Complementary & Alternative Medicine (CAM) to Treat Pain

Complementary and alternative medicine can be used as alternatives to, or in combination with, other pain treatments. These therapies are holistic, which means they are designed to care for the whole patient—physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. Goals are to reduce pain, maintain wellness, and prevent illness.

Most CAM treatments are gentle and non-invasive. Methods of complementary and alternative medicine that can be used to treat pain include the following:

  • Biofeedback is a technique that can help patients learn how to control the involuntary (autonomic) nervous system, which involves heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, tension, and pain. In this therapy, monitoring devices are used to measure pulse, brain waves, and blood pressure. The device emits a tone when changes in these involuntary responses occur, and the patient then tries to create a desired change (e.g., relaxation, slower heart rate, reduced pain level).
  • Chiropractic treatment focuses on the musculoskeletal (bones and muscles) and nervous (brain, spinal cord, nerves) systems. Chiropractors manipulate and adjust the spine and prescribe exercises to improve alignment in the body and reduce pain.
  • Cognitive therapy (e.g., relaxation training, behavioral therapy, hypnosis) is designed to help the patient learn how to use thinking to reduce physical and mental tension, stress, fear, anxiety, and pain. These treatments can be used to help patients learn how to cope with the effects of pain.

  • Massage uses manipulation, pressure, and friction to increase blood flow to the painful area and reduce pain.
  • Meditation (reduces pain through mindful relaxation and concentration)
  • Reiki is a Japanese technique that uses energy and light touch to reduce stress, improve relaxation, and promote healing.
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM; e.g., acupuncture, herbal supplements, Qi gong)
  • Yoga is a Hindu philosophy that uses physical and mental means to control physiologic functions, including pain.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 18 Jun 2007

Last Modified: 04 Sep 2015