Chronic pain of any kind can be debilitating. Though we are often afraid to disclose this information, 20.4% of adults live with chronic pain. 7.4% of adults suffer from chronic pain that frequently limits their activities (Zelaya et al., 2020).
A variety of nonpharmacologic treatment options can help provide pain relief. Examples include massage, acupuncture, yoga, reiki, and meditation. When used in conjunction with conventional medicine, these therapies are complementary medicine (Brennan, 2021).
The World Health Organization recognizes over 30 conditions that can acupuncture may help. One of these indications is pain relief (Brennan, 2021).
Acupuncture is founded from traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). TCM practitioners believe that illness originates due to energy imbalances in the human body. Pain relief may result from the release of endorphins, which are chemicals that block pain. When stimulated, acupuncture points, often located near nerves, send a message to the brain causing the release of endorphins (Brennan, 2021).
Acupuncture involves using thin, disposable needles that the practitioner inserts into various spots, called meridians. Stimulating these energy-carrying meridians can help relieve various symptoms (Brennan, 2021).
Skeptics may doubt that meditation can improve pain, but research suggests otherwise. A 2018 study found that meditation changes the structure of the brain. Cortical thickness changes may improve pain sensitivity. Yet another study from 2016 used the opioid blocker, naloxone, as well as a placebo. Both groups learned meditation. The placebo group reported a more significant reduction in pain levels (Weatherspoon, 2020).
Various methods of meditation provide several pathways to explore and get started:
- Meditation apps
- Personal instructors
Visualization, one of the easiest ways to meditate, involves imagining something positive. Focusing your energy can improve pain, and slow breathing can assist with relaxation.
Yoga, an ancient practice that originated in India over 4,000 years ago, involves breathwork. meditation and physical postures called asana. (Polizzi, 2021).
Known to reduce pain, yoga can accomplish this in several ways:
- Improves pain perception, allowing pain to feel less severe.
- Reduces stress response, thus reducing bodily inflammation.
- Improves flexibility and range-of-motion, both of which can suffer if you live with chronic pain.
Yoga practice may involve taking an in-person or virtual class, finding yoga sequences in books, or using apps (Polizzi, 2021).
Reiki relies on a Japanese “energy transfer” technique. According to Becky Upham of Everyday Health (2020), “A typical Reiki session is intended to guide energy throughout the body to encourage self-healing and begins at the head or feet with a light touch or even no touch, with the practitioner’s hands a few inches above the client’s body.”
It is unclear how reiki works. Kenneth Martay, MD, an anesthesiologist at UW Medicine in Seattle, says, “Chronic pain is a complicated issue. There is the anatomical physical aspect, and then there is the emotional one. The limbic system is where emotions are processed, and that makes a tight connection between pain and emotions” (Upham, 2020).
A typical session involves a Reiki practitioner and the participant. The participant wears loose-fitting comfortable clothing and lies on a massage table. The practitioner then applies a light touch or positions their hands a few inches from the participant’s body. (Upham, 2020).
Alternative Methods to Managing Pain
A variety of alternative methods, including acupuncture, meditation, yoga, and reiki, seek to reduce pain. Whether your pain is acute or chronic, alternative methods to managing pain may reduce your pain levels. Please speak with your healthcare provider about the best treatment options to compliment your current regimen.
Interested in learning more about alternative methods to managing pain?
Krysti Ostermeyer is an RN, Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES), and a freelance writer. She enjoys writing about health, wellness, and nursing. She dreams about being a full-time writer when she grows up.
When Krysti isn’t working, she enjoys mountain biking, hiking, taking walks, practicing yoga, reading, and drinking copious amounts of iced coffee.
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Brennan, D. (Ed.). (2021, October 20). Pain Management: Alternative Therapy. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/guide/pain-management-alternative-therapy
Polizzi, M. (2021, February 10). Yoga for Pain Relief. Verywell Health. https://www.verywellhealth.com/yoga-pain-relief-5092324
Upham, B. (2020, June 20). Can Reiki Help Your Chronic Pain? Everyday Health. https://www.everydayhealth.com/pain-management/can-reiki-help-your-chronic-pain.aspx
Weatherspoon, D. (2020, September 4). Meditation for Chronic Pain Management. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/meditation-for-chronic-pain#getting-started
Zelaya, C., Dahlhamer, J., Lucas, J., & Connor, E. (2020, November 4). Chronic Pain and High-impact Chronic Pain Among U.S. Adults, 2019. CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db390.htm