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Alternative therapies have high potential for pain management: study

Complementary therapies, such as yoga, massage therapy acupuncture, have high potential for managing chronic pain, according to a review conducted by the U.S. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH).

September 6, 2016  By Massage Therapy Canada staff

The review was published in the Sept. 2016 issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

The review included evidence of randomized, controlled clinical trials from 1966 to March 2016, either conducted in the U.S. or included U.S. participants. Researchers used the MEDLINE database.

“Painful conditions are the most common reasons why American adults use complementary health approaches, on which they spend more than $30 billion yearly,” the NCCIH said on its website. “About 40 million American adults experience severe pain in any given year, and they spend more than $14 billion out-of-pocket on complementary approaches to manage such painful conditions as back pain, neck pain and arthritis.”

According to the NCCIH, the researchers gathered evidence on the efficacy, effectiveness and safety of seven widely-used alternative therapies or groups of therapies: acupuncture; spinal manipulation or osteopathic manipulation; massage therapy; tai chi; yoga; relaxation techniques including meditation; and selected natural product supplements.


“These approaches were examined in trials of five pain conditions often seen and treated in primary care settings: back pain, osteoarthritis, neck pain, severe headaches and migraine, and fibromyalgia. A trial result on efficacy or effectiveness was termed positive if the complementary approach led to statistically significant improvements in pain severity, pain-related disability, and/or function, compared to the control group. A negative result meant that there was no difference between the intervention and control groups,” the NCCIH said.

Researchers found these approaches resulted in more positive than negative outcomes for helping patients manage pain conditions:
• Acupuncture and yoga for back pain
• Acupuncture and tai chi for osteoarthritis of the knee
• Massage therapy for neck pain—with adequate doses and for short-term benefit
• Relaxation techniques for severe headaches and migraine.

Researchers also found – albeit weaker evidence – that massage therapy, spinal manipulation and osteopathic manipulation may help some patients with back pain, and relaxation approaches and tai chi may be effective for fibromyalgia.

More on the study can be found here.

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