Variety of Health Practices Prove Beneficial for Chronic Pain Treatment

A variety of complementary and alternative health practices — including meditation and relaxation techniques, manual therapies such as massage and spinal manipulation, meditative exercise forms such as yoga, Tai Chi and ancient health practices such as acupuncture — show promise for contributing to the management of pain according to research presented at the Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Pain Society.

In her keynote address to pain clinicians, Josephine Briggs, MD, director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) at the NIH, discussed how these approaches are widely used by Americans as part of management of painful conditions including headache, back or neck pain, and arthritic or other musculoskeletal pain.

“Much of health care involves helping people find solutions for tough problems like pain. I think all physicians are well aware of how difficult it is to manage chronic pain patients,” Briggs stated in a press release. “For example, with back pain we see that large numbers of patients are turning to these approaches with the hope of decreasing discomfort, improving function and quality-of-life, and minimizing side effects of pharmacologic treatments.”

According to a nationwide government survey released in Dec. 2008, approximately 38% of U.S. adults aged 18 years and older and approximately 12% of children use some form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). This survey also found that back pain is the most common condition for which adults use CAM.

“With such a large number of people using these techniques, there are opportunities for us to develop real-world evidence regarding the application of specific approaches to symptom management and health and wellness,” Briggs stated.

Published studies in this field include tai chi for fibromyalgia, as well as meditation, yoga and acupuncture for low back pain. Briggs emphasized that symptom management is where NCCAM’s research can have the greatest impact.

The integration of certain CAM therapies with conventional medicine for pain management is being actively pursued in a number of military health care settings. For example, there are now new military guidelines, released by the Office of The Army Surgeon General, that include select CAM modalities for treating pain.

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