New research is giving pain sufferers a dose of good news. With concerns mounting about the prevalence of opioid use and abuse, a new study validates the effectiveness of acupuncture and other non-drug health therapies for pain.
The National Institute of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health compiled evidence on how complementary health therapies – including acupuncture, yoga, tai chi, massage therapy and relaxation techniques – are effective in treating chronic pain.
The top five pain conditions commonly treated in primary care settings – back pain, osteoarthritis, neck pain, severe headaches and migraine, and fibromyalgia – were evaluated. The study showed that acupuncture in combination with yoga is the most effective therapy for back pain and acupuncture with tai chi is the most effective treatment for osteoarthritis pain in the knee.
“As addictions to, and deaths from prescription opioids such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone continue to rise, raising awareness on complementary and alternative pain therapies like acupuncture is more important than ever,” said Kory Ward-Cook, Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer of the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). “The research from National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health brings greater attention to the use of acupuncture to treat and relieve chronic pain.”
Experts in the field are pointing to the study, which was published in the “Mayo Clinic Proceedings” journal, as a pivotal opportunity in shifting how patients explore treatment for their pain management. The findings support the benefits of non-drug approaches to help those with chronic pain more safely manage their conditions without the harmful side effects of opioids.
The study explored seven widely-used non-drug treatments:
Acupuncture: Using practices derived from traditional Chinese medicine, practitioners stimulate specific points on the body, most often by inserting thin needles through the skin.
Spinal manipulation or osteopathic manipulation: This approach involves applying controlled force from hands or a device to move a joint past its normal range of operation with the goal of improving health.
Massage therapy: Using hands (or sometimes forearms or elbows), therapists manipulate muscles and soft tissue to relieve tension and pain.
Tai chi: These mind and body practices involve a series of postures and movements integrated with mental focus, breathing and relaxation techniques.
Yoga: A generally low-impact approach to physical well-being, yoga spans physical postures, breathing exercises and meditation. Practicing certain sets of yoga poses may help reduce pain.
Relaxation techniques: There are several types of relaxation techniques, including meditation, that strive to bring the body to its natural state with slower breathing, lower blood pressure and a feeling of increased well-being.
Natural product supplements: Certain dietary supplements such as chondroitin, glucosamine, methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe) and omega-3 fatty acids are commonly used to help treat inflammation often associated with pain.
“Opioids are dangerous, highly addictive and do not treat chronic pain – only mask it,” said Bill Reddy, Director of the Integrative Health Policy Consortium and a NCCAOM-certified and licensed acupuncturist. “To solve the opioid epidemic, we must apply the most powerful, innovative approaches to address the root cause of pain within the human body.”