Treating Chronic Pain With Integrative Therapies
BIDMC Contributor Pain Medicine
AUGUST 21, 2019
Can meditation help with chronic pain? What about yoga or acupuncture?
“We have quite good evidence to support the use of integrative therapies, in addition to some traditional therapies, to manage chronic pain, says Aditi Nerurkar, MD, Medical Director of the CHENG-TSUI Integrated Health Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
BIDMC has developed an integrative model where a pain management physician works with a team of experts including an integrative medicine physician, pain psychologist, an acupuncturist, a Tai Chi instructor, etc. to help manage chronic pain in patients.
Here are five options you could try:
The FDA gave acupuncture its first seal of approval in 1996, when it classified acupuncture needles as medical devices. Since then, many studies have suggested that acupuncture is a viable option for treating chronic pain, including migraines/headaches, unexplained pelvic pain and arthritis. This 2,000-year-old Chinese traditional medicine is based on theories of energy and blood flow and is virtually painless when done by an experienced professional.
Massage therapy is a useful tool for helping relieve muscle and other soft tissue pain. Massage works by increasing blood flow to sore joints and stiff muscles while also triggering the release of natural serotonin. In addition to its physical benefits, massage is also shown to offer emotional and psychological benefits, as well as improved quality of sleep.
Meditation is the practice of using contemplative thought and relaxation techniques to ease pain, anxiety, stress or insomnia. Although meditation is not likely to treat pain, it can help lower one’s response to pain. Meditation can also help reduce anxiety about pain.
Tai chi is a low-impact Chinese martial art that emphasizes healing. Sometimes called “movement meditation,” tai chi combines flowing movements, breath-control, mediation and imagery to help relax and energize a person’s mind, body and overall sense of well-being. Studies have shown tai chi to be helpful for people suffering from osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia and other chronic conditions.
Yoga combines breath-control and movement to stretch and strengthen muscles, improving fitness and emotional well-being, and is a great option for chronic low back pain and chronic neck pain. A typical yoga session lasts from 45 minutes to an hour, but even shorter sessions can help reduce symptoms of pain by relaxing muscle tension, improving circulation and strengthening the body.
“We (BIDMC) did a study several years ago which found that nearly 6.5 million Americans are being referred for a mind-body therapy by their physician,” said Dr. Nerurkar. “That’s like saying in a yoga class of 30 people, at least a few are there because their doctor told them to try it. That is a huge number and likely that the trend is growing.”
“We believe in treating the whole patient”, said Dr. Nerurkar. “So, whether that’s surgery combined with yoga or physical therapy and tai chi, we will do whatever it takes to heal our patients and make them feel happy and pain-free again.”