Complementary and alternative therapies (CAT) are popular with many people who have chronic pain. CAT treatments for chronic pain may include acupuncture, yoga, massage, low-level laser therapy, herbal supplements, meditation, and Ayurvedic therapy.
If you choose to try one or more CAT treatments, it is important to maintain the traditional drug regimen established by your doctor. These treatments have been proven effective in rigorous, scientific trials. It is also vital to check with your doctor before beginning a CAT regimen so that they can warn you about any potential interactions and correctly interpret any side effects.
What does it involve?
At this time, several CAT treatments are accepted by doctors as potentially benefiting those with chronic pain.
Acupuncture is a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practice that has been used for thousands of years to treat a wide range of illnesses. During an acupuncture treatment, you will lie still on a table. A trained acupuncturist or TCM practitioner will insert fine needles into the skin or connective tissue just beneath the skin. The needles are left in the skin for up to 30 minutes. Different regions of the skin are targeted during acupuncture depending on the condition being treated. The practitioner may gently twist or move the needles. Heat or electricity may be applied to the needles. Acupuncture is usually painless.
Yoga consists of moving your body into an array of different positions that provide stretching and various levels of challenge for strength, flexibility, and balance. Controlled breathing is another important aspect of yoga. Some yoga teachers incorporate aspects of meditation designed to reduce stress. There are many types of yoga and many different teaching styles. You may need to ask several questions before finding an appropriate class and an experienced teacher who understands what poses will work best for your condition. You may also practice yoga at home using a book or online videos as guidance. However, if you learn yoga in a class first, you will have the opportunity to ask questions and receive feedback about your poses.
Massage may reduce chronic pain by relaxing muscles and relieving stress.
Low-level laser therapy (LLLT), sometimes called cold laser therapy, uses specific wavelengths of light to improve pain and functionality in people with chronic pain. Some physical therapy, chiropractic, spine specialist, and pain clinics offer LLLT. LLLT is administered by a clinician using a handheld device. Treatment is painless and may last for several minutes. LLLT is believed to stimulate healing. To be effective, LLLT requires two to four weekly sessions on an ongoing basis.
Some people claim that one CAT treatment or another reduces their chronic pain. However, most CAT treatments have not been studied in rigorous clinical trials to establish their safety and effectiveness.
In multiple clinical trials studying people with spondylitis and other chronic pain syndromes, LLLT has produced significant improvement in pain and function, sometimes lasting as long as several weeks. However, more studies are needed to clarify the most effective way to use LLLT.
Herbal supplements and probiotics are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Their safety and effectiveness have not been evaluated. The strength and purity of the ingredients may vary from brand to brand or batch to batch.
Some CAT treatments can cause interactions with medications. Some treatments may exacerbate health conditions.
It may require several sessions of LLLT to realize effectiveness. You must continue receiving LLLT to sustain its benefits.
Health insurance may not cover CAT modalities. Some CAT treatments can be expensive.
Depending on where you live, it may be difficult to travel to a yoga class, acupuncturist, or massage therapist.
For answers to frequently asked questions about exposure to herbal products during pregnancy and breastfeeding, visit the experts at MothertoBaby.org.
For more details about these treatments, visit:
Chronic Pain: In Depth – National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health
A Complementary Approach to Pain Management – Medscape
Low-level laser therapy as a treatment for chronic pain - Frontiers in Physiology
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