Book Review: A Life Larger Than Pain, By Dr. Erv Hinds

Publisher: Health Press

Reviewed by: Kathryn Quintana


Dr. Erv Hinds is a pain doctor who is the founder of the St. Vincent Pain Management Center in Santa Fe. Patients who suffer from pain come to him in desperation, no longer able to handle their lives and frustrated with doctors who have run out of solutions. In writing A Life Larger Than Pain, Dr. Hinds drew upon his professional background treating these patients as well as his unique personal experience as a patient who struggled to regain health after being diagnosed with a heart defect. In A Life Larger Than Pain, he compassionately encourages chronic pain sufferers to transform defeat and discouragement into renewal.

The content of A Life Larger Than Pain is organized into eight chapters which cover several aspects of pain ranging from a detailed description of the pain process to stories illustrating the role spirituality can play in restoring health. This is not a how-to book with hands-on techniques for alleviating pain. Rather it is helpful in reframing one's life with pain and offers guidance in taking useful first steps to reclaim life and live more fully. At the end of each chapter is an interactive section called "Steps For the Path" which includes exercises, questions for reflection, and suggestions to help strengthen body, mind, and spirit for pain relief. Dr. Hinds recommends that the reader share these steps and what he is learning from them with his doctor and a close friend to offer encouragement and monitor progress.

The book's second chapter, "Defeating the Drag-Down Ds", is perhaps the most effective in breaking down the effects of chronic pain on life and giving the reader specific areas to focus on to halt the downward spiral into which pain sufferers find themselves thrust. The "Drag-Down Ds" are symptoms of chronic pain which Dr. Hinds developed into a checklist. Most pain patients have one or more of these factors: depression, deactivation, dependency, doctor-seeking, drug-seeking, deteriorating relationships, and dormant spirituality. Dr. Hinds gently encourages the reader to let go of self-pity and to work on improving these areas and be open to the potential for personal growth and transformation that adversity contains.

In a chapter entitled "The Three Dimensions of Pain Relief" Dr. Hinds lays the scientific groundwork to demonstrate that body, mind, and spirit together influence pain. This book is not a comprehensive study of the physiology of pain. However, through his explanation of five key concepts: pain behavior, central sensitization, neurosignatures, the rebound trap, and brain plasticity, Dr. Hinds shows how the pain process is not static, but changeable and can be intensified or regulated by a person's responses to pain. For example, he explains that the concept of brain plasticity involves the ability of the central nervous system to change the way it operates, reverse its own self-destructive patterns and move the body toward healing. Dr Hinds uses technical language and diagrams in this chapter, but the message is one of hope that high pain levels can be reduced over time.

Spirituality is a thread deeply woven throughout this book. Dr. Hinds believes an essential part of healing involves helping patients to find their spiritual "kernels" which may have become dormant after enduring the spirit-crushing effects and heartache physical pain brings. He explains that Western cultural attitudes make accepting and effectively dealing with pain more of a struggle. Dr. Hinds refers to a variety of spiritual traditions throughout the book such as that of the Native Americans which have heavy influence in the region where he practices. He explains that Native American cultures view pain as a natural dimension of life in the physical world and see the healing power in nature. He asserts that our consumer culture, however, leads to despair once technological, pharmaceutical, and medical resources are exhausted. American tendency to glorify youth, beauty, health, and physical fitness and shun illness, disability, and pain are more examples Dr. Hinds points to in showing how cultural attitudes increase suffering. He offers many anecdotes and suggestions for developing an awareness of how these views can intensify pain and how, in contrast, taking a more spiritual approach to life can build inner strength and ease pain.

Dr. Hinds writes in a non-intimidating, supportive tone. If there are any shortcomings in the book, they may include the lack of concrete techniques for alleviating pain. Dr. Hinds mentions many therapeutic techniques he uses in his clinic such as biofeedback, relaxation, and developing cognitive skills for coping with pain, but he doesn't explain these. Also, his discussion about the "Drag-Down Ds" could have been expanded to give more examples and suggestions for improving these areas.

Dr. Hinds does effectively demonstrate that although some degree of physical recovery and relief from pain is necessary, a pain patient's life does not have to be dominated by the pain. This book is for any patient who wants to move from being shut down to taking steps to improve quality of life. Doctors may also find inspiration from a deeply compassionate doctor who in an age where the modern healthcare system encourages distance between doctors and patients, is holistic in his approach involving himself on a personal level and taking the journey of recovery with his patients. Doctors may attain a deeper understanding of what pain does to a person beyond the physical realm. Additionally, this book could help close friends and family of someone in pain to understand what their loved one experiences and learn how to support them in an effort to get better.

In conclusion, A Life Larger Than Pain does not promise that a pain patient will become pain-free. Instead Dr. Hinds assures readers that it is entirely possible to down regulate the pain and develop inner resources to improve quality of life, and judging from his stories many of his patients are leading enriched lives with expanded horizons and greater fulfillment. Although Dr. Hinds is unable to take away the reader's pain in the final chapters, he left this reader with a renewed sense of hope and resources to move further along on the quest to manage pain and heal.