New research on pain management
Pain management doctors write out more opioid prescriptions than any other medical field. Looking for alternatives, many practitioners promote complimentary alternative medicines (CAMS) like yoga and acupuncture to push back against the opioid epidemic.
“In the current opioid crisis era, many integrative medical therapies can be used as complements to mainstream medicine to address pain and reduce opioid abuse and addiction-related disease,” writes Yuan-Chi Lin, M.D., M.P.H., and her associates at Harvard Medical School.
In a themed edition of Anesthesia & Analgesia exploring the opioid crisis, researchers and pain medicine doctors share evidence on use of CAM’s and other powerful strategies aimed at helping people with chronic and/or post-operative pain without use of opioids.
In the published research, Lin and fellow researchers assessed and analyzed the current body of evidence on integrative medicine therapies as treatment approaches.
“Integrative medicine for pain can play a major role in reducing the frequency and amount of opioid usage,” the researchers write.
The research had a total of 32 studies that explored seven unique types of CAM’s for pain. Acupuncture showed it was a treatment demonstrating the most effective approach.
Generally speaking, acupuncture showed “strong positive evidence”. But other lines of research revealed that acupuncture also reduced dosing levels of opioids needed to manage pain post-surgery. In turn, this had a positive impact on opioid-related side effects.
Most of the other CAMS reviewed showed “positive preliminary evidence” of effectiveness in pain treatment. Interestingly, these included yoga, relaxation techniques (aka mindfulness meditation), tai chi, spinal manipulation and massage therapy.
That said, there were only a few lines of research that addressed whether use of CAMs lowered the use of medications in general or opioids specifically. The evidence conflicted on the pain-reducing effectiveness of the over the counter knee-supplements, like glucosamine and chondroitin.
The researchers acknowledge several important limitations on the body of research related to CAM usage for pain management. That’s because the studies reviewed varied regarding methods used and the types of pain studied.
There are also unique challenges to studying the effectiveness of CAMs, like controlling for the placebo effects.
The authors acknowledge more research needs to take place. Lin and fellow researchers conclude, “The consensus and results of this review suggest that complementary health approaches can help to improve pain and reduce opioid use.”