COMPLEMENTARY health approaches have been employed in conjunction with standard drug-based therapeutic options to assist in chronic pain management for decades and yet until now, no substantial evidence has been published in favour of their effectiveness.
For an average of 100 million sufferers in the USA alone, symptoms associated with chronic pain conditions such as fatigue, headaches, and sleep disturbances cannot always be alleviated by typical anti-inflammatory drugs, leaving the patient with a substantially affected quality of life. However, Dr Richard Nahin, lead epidemiologist of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), Bethesda, Maryland, USA, and his fellow researchers have collated data across 150 randomised controlled trials performed within the USA that demonstrates the positive effect of therapies such as yoga, acupuncture, tai chi, and meditation when used to alleviate symptoms associated with chronic pain conditions.
Utilising the MEDLINE database to identify these 150 trials, the research team analysed whether improvements were seen in patient pain severity and pain-related disability, focussing on the most common clinical presentations of: back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, and migraines. The evidence suggested that back pain was alleviated in patients who tried yoga and acupuncture, while pain from osteoarthritis of the knee showed the potential to be alleviated by using acupuncture and tai chi. Additionally, severe migraines and chronic pain-associated headaches were greatly improved by relaxation and meditative techniques, which were also found to help fibromyalgia patients in a few studies.
Statistics from the NCCIH state that American adults spend an average of $30 billion annually on health approaches such as these. Dr Nahin emphasised: “For many Americans who suffer from chronic pain, medications may not completely relieve pain and can produce unwanted side effects. As a result, many people may turn to nondrug approaches to help manage their pain.” Although promising, the majority of studies taken into account were composed of <100 participants and assessed mainly white, elderly females and therefore cannot be taken as a definitive representative of the wider population.