Alternative medicine - pain relief

Acupuncture - pain relief; Hypnosis - pain relief; Guided imagery - pain relief


Alternative medicine refers to treatments that are used instead of conventional (standard) ones. If you use an alternative treatment along with conventional medicine or therapy, it is considered complementary therapy.

There are many forms of alternative medicine.

Acupuncture involves stimulating certain acupoints on the body using fine needles or other methods. How acupuncture works is not entirely clear. It is thought that acupoints lie near nerve fibers. When acupoints are stimulated, the nerve fibers signal the spinal cord and brain to release chemicals that relieve pain.

Acupuncture is an effective means of relieving pain, such as for back pain and headache pain. Acupuncture may also help relieve pain due to:

  • Cancer
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Childbirth (labor)
  • Musculoskeletal injuries (such as the neck, shoulder, knee, or elbow)
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis

Hypnosis is a focused state of concentration. With self-hypnosis, you repeat a positive statement over and over.

Hypnosis may help relieve pain for:

  • After surgery or labor
  • Arthritis
  • Cancer
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Migraine headache
  • Tension headache

Both acupuncture and hypnosis are often offered by pain management centers in the United States. Other non-drug methods used at such centers include:

  • Biofeedback
  • Massage
  • Relaxation training
  • Physical therapy



Ernst E. A critical appraisal of complementary and alternative medicine. In: McMahon SB, Koltzenburg M, Tracey I, Turk DC, eds. Wall and Melzack's Textbook of Pain. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 43.

Perlman A. Complementary and alternative medicine. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 39.

White JD. Complementary and alternative medicine. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2014:chap 33.


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          Review Date: 1/5/2016

          Reviewed By: Joseph V. Campellone, MD, Division of Neurology, Cooper University Hospital, Camden, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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