Although growing evidence suggests that some complementary approaches may improve pain, it’s important to discuss all the risks with your health provider before trying something new. Acupuncture, massage, spinal manipulation and yoga have helped some people manage their chronic pain, according to published studies. But does that mean these alternative approaches to treating chronic pain are right for you?
Here are six things you should know about the science of chronic pain and complementary health practices:
- If you have chronic low-back pain, acupuncture, massage, and spinal manipulation have helped some people, according to research reviews. There is also some evidence that mindfulness-based stress reduction and cognitive-behavioral therapy improves pain and functional limitation compared to usual care.
- Spinal manipulation: The most recent guidelines from the American Pain Society and the American College of Physicians conclude that spinal manipulation is associated with moderate benefit for chronic low-back pain.
- Acupuncture: In many studies, acupuncture has shown some benefit for low-back pain compared to conventional therapy, but simulated (placebo) acupuncture has also shown a similar benefit. This suggests that some people might feel better because they expect results or because they’re receiving attention from a practitioner. A 2016 review of studies conducted in the United States found evidence that acupuncture can help some patients manage low-back pain.
- Massage: Studies suggest that massage is associated with short-term beneficial effects in reducing pain and improving function compared to usual care in people with chronic low-back pain.
- Yoga: There are only a few studies on yoga for chronic low-back pain, but results of these studies point to an association with improved function and pain compared to standard medical care.
- Mindfulness-based stress reduction: A new study in adults with chronic low-back pain found that mindfulness-based stress reduction and cognitive-behavioral therapy resulted in greater improvement in pain and functional limitation compared to usual care.
2. According to reviewers who have assessed the research on complementary health practices and fibromyalgia, much of the research is still preliminary, and evidence of effectiveness for the various therapies used is limited. However, research has shown that tai chi may provide a benefit to patients with fibromyalgia.
3. Some research has shown that acupuncture may help to reduce pain and improve joint mobility, and a small number of studies on massage and tai chi for osteoarthritis symptoms suggest that both therapies may help to reduce pain and improve the ability to walk and move.
4. There is some evidence that spinal manipulation may help patients suffering from chronic tension-type or neck-related headaches.
5. According to a 2016 review of studies performed in the United States, massage therapy may provide short-term relief from neck pain, especially if massage sessions are relatively lengthy and frequent.
6. As with any treatment, it is important to consider safety before using complementary health products and practices. If you are considering a complementary health practice to help manage your chronic pain, talk with your orthopaedic specialist or health provider first.
Source: National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health