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Eight proven ways to control chronic pain without drugs that few doctors recommend.

If you have chronic pain, chances are you're taking medications. And if you're reading this, chances are you'd rather find another method--one without side effects or prohibitive costs. While there are plenty of alternatives to drug therapy, not all are backed by good science. I'm not about to recommend any pain-relievers touted as the latest and greatest--based on anecdotes. My mantra is, Show me the science!

So let's take a look at some proven solutions to pain reduction published in reputable medical journals. Real research has found all of them to be both safe and effective.

Your doctor probably hasn't suggested them. They're not taught in medical schools, nor has conventional medicine tried to integrate them into its treatments. But if one of them works for you--even a little--it could mean reducing, or eliminating, your pain pills.

If you've used any of these therapies and they didn't work, don't give up. They work slower than drugs. Remember, no treatment works for everyone. Try one that has been tested and found to work for your type of pain. Here are some of the most successful, and available, methods of reducing chronic pain.

Biological medicine uses dietary supplements to treat chronic pain. Several nutrients have passed the research test. They include using a topical cream with cayenne pepper for arthritis. Read my article on this subject in the September 2007 issue online.

NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are medications that reduce inflammation and pain. One of them, Vioxx, contributes to heart disease and its manufacturer, Merck, recalled it as a result. What can you take instead of NSAIDs? The most frequently tested supplement found effective for arthritis, low back, and nerve pain was the combination of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate.

But don't rush out and buy them. You can get better results with just one of these nutrients. Glucosamine sulfate is 95% absorbed, while chondroitin sulfate is only 5% absorbed. To save money and see results, take glucosamine alone (1,500 mg three times a day).

Anti-inflammatory supplements will reduce pain caused by inflammation. They include devil's claw (Harpagophytum procumbens), curcumin, Boswellia serrata, and white willow bark. All have significant anti-inflammatory activity.

If you hear about a supplement said to lower pain, ask to see the studies. If all you can get are testimonials, save your money--unless they offer a 100% money back guarantee (then it might be worth trying).

Energy medicine

Energy medicine works with the electromagnetic fields that surround our bodies. They include expensive devices, many without FDA approval. Here are some lower-cost methods proven to be effective.

Therapeutic touch (TT) is based on the theory that a practitioner's healing energies can affect the patient's health. TT uses no physical contact. The practitioner moves his or her hands above the body to correct energy imbalances. The treatment's ability to relieve tension headaches is its most successful use. This may sound flaky, but I've used this technique successfully for decades.

Qi Gong and T'ai Chi are two forms of traditional energy medicine commonly practiced throughout China. When I visited this fascinating country, I saw groups of factory workers doing Qi Gong early in the morning before starting work. Its health benefits are both preventive and therapeutic.

Qi Gong combines slow movements with specific breathing and meditation. It enhances the flow of energy, or Qi, throughout the body. In four good studies, Qi Gong reduced chronic pain. Look for someone in your area who teaches either of these forms of movement and try it for a few months.

Spinal manipulation is a popular therapy for low back pain because it works. Chiropractors and osteopaths (medical doctors who also use manipulation) are the medical professionals who use it. Don't expect your physician to refer you to a chiropractor or condone your seeing one. They're frequently at odds with one another. This is unfortunate. Each has his place in our health care. I began going to chiropractors when I was nine years old. I currently work with osteopaths. My chronic back pain is negligible because of these doctors--and exercise.

Massage therapy can be either therapeutic or simply relaxing. Either can reduce pain. Therapeutic massage targets specific areas to stop pain signals or to increase serotonin production. Low serotonin increases the production of a pain neurotransmitter called substance P. Even a relaxing massage can help you sleep better, because deep sleep also reduces substance P.

While many doctors believe that massage will do little to relieve pain, our local hospital, Palm Drive, makes it available to patients. The therapists who work there have been trained in therapeutic massage. If a small hospital in northern California can recognize that massage can reduce pain, yours can too.

Hypnosis. In a recent analysis of 18 studies, people treated with hypnosis had a better pain-reducing response than 75% of people who received standard care (medications) or no treatment.

Another review of 19 studies found that hypnosis was more effective than drugs for headaches or physical therapy for the pain from fibromyalgia. The effects lasted for several months.

Biofeedback. Sometimes the solution to pain is mind over matter. If you think you can't control your pain, you haven't used biofeedback. Biofeedback teaches you to use your mind to control your body using an instrument that measures skin temperature, heart rate, respiration, or perspiration. This helps you become more aware of physiological responses to pain you thought were automatic. You can change these responses once you're aware of them. Biofeedback is effective for PMS, migraines, muscle pain and spasms, IBS, carpal tunnel, and other pain.

You can find a certified practitioner by contacting the Biofeedback Certification Institute of America (www.bcia.org, or 866-908-8713). If you notice an improvement within a few sessions, you may want to get a small biofeedback device to use by yourself at home. While mainstream doctors may scoff at biofeedback, insurance companies take it seriously. Many reimburse you when it's used for headaches and neuromuscular pain.

Acupuncture. An acupuncturist friend witnessed brain surgery in China where acupuncture was the only anesthesia. The patient was talking cheerfully with the surgeon and experienced no pain whatsoever. Researchers have studied acupuncture, fully accepted throughout the world, in more clinical trials than any other complementary therapy. Still, it's not fully accepted here. One reason is that few clinical trials examined its use for chronic pain.

A recent study found that acupuncture treatment was more effective in reducing low back pain than the combination of drugs, physical therapy, and exercise. Two other studies found that acupuncture reduced knee pain from osteoarthritis and chronic neck pain. It was, however, slow to work, taking six months in each of these cases. If you're patient, acupuncture could be an extremely effective solution to your chronic pain.

Finding non-drug pain relief is possible. All you have to do is try one of these treatments. They have science behind them and work in many cases.

In the past, I've talked at length about several other methods that can reduce pain. They include specific herbs used to prevent or treat migraines and other headaches, reducing the size of your shoe heels for knee pain, and an exceptionally effective method for eliminating pain called prolotherapy when it's caused by loose ligaments. All of these articles, along with references, are available on my website.

Berman, B.M., et al. "Effectiveness of acupuncture as adjunctive therapy in osteoarthritis of the knee," Ann Intern Med, 2004.

Haake, M. Arch Intern Med, 2007.

Morone, N.E. and C.M. Greco. "Mind-body interventions for chronic pain in older adults: a structured review," Pain Med, May-June 2007.

Tan, G., PhD, ABPP, et al. "Efficacy of selected complementary and alternative medicine interventions for chronic pain," Journ of Rehab Research and Development, vol 44, no 2, 2007.
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