According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) millions of Americans suffer from chronic pain. Pain lasting more than 24 hours is reported to affect one-quarter of American adults and is the second most common reason people seek out a doctor.
Pain is considered chronic if it persists for six months or longer. Chronic pain often continues in spite of conventional drug treatment. Drugs prescribed to reduce pain also have severe side effects. Current research reports that alternative therapies such as yoga, acupuncture, and medical marijuana (cannabis) can offer natural relief from chronic pain.
Though controversial, medical marijuana use has been approved in 18 states and Washington D.C. In November 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational use.
Yoga Helps Relieve Chronic Pain
A small but significant study from Texas Tech University found that yoga and meditation can help relieve chronic pain. Researchers from Texas Tech University Pain Center followed 67 chronic pain patients participating in the yoga and meditation program, in addition to medical treatment.
The participants were taught yoga exercises and Theravada Buddhism, an Eastern meditative practice that teaches suffering and stress can be relieved through awareness and releasing expectations. The researchers found 80 percent of the participants reported improved stress and pain management. Furthermore, 78 percent of participants had an improvement in mood, 80 percent reported improved stress management and 86 percent experienced a higher awareness of thought and feeling states.
Acupuncture Pain Relief
A randomized, controlled, blinded study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, reports acupuncture can relieve joint pain in breast cancer patients being treated with hormone therapies.
Researchers at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center administered either true acupuncture (TA) or sham acupuncture (SA) (a placebo) for six weeks to 43 breast cancer patients. The participants were receiving aromatase inhibitor (AI) therapy and had joint pain and stiffness.
The researchers found that the true acupuncture group had significant improvement in joint pain and stiffness. They also experienced an improved sense of well-being. Furthermore, 20 percent of the patients taking pain relief medications did not need them after receiving acupuncture. This benefit was not seen in the sham acupuncture group.
Cannabis Helps Combat Pain
A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal reveals medical cannabis (marijuana) may relieve chronic, debilitating neuropathic pain. Researchers from McGill University Health Centre, Canada, administered varying doses of cannabis or placebo to 23 participants with post-traumatic or postsurgical neuropathic pain over four 14-day periods.
Low dose 25 mg of herbal cannabis at 10 percent THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) or less was smoked using a pipe three times daily for five days. THC is the active cannabinoid ingredient in cannabis. The researchers found that participants using 10 percent THC reported pain reduction within a few days. Participants using less than 10 percent THC reported less-beneficial effects. Furthermore, cannabis improved sleep and moods.
"A single inhalation of 25 mg of 9.4 percent tetrahydrocannabinol herbal cannabis three times daily for five days reduced the intensity of pain, improved sleep and was well tolerated," the study authors conclude.
Elaine Gavalas is an exercise physiologist, yoga therapist, weight management specialist, nutritionist and healthy recipe developer.
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