The term alternative therapy refers to treatments that pose no, or only a low, risk of side effects and many can be very effective for pain relief. The therapies relieve pain or help you refocus your attention so that you don’t feel as much pain or can find it easier to manage. Your internist or a pain specialist can help you sort through options to see which might be most effective for you, says Dr. Lynn Kohan, a pain specialist at the University of Virginia Medical Center.
Your doctor may suggest alternative therapies alone or in addition to pain medication. Insurance and Medicare often cover alternative therapies — Medicare, for example, just began covering acupuncture for low back pain. Experts at the National Institutes of Health recommend that you ask your doctor for recommendations for alternative practices that require a practitioner, such as massage and acupuncture.
Acupuncture: Very thin needles are inserted into the skin at various points of the body. It may work by rebalancing energy or by stimulating nerves, scientists aren’t sure.
Massage: This kneading technique relaxes muscle tissue, which can help relieve muscle spasms and pain and may also relieve pain from compressed nerves.
Chiropractic: Chiropractors manipulate the body’s alignment to help relieve pain.
Guided Imagery: A psychological relaxation technique, guided imagery utilizes mental images of pleasant sights, smells, sounds, tastes, or somatic sensations (touch, movements, or positions) to create a positive cognitive and emotional state that can prevent or ameliorate pain or other sources of distress.
Hypnosis: During hypnosis you’ll focus on relaxation, which can help relieve tension and pain.
Supplements: There are several supplements that can help relieve pain. You’ll want to discuss them with your doctor first, though, to be sure that any drugs you take don’t interact with the supplement and that the supplement doesn’t pose a risk for any other medical conditions you have.
Most supplements that are effective for pain relief do so by relieving inflammation, including Devil’s Claw, omega-3 fatty acids, turmeric, capsaicin, and comfrey. Glucosamine and chondroitin can help relieve joint pain. And vitamin D, if a blood test shows your levels are too low, can help relieve back pain.
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