Exploring Drug-Free Treatment for Pain

With growing concern about opioid painkiller addiction, millions of American adults are seeking non-drug solutions for pain.
5:23 | 09/05/16

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Transcript for Exploring Drug-Free Treatment for Pain
in just a bit. Great news for millions of Americans who suffer from pain. A new study out from the mayo clinic offers new hope and proof that alternatives to addictive pain medications like Tai chi, yoga and acupuncture can actually work. Thigh chi, yoga, acupuncture, all common ways to fight stress but could they really help you fight off some serious pain? A new national institutes of health review just out now shows that these extremely popular health approaches may also be effective tools for helping manage chronic pain, a condition that more than 25 million American dulls live with every day. Christian Marshall is only 34 years old and loves dancing and working out but his chronic shoulder pain makes it hard for him to do what he loves most. I dance a lot. It's been my passion. Sometimes in the middle of the dance you'll feel that you cannot do certain movements. Reporter: Right now a popular pain relief choice is to use opioid painkillers. According to the U.S. Department of health and human services, in 2014 more than 240 million prescriptions were written for opioids which is more than enough to give every American adult their own bottle of pills. Opioids such as oxycontin and percocet have been used for acute pain. Now that we have more evidence that alternative therapies can help, I encourage patients to seek out those types of treatments to see if that would be a right fit for them. Reporter: So for Christian it was important to get the help he needed naturally and with the suggestion of his doctor, he started acupuncture. It changed my life. Now I can dance better. I can, you know, work more efficiently. Reporter: He says it gives him relief, making him feel healthier and ready to go back out there and do what he loves. Dr. Jen Ashton joins us now with more. So explain for us why it's so difficult for doctors to treat pain. Well, this is why there's a whole specialty in medicine called pain management. Pain -- there's different types of pain, people perceive pain differently. There's acute and chronic pain and more of the problem is that pain actually begets more pain. You can have a source of pain. If it's not treated it spreads throughout the body very much like these magnets and so you can start with pain in your neck, if not treated develop it in your back, shoulder, head and that's when acute pain becomes chronic pain and it is ychologically and physically debilitateing. So doctors often prescribe opioids for their patients, people want to walk out of that doctor's office with a prescription in their hand but there are so many side effects. There are side effects and, listen, not one size fits all. Opioids have their role in treating acute often surgical pain. But they come with a huge list of side effects and obviously an increased risk for dental overdose, dependence and addiction. They have their role but for chronic pain you really need to start looking at other things and that's why this study from the nih which was a compilation of all of the U.S. Data is really, really important. So let's get to some of those alternatives and begin with acupuncture which is scary to some because it involves needles. Have you ever tried it. I have not. I have. I would say I recommend it to 10% of my patients. This has been around for thousands of years. The thinking is that it triggers meridians that circulate in our body. This is mark. He is a licensed accupunk ourist. His patient Jackie. Let's say you have neck pain people think, "A," does this hurt and "B" am I just getting needles or wires in my neck. It does not hurt. These are the diameter of a dog hair basically and they go all over the body, cost is a factor. Sometimes insurance will cover this now. I'm happy to say but people should be prepared. If you've had chronic pain it's unlikely one session will treat it. You probably have to go for awhile. These are pressure points releasing pressure here? These are ancient Chinese meridians so all over the body, Jackie has some needles there in her foot. She's perfectly good right now. I see people doing this in the park. Tai chi. Tai chi. Now, again, ancient, thousands of year, it's really a complicated blend of movement meditation, balance, flexibility, it has been shown to improve chronic pain and this is something. It looks complicated like a choreography. It is so easy. It's relaxing me watching them. Right. These are all people from the Tai chi society. International. Anyone can learn this. I think this should be taught in high school but really -- Adrienne from our staff also joining in. Anyone can do it, right? Go, Adrienne. You have a breathing technique in it talked about various relaxation techniques. There are a whole range of them. I like one called belly breathing. A lot of different napes for this. Basically I'm going to show you. Very easy, put a hand on your belly. Another hand can rest on your chest. When you take a deep breath in you want to try to fill your lower abdomen expand out then you'll exhale slowly through your lips, do it again, breathe in through your nostrils and you want to alternate between having your chest and belly expand. Very relaxed. Don't you feel relaxed. I do.

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