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NIH: Some Complementary Treatments Safe and Effective for Chronic Pain

Researchers find some forms of alternative medicine provide relief for chronic pain conditions such as osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, and migraine.


Do you have a patient with back pain? Suggest acupuncture and yoga. Osteoarthritis? Acupuncture and tai chi. Those are some of the approaches that are safe and effective in treating chronic pain, according to researchers from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). They also gave a nod to massage for neck pain and relaxation techniques for severe headaches and migraine.

The researchers reviewed 105 U.S. randomized controlled trials from the past 50 years, focusing on 7 complementary treatments: acupuncture, spinal manipulation or osteopathic manipulation, massage therapy, tai chi, yoga, and relaxation techniques (such as mindfulness meditation). They also evaluated findings from studies involving natural product supplements: chondroitin, glucosamine, methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe), and omega-3 fatty acids.

The researchers rated those treatments in 5 painful conditions often seen in primary care: back pain, osteoarthritis, neck pain, fibromyalgia, and severe headaches and migraine.

Although evidence was weaker, they also found that massage, spinal manipulation, and osteopathic manipulation may help in some back pain, and relaxation and tai chi may help patients with fibromyalgia.

No trial reported a serious adverse event linked to a complementary treatment. Most adverse events were gastrointestinal problems from glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, or SAMe, or minor soreness from exercise.

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