How Yoga, Acupunture, and Tai Chi Show Promise in Relieving Pain
It’s so cool when science backs up something you’ve known for so long. In this case, a new study by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NICCIH) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) shows that yoga, acupuncture, and tai chi can be effective at relieving certain types of pain, such as headaches, back pain, and arthritis. 
Richard L. Nahin, Ph.D., NCCIH’s lead epidemiologist and lead author of the analysis, says:
“For many Americans who suffer from chronic pain, medications may not completely relieve pain and can produce unwanted side effects. As a result, many people may turn to nondrug approaches to help manage their pain.
Our goal for this study was to provide relevant, high-quality information for primary care providers and for patients who suffer from chronic pain.”
He went on:
“Back pain, joint pain, neck pain, and headaches are among the most common types of pain experienced by U.S. adults.
National surveys going back more than 25 years have consistently found that these complementary approaches are used by about 30 percent to 40 percent of the U.S. public in a given year.” 
Nahin and his colleagues reviewed 105 U.S.-based randomized controlled trials encompassing the past 50 years, which were relevant to pain patients in the U.S. and met inclusion criteria. 
The review looked at 7 approaches used for 1 or more of 5 painful conditions – back pain, osteoarthritis, neck pain, fibromyalgia, and severe headaches and migraine.
The researchers found that:
- Acupuncture and yoga showed promise in treating back pain
- Acupuncture and tai chi showed promise in treating osteoarthritis of the knee
- Massage therapy was shown to help neck pain in the short-term
- Relaxation techniques soothed severe headache and migraine pain
There was also evidence, though it was weaker, to suggest that massage therapy, spinal manipulation, and osteopathic manipulation may provide some help for back pain, and relaxation approaches and tai chi might help people with fibromyalgia.
NCCIH deputy director David Shurtleff said more research is needed, but the findings provide patients and healthcare providers with other, natural alternatives for treating pain. 
“These data can equip providers and patients with the information they need to have informed conversations regarding non-drug approaches for treatment of specific pain conditions.
It’s important that continued research explore how these approaches actually work and whether these findings apply broadly in diverse clinical settings and patient populations.”
Americans spend more than $14 billion of their own money on complementary treatment for pain – something the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends, along with traditional at-home treatment methods, such as using ice to numb pain and reduce swelling, before turning to medication, especially opioids.
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|Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.