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National Institutes of Health • National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine

NCCAM Clinical Digest

Chronic Pain and Complementary Health Practices

July 2012
A woman holding her back in pain

Millions of Americans suffer from pain that is chronic, severe, and not easily managed. Pain from arthritis, back problems, other musculoskeletal conditions, and headache costs U.S. businesses more than $61 billion a year in lost worker productivity.

Pain is the most common health problem for which adults use complementary health practices. Many people with conditions causing chronic pain turn to these practices to supplement other conventional medical treatment, or when their pain is resistant or in an effort to advert side effects of medications. Despite the widespread use of complementary health practices for chronic pain, scientific evidence on efficacy and mechanisms—whether the therapies help the conditions for which they are used and, if so, how—is, for the most part, limited. However, the evidence base is growing, especially for several complementary health practices most commonly used by people to lessen pain.

This issue highlights the research status for several therapies used for common kinds of pain, including arthritis, fibromyalgia, headache, low-back pain, and neck pain.

Time to Talk Tips: 6 Things You Should Know: The Science of Chronic Pain and Complementary Health Practices

Read more about what the science says

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NCCAM Clinical Digest is a service of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, NIH, DHHS. NCCAM Clinical Digest, a monthly e-newsletter, offers evidence-based information on CAM, including scientific literature searches, summaries of NCCAM-funded research, fact sheets for patients, and more.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine is dedicated to exploring complementary and alternative healing practices in the context of rigorous science, training CAM researchers, and disseminating authoritative information to the public and professionals. For additional information, call NCCAM's Clearinghouse toll-free at 1-888-644-6226, or visit the NCCAM Web site at nccam.nih.gov. NCCAM is 1 of 27 institutes and centers at the National Institutes of Health, the Federal focal point for medical research in the United States.

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Content is in the public domain and may be reprinted, except if marked as copyrighted (©). Please credit the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine as the source. All copyrighted material is the property of its respective owners and may not be reprinted without their permission.

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