Alternative Medicine Approaches for Chronic Pain Management

Alternative Medicine Approaches for Chronic Pain Management

Pain doesn’t have to be an unavoidable part of aging; many older adults use alternative medicine strategies like acupuncture, massage therapy, yoga or herbal remedies in order to manage their symptoms effectively.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has increased research into nonpharmacological approaches to chronic pain management such as alternative therapies. These non-drug approaches may include psychotherapy, meditation, biofeedback and hypnosis as mind-body interventions.


Acupuncture is a popular complementary medicine approach for managing chronic pain. Originating from Chinese tradition, acupuncture involves placing thin needles at specific points on the body. While its efficacy remains controversial and further study should be conducted.

Studies indicate that acupuncture may be effective for treating numerous medical conditions, including low back or neck pain, osteoarthritis of the knee, headaches (including migraines), postoperative nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy treatment or seasonal allergies. Furthermore, it appears to have psychological benefits such as relieving anxiety and depression.

Acupuncture works by stimulating both the nervous system and local tissues at its site with needles. Acupuncture has been shown to affect both these mechanisms simultaneously and to have similar chemical responses as pharmaceutical drugs such as COX-2 inhibitors and antidepressants; for instance, willow bark contains salicin which has an analgesic effect similar to aspirin without prostaglandin formation or coagulation effects.

Massage Therapy

Researchers are responding to the opioid epidemic by increasing research into mind-body approaches for pain relief. Erica Kumala, MD, an advanced second year resident from University of Arizona Tucson Alvernon family medicine residency program has advised her patients that complementary therapies can complement pain management plans.

Massage therapy provides relief by relaxing tight muscles, tendons and ligaments as well as decreasing stress levels – this ultimately decreases pain sensation. There are various styles of massage available including Swedish, deep tissue sports Shiatsu and trigger point.

One form of massage therapy known as Cranial Sacral Therapy involves gentle manipulation of the head and spine to increase cerebrospinal fluid flow in the central nervous system. A 2022 review concluded that manual soft tissue therapy was successful at alleviating chronic neck pain. While massage is generally safe for most people, those suffering from osteoporosis or other bone conditions that weaken bones may be vulnerable to injury from massage sessions.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

There is ample evidence supporting non-pharmacologic alternative therapy as an aid in managing pain. While not intended as replacement medication, such therapies can serve as useful adjunctive modalities and help patients reduce the amount of prescription painkillers taken and increase quality of life after incorporating these techniques.

CBT (Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy) is a form of behavioral therapy designed to assist those living with pain to learn how to better cope. It teaches how to alter reactions to discomfort, reduce negative emotions such as stress and anxiety and change negative thought patterns that inhibit pain management. CBT may even assist individuals in shifting their thinking patterns in order to more easily adapting and manage pain management.

Studies demonstrate the power of mind-body approaches to help manage pain from conditions like rheumatoid arthritis (RA), chronic low back pain and fibromyalgia. Indeed, one recent study demonstrated how after participating in 36 sessions of Tai chi for patients suffering PTSD experienced significant relief in their chronic back pain.


Electrodes applied to the skin deliver low voltage electrical impulses through pulsed electrical pulses in order to deliver low voltage electrical pulses to muscles and nerves, stimulating contraction and relaxation of muscle fibers that block pain signals while also producing endorphins – natural painkillers produced naturally in your body.

Electrical stimulation also stimulates muscle tissue, hastening healing from injuries or conditions of the musculoskeletal system. Electrotherapy may also help unclog arteries and enhance blood flow by relaxing them and relieving tightness in blood vessels.

Alternative therapy does carry with it certain risks, so it is wise to seek a physical therapist trained in its use. Particularly those with pacemakers should avoid receiving it due to electrodes placed too near their heart which could potentially trigger dangerous cardiac arrhythmias; pregnant women should not use alternative treatments either as they could damage the fetus. When used appropriately however, alternative therapies can provide an excellent way of managing chronic pain without incurring risk from pharmaceutical painkillers as well as adding an alternative element into traditional pain management approaches.

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