Non-drug treatment effective for common pain conditions, NIH says

Yoga, tai chi, acupuncture and massage therapy may be effective for more pain patients than many expect.

By Stephen Feller

BETHESDA, Md., Sept. 1 (UPI) -- Though dismissed by some as pseudo-treatments to be used alongside medical therapy, a review of research suggests practices such as yoga, tai chi and acupuncture may actually be effective treatments for some pain conditions.

The National Institutes of Health suggests non-drug approaches to pain management can be significantly beneficial, based on a review of 50 years of research showing their benefits with few, if any, side effects.


Non-drug treatment methods have gained some interest as the widespread overuse of opioid drugs has led to an epidemic of misuse and addiction during the last two decades.

The analysis, published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, suggests alternative treatments can be useful with prescriptions drugs, or potentially without them. For the 126 million adults in the United States who experience some type of pain each year, and the 40 million with severe pain, the potential for effective treatment without drugs is huge.

"These data can equip providers and patients with the information they need to have informed conversations regarding non-drug approaches for treatment of specific pain conditions," Dr. David Shurtleff, deputy director of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health at the NIH, said in a press release. "It's important that continued research explore how these approaches actually work and whether these findings apply broadly in diverse clinical settings and patient populations."


For the study, NIH researchers analyzed 105 randomized controlled trials conducted between 1966 and 2016, focusing on seven approaches for one of five conditions: back pain, osteoarthritis, neck pain, fibromyalgia and severe headaches and migraine.

Based on the review, researchers report acupuncture and yoga can help with back pain, acupuncture and tai chi are effective for osteoarthritis of the knee, massage therapy helps ease neck pain and relaxation techniques are effective against severe headaches and migraine.

Weaker evidence in the studies also suggests massage therapy, spinal manipulation and osteopathic manipulation may help with back pain, and relaxation approaches and tai chi could ease the symptoms of fibromyalgia, the researchers say.

"For many Americans who suffer from chronic pain, medications may not completely relieve pain and can produce unwanted side effects," said Dr. Richard Nahin, lead epidemiologist at the NCCIH and lead author of the new study. "As a result, many people may turn to nondrug approaches to help manage their pain. Our goal for this study was to provide relevant, high-quality information for primary care providers and for patients who suffer from chronic pain."

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