Alternative Treatments for Chronic Pain

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Chronic pain—pain that lingers—may not respond well to traditional treatment options, so you may want to try complementary and alternative medicines (CAM). CAM is a term used for practices and therapies that aren't considered part of conventional medicine right now. However, many patients do find pain relief with CAM treatments. Like any other treatments, though, they may not work for everyone in the same way, so you may need to try several CAM therapies as you figure out what works best for your pain and life.

AcupunctureComplementary and alternative treatments can either complement (used in conjunction with) or be an alternative to traditional "Western" medicine—hence the CAM name.

For chronic pain, you may want to try:

According to a recent study published in the British Medical Journal, acupuncture is very effective in treating neck pain1. And in early 2008, SpineUniverse ran a survey on treatment options for neck pain patients. Patients reported that they were more satisfied with acupuncture than with traditional spinal injections.

A German study also recently found that acupuncture was more effective than traditional non-surgical treatment options (physical therapy, medication, and exercise) for low back pain. The study's findings were published in the September 24, 2007, edition of Archives of Internal Medicine2.

Developed in China, acupuncture uses very fine needles—and no medication—to treat your pain. Practitioners believe that you have an energy force called your Chi (it can also be spelled Qi, but both forms are pronounced "chee"). When this force is blocked, you can develop physical illness, such as back pain. Therefore, you need to free up your body's Chi channels, which practitioners call your meridians. Acupuncture works to restore a healthy, energetic flow of Chi.

Acupuncture needles are almost as thin as strands of hair. Based on your symptoms and exact diagnosis, a practitioner will insert the needles; you'll most likely have multiple needles inserted during one session. The practitioner will target precise points in your body's meridians, and the needles will be left in for 20-40 minutes. It's been suggested that acupuncture needles cause your body to release certain neurochemicals, such as endorphins or serotonin, and they help in the healing process.

Acupressure works like acupuncture in that it focuses on those meridians. However, instead of needles, the practitioner uses his/her thumbs, fingers, and elbows.

Alexander Technique
The August 23, 2008, edition of the British Medical Journal had an article about the Alexander technique3. The article reported on a study that found the Alexander technique was the best way to reduce chronic low back pain, when compared with exercise and massage.

For more details on the study and how the Alexander technique works, you can read the article Alexander Technique for Chronic Back Pain.

Herbal Remedies / Supplements
Before trying any herbal remedies, do your research and talk to your doctor. There may be side effects that you're unaware of—an herbal remedy could interfere with a prescribed medicine you're taking, for example.

Since there are so many types of chronic pain, it's difficult to list all possible herbal remedies or supplements that may help reduce your particular kind of pain. Your best option is to talk to someone very familiar with the various herbal remedies and how they work. He or she can help figure out what may work for you.

But again: before you start taking an herbal remedy or a supplement, talk to your doctor.

Massage is a good way to relax your body, which can be tense from dealing with a strain of chronic pain. It can also help relieve muscle inflammation and pain.

Mind-Body Therapies
Our minds are powerful things, and mind-body therapies can help you learn how to use your mind to control your perception of pain and other symptoms. Mind-body therapies include:

  • meditation
  • relaxation techniques
  • hypnosis

Mind-body therapies can teach you how to pay attention to the signals your body is sending you. Biofeedback is a good example of this. Through relaxation training and other techniques, you learn how to control your body's physiological reactions that can exacerbate your chronic pain. You can learn to lower your body temperature, slow your heart rate, and calm tense muscles, among other things.

Updated on: 01/24/17
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Chiropractic Care for Chronic Pain
Steven Richeimer, MD
This article was reviewed by Steven Richeimer, MD.
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Chiropractic Care for Chronic Pain

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