Combined evidence from several trials shows that yoga and acupuncture are safe and effective for back pain. [Photo: Bigstock]

Chronic pain relieved by yoga, acupuncture

6 September, 2016

Natural Health News — Yoga, tai chi, and other complementary health approaches are effective in helping to alleviate some chronic pain conditions.

That’s the conclusion of a review conducted by a group of scientists from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) at the National Institutes of Health.

The global burden of chronic pain is projected to be large and growing. Millions of adults in America, and elsewhere, suffer from chronic pain – pain that persists for at least 12 weeks – that may not be fully relieved by medications.  Studies shows they often turn to complementary health approaches to help.

GPs in the dark about alternatives

Many GPs however don’t know enough about these methods to make useful recommendations about which therapy works for which type of pain. Research into these approaches does exist but many conventional healthcare providers don’t have easy access to this information.

What you need to know

» People with chronic pain report that conventional medications do not provide full relief. As a result many turn to alternative approaches.

» A major US review of alternative approaches to chronic pain has shown that yoga, tai chi, and other complementary health approaches can effectively alleviate some chronic pain conditions.

» Researchers say the results can help patients – and their doctors – make clear decisions about effective alternatives.

The new review of 105 US-based randomised controlled trials form the past 50 years, gives primary care providers – who frequently see patients with chronic pain – tools to inform decision-making on how to help manage that pain.

“For many Americans who suffer from chronic pain, medications may not completely relieve pain and can produce unwanted side effects.” said Richard L. Nahin, Ph.D., NCCIH’s lead epidemiologist and lead author of the analysis.

“Our goal for this study was to provide relevant, high-quality information for primary care providers and for patients who suffer from chronic pain.”

What works?

The review focused on seven approaches used for one or more of five painful conditions – back pain, osteoarthritis, neck pain, fibromyalgia, and severe headaches and migraine. A treatment was considered effective if it led to improvements in pain severity and pain-related disability and/or function that were statistically significant, when compared with a control group.

The researchers found promise in the following for safety and effectiveness in treating pain:

  • Acupuncture and yoga for back pain
  • Acupuncture and tai chi for osteoarthritis of the knee
  • Massage therapy for neck pain with adequate doses and for short-term benefit
  • Relaxation techniques for severe headaches and migraine.

Though the evidence was weaker, the researchers also found that massage therapy, spinal manipulation, and osteopathic manipulation may provide some help for back pain, and relaxation approaches and tai chi might help people with fibromyalgia.

None of the clinical trials reported significant adverse effects due to the interventions.

“These data can equip providers and patients with the information they need to have informed conversations regarding non-drug approaches for treatment of specific pain conditions,” said David Shurtleff, Ph.D., deputy director of NCCIH.