adult-1846050_1920Chronic pain is a common problem. According to the National Institutes of Health, chronic pain affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease, and cancer combined. Chronic pain is the most common cause of disability in the U.S.

A recent comment published by the Mayo Clinic reveals that alternatives to medications for chronic pain not only exist, but can be as effective in lessening pain. Traditionally, the first step in treating chronic pain has been medication, including strong painkillers such as opioids. But these drugs can be problematic. Not only are opioids powerful drugs, they can have serious side effects and pose a significant risk for addiction when used long term. The problems associated with using opioids for pain relief make it crucial that other strategies be considered when managing chronic pain.

In some situations when medication wasn’t a good option, surgery was recommended as the next step. Fortunately, there now are a wide range of choices available beyond medication and surgery that have been shown to be useful in easing chronic pain.

Research shows that, when they’re included in a comprehensive treatment plan, alternative techniques can be quite effective in lowering pain, according to Brent Bauer, MD, a physician for Integrative Medicine and Health at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. One common form of integrative medicine that is used frequently is acupuncture. The technique involves inserting extremely thin needles through the skin at strategic points on the body to reduce pain. Frequency of treatment depends on the type and severity of pain.

Massage therapy can help reduce pain, too. Several studies suggest massage can be effective as part of an overall strategy for managing chronic neck and back pain. Mayo Clinic has conducted more than a dozen clinical trials on massage and found it valuable for a wide variety of pain conditions. Many hospitals now regularly offer massage therapy to patients.

Clinical trials have shown mind-body therapies are another approach that can significantly affect chronic pain. The purpose of these treatments is to help you relax and improve the communication and connection between the state mind and the health of body—for example, yoga, tai chi, meditation, and guided imagery.

Supplements also have the potential to ease pain. One is S-adenosylmethionine, usually called SAMe, which has been studied for its ability to reduce inflammation and relieve arthritis pain. The second is curcumin, a substance found in the spice turmeric, which also may help reduce inflammation. Initial research seems to point to a benefit in people with some forms of chronic pain who use these supplements.

Although all of these treatments may help lower chronic pain, none provides a cure. Instead, they help control pain symptoms, says Bauer. To be most effective, they should be integrated into an overall treatment plan that includes conventional approaches to pain management, such as physical therapy, exercise and balanced nutrition. When placed in the context of this type of integrated approach, Bauer says, many people see significant benefits from using evidence-based alternatives to medication for chronic pain management.