Chiropractic Among Options Endorsed by NIH for Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is an epidemic that affects an estimated 100 million Americans. Although numerous effective treatments are available, millions of chronic pain sufferers rely on opioid prescription pain medication such as hydrocodone or oxycodone for chronic, or long-term, pain management.

Although effective for some, many long-term users continue to experience pain, increased addictive tendencies and diminished quality of life. There is a growing belief that while they provide short-term relief, over the long term that benefit is diminished.

A September 2014 report by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests a broader approach that includes alternative medicine may be more effective. The report stressed the need to use a range of progressive treatments that might initially include non-drug related options, such as physical therapy, behavioral therapy, and proven alternative medicine approaches (such as chiropractic), later followed by prescription medication if more needs to be done. Other alternative medicines may include homeopathy, naturopathy, acupuncture, and dietary supplements. It is important to note however, that chiropractic is the largest, natural healing profession in the world delivered by licensed health care professionals.

The American Chiropractic Association issued a statement in January 2015 encouraging NIH to study all complementary and integrated approaches to chronic pain management, including chiropractic. Alternative treatments offer a higher degree of patient safety and help to reduce drug use, resulting in fewer side effects such as nausea, constipation, sleepiness, and confusion – not to mention the tendency of some users to stop breathing when ingesting higher dosages.

Integration of Options

The NIH panel, made up of experts in the fields of gerontology, rheumatology, internal medicine, psychiatry, addiction medicine, nursing, health education, biostatistics, and epidemiology, concluded that managing chronic pain (meaning continual over a long period) requires an integrated approach involving more than one specialty, including complementary medicine, which might include physical therapy and chiropractic.

Although doctors are hesitant to suggest alternative therapies, the sparked popularity of such methods has led the government and medical field to make inclusive steps. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information the federal government has provided more than $22 million to support the addition of courses regarding complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in medical and nursing schools. The goal is to allow physicians to freely and openly discuss the use of CAM with patients.

The professional guidelines and expectations for pharmacists and physicians alike have also been adjusted so medical professionals are better-equipped to inform and communicate the risks and benefits of alternative medicines. In addition, some providers of evidence-based clinical content are now including alternative treatments in their care plans.

The Insurance Barrier

Despite such initiatives, integrated care may be more difficult to obtain than it would first appear. The report identified several barriers including insurance plans that may not cover integrated healthcare approaches. Viable alternatives include private pay health care providers such as The Joint Chiropractic, which offers a ‘no-insurance’ membership model that makes care convenient and affordable.

Health Begins With Your Spine

A joint dysfunction, often referred to as a misalignment of the spine, occurs when one or more joints become restricted often leading to aches and pains that affect overall health and well-being. The spine protects the central nervous system, which controls and coordinates every cell, tissue and organ of the body. Spinal joint dysfunctions can lead to a host of health problems ranging from neck and back pain to postural conditions such as hyperkyphosis – a condition in which the thoracic spinal curvature is significantly exaggerated increasing the risk of pulmonary and arterial health conditions. Chiropractic focuses on beginning at the source by improving joint motion and nerve function, thus reducing back pain. By enhancing motion and reducing pain, chiropractic can improve quality of life, promote a healthier, more active lifestyle and decrease the use of medication.

As noted pediatrician and medical blogger Chad Hayes, MD, says, there is nothing magical about the acceptance of a form of treatment by the medical establishment. “Our opinion doesn’t do a thing to change whether or not something works,” he writes.

It is good to see the NIH throwing its influence behind that thought.