complementary pain treatmentsPain is a problem in America. An estimated 100 million people suffer from chronic pain—more than the total number of people with diabetes, heart disease, and cancer combined. 20% of the population reports that pain disrupts their sleep several nights per week, and the cost of treating chronic pain is billions of dollars per year. We suggest that might try some of the following complementary treatments for pain before you seek prescription pain medication. If you are already under the care of a physician, consult with him before you stop any medication.

Pharmaceuticals are not as effective as we’re led to believe

Pharmaceuticals, from common over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen to powerful opioids like Vicodin and hydrocodone, are the standard treatment for pain. In spite of this, 60% of those taking the most powerful pain drugs report that their pain is still not under control. In addition, even over-the-counter pain drugs carry risks such as gastrointestinal problems, while opioids have a high risk of addiction and are one of the main causes of drug-related deaths.

Alternatives to pharmaceutical treatments

Chronic pain can be due to a variety of problems, from arthritis to nerve damage. Often, however, it has no discernible cause, or persists long after an injury has healed. Conventional medicine reaches for the prescription pad when it comes to pain, but there are alternatives. Several non-drug treatments have been found to be extremely effective for the treatment of chronic pain, without the side effects or risk of addiction that accompanies pharmaceutical drugs.

Vitamin D

While conventional medicine has historically scoffed at the idea of widespread vitamin D deficiency in the U.S., that attitude is changing. Multiple studies have found that a huge swath of the population has very low levels of this important vitamin, and supplementation often cures chronic musculoskeletal pain in individuals who may have been suffering for years. It’s also helpful for arthritis sufferers and those with fibromyalgia.

How much should you take? The best way to calculate the proper dose is to have your vitamin D levels tested. If this isn’t possible, the Vitamin D Council recommends that adults take 2,000 IU per day—and more if they don’t get much sun. Those who are overweight may also need more.

Devil’s Claw

This South African plant is one of a small number of herbal remedies which has strong scientific backing. Although research into many of its traditional uses is still lacking, studies have repeatedly found it to be effective for both muscle pain and pain from osteoarthritis. In fact, a Cochrane Review found it to be as effective as the pain reliever Vioxx, but without the catastrophic side effects which resulted in Vioxx’s recall.

Devil’s claw is available is available in a variety of forms, including capsules, powder, liquid, and tincture. The Arthritis Foundation suggests 750 mg to 1000 mg three times per day. While effective for pain, you shouldn’t take it if you

  • Are pregnant
  • Have gallstones
  • Have ulcers
  • Are taking an antacid drug
  • Or are on blood thinners
  • It may also interfere with some diabetes medications.


While it hasn’t been extensively studied in randomized trials, arnica is almost universally recommended by complementary health practitioners. It is most effective for muscular pain, arthritic pain, and bruises.

There are two types of arnica products available, an herbal preparation and a homeopathic one. The herbal version comes in the form of salve, cream, or oil applied topically to the affected area. Herbal arnica preparations should only be applied topically, and should never be used in areas with broken skin. If ingested, herbal arnica is quite toxic and can cause severe side effects.

Homeopathic arnica preparations, on the other hand, are extremely dilute and are intended to be taken by mouth. Homeopathic arnica remedies are most often used as a first-line treatment for injuries such as sprains and strains, but may be beneficial for flare-ups of chronic pain. Neither form of arnica should be used by pregnant women.


These Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practices have long been promoted as effective treatment for chronic pain, and a growing body of research confirms that they may indeed reduce pain; particularly chronic low back and neck pain, osteoarthritis of the knee, and migraines. The National Institutes of Health conclude that “[acupuncture] appears to be a reasonable option for people with chronic pain to consider.”

Traditional acupuncture uses ultra-fine needles to stimulate specific points on the body. For the needle-phobic, however, needle-less practices are also an option. Modern practices may use mild electrical stimulation rather than needles.


A deficiency in this mineral can be an overlooked cause of chronic pain. It appears to be helpful in treating chronic pain conditions as diverse as nerve pain (neuropathy), fibromyalgia, migraines, muscle spasms, and nonspecific muscular pain. Several types of magnesium are available, and dosage varies depending on the condition to be treated, your age, and your current magnesium levels. For the appropriate dosage for your individual circumstances, speak to your healthcare provider.

Pain is a problem in America, and pain-relieving drugs are an even bigger problem. Both can have devastating consequences. These alternative treatments, used correctly, may help you overcome your pain without the drawbacks of pharmaceutical treatments.

Active Health offers complementary method for controlling chronic pain. Our practice is located in Park Ridge, IL. You may schedule an appointment or call us at 847-739-3120.

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