Complementary Therapy Helps Chronic Pain Sufferers Recover Without Opioids

Updated on March 16, 2024

Emerging research on complementary therapy is solidifying its role in aiding chronic pain management. A recent analysis by the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) shows that people using complementary therapy for pain management jumped from roughly 42% to 49% from 2002 to 2022. 

For chronic pain sufferers, using complementary therapy, in adjunct to medical treatment and physical therapy, can improve symptoms, overall mood, and quality of life. More importantly, complementary therapy can provide these benefits without the need for dangerous opioids. 

What is Complementary Therapy?

Complementary therapy, also known as complementary health approaches (CHAs), are different treatment approaches meant to be used in conjunction with standard treatment. This doesn’t mean CHAs are any less effective than standard treatment. 

Rather, complementary therapy approaches are in the early stages of being studied and simply need more research to examine their benefits and potential negative effects on people. There are various examples of CHAs, ranging from techniques to physical therapies, that can be done under the supervision of care providers or from the comfort of one’s own home. 

The recent analysis by the NCCIH looked at the following CHAs:

  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Massage therapy
  • Chiropractic care
  • Acupuncture
  • Naturopathy
  • Guided imagery/progressive muscle relaxation

These are just some of the many examples of complementary therapy that are emerging and growing increasingly popular. From biofeedback therapy to herbal supplements, nutritional and lifestyle changes, and much more, there are virtually an endless amount of CHAs that aim to reduce the use of traditional medicine for chronic pain. Moreover, CHAs are now helping people who suffer from chronic pain to limit, if not eliminate, using opioids altogether.

The Problem With Opioid Use and Chronic Pain

In primary care settings, it’s estimated that around 1 in 4 people who receive continued prescription opioids for pain not related to cancer struggle with dependence. That’s an alarmingly high number, but it makes sense when considering how incredibly addictive opioids are. 

Research shows that opioids not only make users struggle with dependence issues but also worsen pain over time. People who use opioids wind up feeling more sensitivity to pain and using more opioids to mask this pain, a situation known as opioid-induced hyperalgesia. 

With rising rates of opioid use and chronic pain occurring simultaneously, a pattern begins to emerge, and with it, a need for more alternative, holistic, and proven treatments like CHAs. So, why haven’t CHAs been used regularly by people with chronic pain?

CHAs and Recent Studies

Only recently have studies shown just how significant CHAs can be for treating chronic pain and other issues, such as chronic stress and anxiety. For instance, the NCCIH analysis showed that yoga was among one of the fastest-growing CHAs, jumping from 5% in 2002 to 15.8% in 2022. 

Perhaps this big jump is due to emerging studies that show yoga is effective at treating different types of chronic pain, including:

  • Fibromyalgia
  • Low-back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Headaches
  • Arthritis

These recent studies have shown yoga to be effective at reducing psychological distress, like depression and anxiety, reducing pain, and increasing energy levels and functionality. 

Again, yoga is just one of many different CHAs that are now being used by chronic pain sufferers and non-chronic pain sufferers alike. Meditation and massage therapy have also seen a rise in use, with meditation being the most used CHA in 2022. Meditation has been shown to decrease pain also, albeit less than traditional treatment methods.

The Future of CHAs and Chronic Pain Management

This recent analysis shows that more and more people are relying on holistic approaches to care rather than simply turning to invasive treatments, such as daily use of opioids, to treat their chronic pain. CHAs remain a powerful tool that can help change the way one thinks about pain, such as through mindfulness and meditation, and tackle the root of the pain itself, such as through chiropractic care and massage therapy.

It’s vital to understand that complementary therapy, however effective, is only one part of solving the complex issue of chronic pain. This is especially true for people who have opioid use disorder and dependency issues. Combining different complementary therapies, treating comorbid substance use disorders, and continuing to use standard treatment can, hopefully, provide significant relief to those living with chronic pain.

In addition, more studies are needed to examine the effectiveness of different complementary therapies. Many of these therapies have been studied, but offer low-quality evidence to gain any real support from providers and researchers. Nevertheless, as technology continues to grow and the popularity and knowledge of complementary therapies continue to expand, CHAs will hopefully make an impact in reducing opioid use for people with chronic pain.

The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.