Everyone experiences pain at some point in their lives, but for millions of Americans, chronic pain is an inescapable part of everyday life. In fact, the American Academy of Pain Medicine reports that more than 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. That’s more than the number of patients with diabetes, cancer, and heart disease combined!
Disadvantages to Traditional Western Approaches to Pain Management
With millions of people suffering from daily pain, doctors must find strategies to help them manage their pain. However, many doctors have limited time with each patient, meaning that fast, straightforward solutions are often used. This is why prescriptions of opiate pain pills have skyrocketed over the past 20 years, jumping from approximately 76 million prescriptions in 1991 to more than 206 million in 2013. In fact, the United States accounts for almost 100% of the Vicodin (also known as hydrocodone) prescribed worldwide, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Although prescription painkillers are effective in helping people manage chronic pain, they have several serious disadvantages. First, opiate pain pills have a relatively high potential for addiction. As a result, taking prescription painkillers on a long term basis has a high likelihood of causing opiate dependence. Additionally, many patients gradually develop a tolerance to opiate pain pills, meaning that their regular dose is no longer effective in managing pain. This causes people to need more and more of the pills to get effective pain relief.
Complimentary or Alternative Medicine Approaches to Managing Chronic Pain
Chronic pain does not just affect the body; it also has a profound impact on the mind and spirit. Complementary and integrative medicine therapies focus on involving people in their own healing processes. A recent study conducted by researchers at the Samueli Institute in Virginia reviewed the scientific literature to determine if complementary medicine practices are effective for chronic pain relief. The study found that although more high-quality research is needed, these forms of therapy can be highly beneficial for people dealing with chronic pain.
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- Yoga. Yoga involves adopting certain poses that stretch and relax the muscles and joints. This is accompanied by breathing exercises that can elicit a feeling of calm and relaxation. Although people with chronic pain are often worried that exercise will exacerbate their symptoms, yoga has been shown to be effective in reducing chronic pain.
- Tai chi. Based on an ancient Chinese tradition of martial arts, tai chi involves a series of movements that are performed in a slow, deliberate, and focused way. Tai chi practitioners also practice deep breathing while performing this form of gentle exercise. In addition to stretching and strengthening muscles, tai chi causes the release of the body’s natural painkilling brain chemicals.
- Music therapy. When performed by a certified music therapist, music therapy can be a powerful way to reduce stress and manage chronic pain. Music therapists focus on cuing positive imagery, boosting mood, promoting deep relaxation, and alleviating stress on the body.
- Acupuncture. Although the effectiveness of acupuncture has been a source of debate, many medical practitioners recommend giving it a try if other approaches to chronic pain have failed. Inserting tiny needles into areas of the body is thought to change the levels of brain chemicals and hormones that control the pain response.
For those struggling to control pain pill use, complementary medicine can be a powerful way to manage pain and provides useful techniques to overcome opiate painkiller addiction.
Active, Self-Care Complementary and Integrative Medicine Therapies for the Management of Chronic Pain Symptoms: A Rapid Evidence Assessment of the Literature. Courtney Lee (1), Cindy Crawford (1), Chester Buckenmaier (2), Eric Schoomaker (3), Roxana Delgado (1), Alexandra York (4) (1) Samueli Institute, Alexandria, VA, USA (2) Defense and Veterans Center for Integrative Pain Management; Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Rockville, Bethesda, MD, USA (3) Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, MD, USA (4) Samueli Institute, Alexandria, VA, USA. Retrieved on May 18, 2015.
AAPM Facts and Figures on Pain. The American Academy of Pain Medicine. Retrieved on April, 2016.
America’s Addiction to Opioids: Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved on May 18, 2015.
Music Therapy And Music-Based Interventions In The Treatment And Management Of Pain: Selected References And Key Findings. American Music Therapy Association. Retrieved on May 18, 2015.