally, you’re having an emotional response. And it can be very difficult to wade through your own emotional response to things, and just sort of get on the logic plane with doctors and data. So to have someone with you to help you … I imagine that you have patients coming into the clinic with their advocates all the time.

Brendon: We actually almost require it. If somebody doesn’t have one, we understand, and if they can’t make it work, we understand. But we tell every client, “Please come with a companion, spouse, — a family member, friend.” Because what we’re doing … there’s so much information, we want them to feel like they’re capturing that. We ask the client, “What is pain costing you? What is your definition of success?” But we turn to their spouse and ask them the same questions, because it has to work together. Because pain, in many cases, causes us to withdraw from those relationships, and those become strained; they become fragmented. We want to help heal that. And we think that connection — that reconnection back into the relationships and the circumstances that bring us joy — is a super important part of the healing process. 

Lauren: Do you keep a therapist on staff for those purposes as well?

Brendon: We don’t; again, because we’ve really tried to model this to be as efficient as we can to cover as many bases we can. We train all of our staff, who are typically licensed practical nurses. They’re very compassionate, anyway. But we train them in the technical application of the technology, and the soft skills of communication, because pain is so subjective and so individual, and it encompasses and incorporates so many different aspects of life. What we ideally create is referral relationships to people who are more expert in our market. So someone who’s maybe a better counselor or sleep expert or nutritional expert,

physical therapist, movement expert ,or something else like that. So that allows us to just be expert at what we are, and that is specifically pain. But when they need additional help, to be able to create avenues for them to find them. 

Lauren: And that keeps the costs lower as well. Dare I ask … how much it does cost for the annual membership?

Brendon: Totally! We try to make it not only as affordable, but certainly as valuable; and to see people get their lives back, for most of our clients … price becomes not even an issue. So after we’ve given the first treatment for free, and we explain the process is a process that is one that’s borne out over a few weeks, and likely they’ll need boosters. We sell it to them on an annual membership, so they have access to it throughout the year, as they need it. And that membership is $3,500. If you divide $3,500 by 365 days, it’s about $10 a day. The price can go up if they’re heavier users, and we have different structures for that; but you know, it’s not uncommon to be right in that price point, around $10 a day. People are spending that on coffees and lattés — and, you know, fancy beers!

Lauren: Well, if you’ve got a fairly comprehensive plan, you’re spending more than that on your health insurance every year. So this is more affordable!

Brendon: Yeah. And we have clients that come to us on medications like Lyrica, for example. And some of those out-of-pocket monthly costs, even with insurance coverage, is several hundred dollars a month.

Lauren: I really commend you for everything you’re doing, and I’m so glad we were able to have you on the show today, Brendon. This has been such a great chat. And I’ve learned so much today about neuroplasticity and the brain. It’s so exciting. I love it when you said that you geek out over it, because I thought to myself — everyone listening to the show is geeking out about this!

Brendon: I hope so! We’re at the point in our understanding of the brain that’s a new level of understanding. If we think about, say, germs … it was only a few hundred years ago that we realized we were transmitted germs by not washing our hands before we eat, or when we’re performing surgery, or putting our hands in the mouths of patients and transmitting disease that way. Obviously now, everybody knows: we wash our hands. The surgery centers are very sterile and clean. We get it. We’re at the point now where we’re starting to understand the brain and the mind, to the ability to be able to change reality and certainly health reality — but all reality — by having a healthier brain. And so, it’s a really exciting part of time in history. And I look at Radiant as not only, really, the safest, most consistently effective and appealing solution to this big problem of chronic pain. And that we have the ability to reach a lot of people, because there’s so much suffering out there. But what we see happen, again, is that people become empowered.

And my hope is that not only do we shift them out of pain, but we help shift society into a higher level of engagement and awareness about their brains. And that leads to a whole level of higher health and communication, and connection to everything that makes us the best of being human. 

Lauren: That’s an absolutely gorgeous perspective. And I thank you for sharing that with us, because I think it’s important for people to hear. There are people who are listening to the show who might be living in chronic pain or living with chronic illness who have lost that pathway to hope. And having that excitement, and having people on the show who are at the forefront — or are pioneers in what they’re doing, as you are — it’s really wonderful, and reinforces that joy and that excitement. And I really hope that everyone hears that. Did you hear that, guys??

Brendon: Yes, we want to help people. 

Lauren: Brendon, thank you so much for being on the show today. It’s been an absolute pleasure to meet you, and to hear about everything that you’re doing with Radiant Pain Relief Centres. And we’re obviously going to post all of your information with the episode, so people can find you. So if they’re local to Portland and the Oregon area, they can easily travel to you. But if they need to travel from out-of-state or out-of-country, they’ll be able to find you. 

Brendon: Absolutely. Yeah. Thank you so much. It’s been a real honor.

We welcome your thoughts and comments!

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