Featured Stories | An Integrative Approach to Managing Pain
Integrative Medicine for Pain Management
If you or a loved one suffers from chronic pain, you may want to consider integrative care, which is playing a larger role in the area of pain management. The blend of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and traditional Western medicine is defined as integrative medicine or integrative care. It combines the concepts of mind, body, spirit, and community and supports the theory of healing, and not always attempting to cure an illness. Integrative medicine involves not only the relationships between the patient and the healthcare provider(s), but also the relationship the patient has with his/her entire body and mind—a holistic approach.
Integrative care models are individualized from person to person and should be created by a healthcare professional with the patient’s feedback. There is no “one size fits all” approach for pain management, and what works for one person may not work for another person with the same disease, gender, or age. Integrative therapies may include the use of pain medication, when appropriate, and when prescribed by a licensed healthcare professional.
Integrative Care Techniques
Below are several integrative care modalities that may be included in an integrative care model. This list is not all-inclusive, nor does it recommend that you try anything new without discussing it with your pain management team. When integrated into a multidisciplinary (meaning a team of specialized healthcare experts in each area of your therapeutic regimen) treatment approach, these therapies may be effective in certain patients and for treating certain conditions. As with all forms of treatment, it is imperative that you discuss with your healthcare provider before trying anything new; certain herbal medications, for example, have side effects, or drug interactions may be complicated by prescription or over-the-counter medication.
Acupuncture was developed in China, and has been practiced in China and other Asian countries for thousands of years. The term “acupuncture” describes a family of procedures that involves stimulation of anatomical points on the body, using a variety of techniques. The most commonly used and most scientifically studied acupuncture technique involves penetrating the skin with thin, solid, metallic needles that are manipulated by hand or electrical stimulation.1
Ayurveda is also called Ayurvedic medicine and originated in India thousands of years ago. Ayurveda incorporates a holistic approach in that it strives to integrate and balance the body, mind, and spirit leading to happiness, health, and illness prevention. Practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine work with their patients to eliminate impurities, reduce disease symptoms, increase resistance to disease, reduce worrying, and increase harmony. This type of medicine relies heavily on herbs and other plants in treatment regimens.2
Biofeedback is based on the concept of using your mind to improve your health. Some health professionals believe that individuals have the ability to influence their thoughts to control some of the body’s involuntary functions. Special monitoring equipment is used to teach control of certain body functions and their responses. Biofeedback has been used to treat stress-related conditions and other conditions, such as asthma, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, and chronic low back pain.3
Chiropractic is a healthcare profession that focuses on the relationship between the body's structure—mainly the spine—and its functioning. The term “chiropractic” combines the Greek words cheir (hand) and praxis (practice) to describe a treatment done by hand. Hands-on therapy—especially adjustment of the spine—is central to chiropractic care. Many people who seek chiropractic care have low back pain.4
Homeopathy, also known as homeopathic medicine, is an alternative medical system that was developed in Germany more than 200 years ago. Most homeopathic remedies are derived from natural substances that come from plants, minerals, or animals. To date, there is no scientific evidence supporting the use of homeopathic medicine for any specific condition.5
Hypnosis is a heightened state of concentration and focused attention usually achieved with the help of a specially trained therapist. The goal of hypnosis is typically to help a person overcome or deal with a specific health condition. The purpose of hypnosis is to help one to gain control over behavior, emotion, or physical well-being by focusing attention, and remaining relaxed and calm.6
Massage dates back thousands of year in numerous cultures and is used for a variety of health-related purposes, including pain relief, rehabilitation of sports injuries, stress reduction, increased relaxation, addressing anxiety and depression, and aiding general wellness. Although there are many types of massage techniques, typically a therapist will press, rub, and otherwise manipulate the muscles and other soft tissues of the body with their hands, fingers, and/or forearms.7
Meditation is a mind-body technique that teaches a person to focus attention and relate to the flow of emotions and thoughts in the mind. Meditation is sometimes used to increase calmness and physical relaxation, improve physiological balance, cope with an illness, or enhance overall well-being.8
Tai chi is a mind-body practice in complementary and alternative medicine that originated in China as a form of martial art. Often referred to as "moving meditation," tai chi practitioners move their bodies slowly, gently, and with awareness, while breathing deeply. People practice tai chi for various health-related purposes, such as to improve physical condition, muscle strength, coordination, and flexibility. It can also be practiced to improve balance and decrease the risk of falls, especially in elderly people, as well as to ease pain and stiffness—for example, from osteoarthritis. Scientific research is underway to learn more about how tai chi may work, its possible effects on health, and chronic diseases and conditions for which it may be helpful.9
Yoga is a mind and body practice in complementary medicine with origins in ancient Indian philosophy.
The various styles of yoga that people use for health purposes typically combine physical postures,
breathing techniques, and meditation or relaxation. There are numerous schools of yoga. Hatha yoga,
the most commonly practiced in the United States and Europe, emphasizes postures (asanas) and
breathing exercises (pranayama). Some of the major styles of hatha yoga include Iyengar, Ashtanga,
Vini, Kundalini, and Bikram yoga. People use yoga for a variety of conditions and to achieve fitness and
Medications may be a critical component of managing diseases and alleviating painful conditions, and are an important element of the integrative care model. We are fortunate to have available medications with the potential to lower cholesterol, relieve pain, enable fertility, ease cardiovascular disease, regulate diabetes, and extend the lives of cancer survivors. We tend to rely more on the traditional forms of modern medicine, because there are more clinical trials and outcomes research involving these products and disease states. For many forms of integrative therapies, clinical research is limited due to lack of funding.
People with pain need to take personal responsibility and be accountable for their own mental and physical health. Take the time to do your own research as preparation for a discussion with your healthcare provider. It is important that you tell your healthcare provider about any types of complementary or alternative medicine practices you use or are thinking about using. By being an informed consumer, you can speak knowledgeably with your healthcare professional and make decisions about your health and wellness to include all available and appropriate integrative modalities.
- Acupuncture: An Introduction. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/acupuncture/introduction.htm.
Accessed March 11, 2013.
- Ayurveda Medicine: An Introduction. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/ayurveda/introduction.htm.
Accessed March 11, 2013.
- Biofeedback: Using your mind to improve your health. MayoClinic.com. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/biofeedback/SA00083.
Accessed March 11, 2013.
- Chiropractic: An Introduction. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/chiropractic/introduction.htm.
Accessed March 11, 2013.
- Homeopathy: An Introduction. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/homeopathy/. Accessed March 11, 2013.
- Hypnosis. MayoClinic.com. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hypnosis/MY01020. Accessed March 11, 2013.
- Massage Therapy: An Introduction. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/massage/. Accessed March 11, 2013.
- Meditation: An Introduction. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/meditation/. Accessed March 11, 2013.
- Tai Chi: An Introduction. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/taichi/. Accessed March 11, 2013.
- Yoga. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
http://nccam.nih.gov/health/yoga. Accessed: March 11, 2013.