Pain, pain, go away, come back... never! This could be your meditative mantra to treat any chronic pain ailing you. And it might just work, according to research presented at the recent Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Pain Society. Specifically, meditation and other alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, massage and chiropractic manipulation, continue to show promise when it comes to chronic pain management.
What's more: they're gaining mainstream acceptance. An increasing number of Americans are embracing complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) techniques to treat everything from headaches and arthritis to back and neck pain, according to the keynote presentation by Josephine Briggs, M.D., director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health. Thirty eight percent of U.S. adults over the age of 18 and approximately 12 percent of children now use some form of alternative medicine, with CAM most often being used to treat back pain, according to a nationwide survey released by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the National Center for Health Statistics in December 2008. Even military medical settings are starting to integrate CAM therapies with conventional medicine for pain management, said Dr. Briggs.
"With back pain we see that large numbers of patients are turning to these approaches with the hope of decreasing discomfort, improving function and quality-of-life, and minimizing side effects of pharmacologic treatments," said Briggs. "At NCCAM we are working to strengthen our portfolio of research on non-pharmacologic pain management, addressing both safety and efficacy."
Before you eschew these therapies because of cost, some health insurance providers are starting to offer coverage for some alternative treatments, particularly acupuncture and chiropractic services. Though most CAM treatments still involve out-of-pocket costs, according to NCCAM, relief may be as simple as expanding your horizons.
For example, tai chi, an ancient Chinese practice originally developed for self-defense, is now used as a gentle form of exercise and stretching, with slow, flowing movements. A recent Harvard Medical School trial suggests that tai chi may have positive effects on those with chronic heart failure who would otherwise find other exercise too strenuous, while a Tufts University study found that 12 weeks of tai chi can help lessen the pain associated with fibromyalgia-- a chronic condition that causes pain, stiffness, and tenderness of the muscles, tendons, and joints
Why CAM Matters
The cost of traditional medicine might be getting too steep for some, both in real economic terms and real health consequences. Americans paid $307.4 billion for prescription medications in 2010, according to a study by IMS Health. The narcotic painkiller Vicodin topped the list.
In fact, Americans now consume 80 percent of the world's narcotic prescription drugs. What's worse, the number of people who have unintentionally overdosed on prescription drugs now exceeds the number who overdosed on crack cocaine during the 1980's, all according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.
Chanting "Om" sounds a heckuva lot healthier than reaching for that bottle of OxyContin. Doesn't it?