Next time you're powering through an insufferable migraine or lying on your living room floor trying to relieve some of your lower back pain, don't reach for the medicine cabinet as a first resort. There are certain holistic disciplines, modalities, and treatments that can curb your lingering aches and there's 50 years worth of research to back it up, according to a review from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health at the National Institutes of Health.
Researchers combed through U.S.-based clinical trials published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings from 1986 through March 2016, reviewing 105 trials involving over 16,000 people in pain, to find evidence on the efficacy, effectiveness, and safety of widely used complementary health approaches. In short, researchers found seven that can relieve discomfort from five common pain conditions: back pain, osteoarthritis, neck pain, severe headaches and migraine, and fibromyalgia (a disorder that causes muscle pain and fatigue).
An approach was deemed positive and effective if it led to statistically significant improvements in "pain severity, pain-related disability, and/or function." None of the clinical trials reported significant side effects due to the interventions. And, since 40 million American adults experience severe pain in any given year—pain that may not be fully relieved by medications—why not put a different pain plan into effect, sans the scary consequences?
"Our goal for this study was to provide relevant, high-quality information for primary care providers and for patients who suffer from chronic pain," Richard L. Nahin, Ph.D., NCCIH's lead author of the analysis said in a press release. Before, we lacked a robust evidence base to guide recommendations on complementary approaches as practiced and available in the United States, he adds.
Now primary care providers—who frequently see patients with chronic pain—have tools to inform decision-making on how to help manage that pain; it also gives you non-drug options.
The following complementary approaches had more positive than negative results. See what painful health conditions they can help and speak to your doctor about how to best incorporate them in your daily routine.
Acupuncture is best suited for people trying to manage back pain and osteoarthritis of the knee (when flexible tissue at the ends of bones wears down). The needles are thought to relieve pain by urging your body to release neurochemicals. In short, when your muscle is stimulated, it sends impulses to your spinal cord, which then activates the release of chemicals from your spinal cord, brain, and pituitary that block pain.
Suffering lower back pain? Bring yoga into your fitness regimen. Aside from boosting flexibility (and these 8 other benefits), yoga promotes blood flow to stiff muscles, loosens tightness, and strengthens small and large muscles along your spine, relieving pain.
Tai chi was originally practiced as self-defense, but it's evolved into a more graceful form of exercise perfect for stress reduction and a variety of other health conditions, according to the Mayo Clinic. In fact it's even described as "meditation in motion" since you flow through gentle movements. People with osteoarthritis of the knee and fibromyalgia benefit from the practice, according to the review researchers.
If you have lingering neck pain, massage therapy in adequate doses, like every 3-4 weeks, can relieve pain. It can also provide short-term benefits to sore, stiff muscles. See 4 Ways Massage Makes You Even Fitter.
Though the evidence was weaker, the researchers found spinal and osteopathic manipulation (a physician will move your muscles and joints through stretching, pressure, and resistance to minimize pain) to help your aching back. Everyone reacts differently, so head to your chiropractor and see how your body responds after some visits.
Researchers found chondroitin, glucosamine, methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe), and omega-3 fatty acids are all effective and safe. *Be sure to talk to your doctor before adding any new supplements, especially in combination, to your routine.*
Here's what each is typically taken for:
- Chondroitin: Taken for osteoarthritis; the supp keeps your joints healthy by absorbing water in connective tissue. - Glucosamine: Helpful for osteoarthritis and back pain by reducing inflammation. - Methylsulfonylmethane: Take for chronic pain, osteoarthritis, joint inflammation. - S-adenosyl-L-methionine: Take for low back pain, osteoarthritis, and fibromyalgia. - Omega-3 fatty acids: Take for arthritis and pain; it works as an anti-inflammatory.