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More Than a Pill: Complementary Medicine Can Help with Chronic Pain

MU study says various methods can complement, not compete with conventional medicine

Oct. 8, 2007

Story Contact:  Jennifer Faddis, (573) 882-6217,

 COLUMBIA, Mo. – Mr. Jones has chronic back pain. He cannot sleep, bend or stand for long periods of time because of the pain. He cannot lose weight because the pain keeps him from exercising. Jones is a case study in a publication by a University of Missouri-Columbia occupational therapy professor to show that chronic pain can be treated by more than just a pill.

 Some of the pain medications had side effects that made it difficult for Jones to perform his job. Occupational therapy intervened with acupressure, modifications for performing daily activities and adaptive devices, such as a long handle reacher that allowed him to put on socks without bending over.

 Within one month, Jones was able to get through the day with improved performance, better sleep and less pain medication. He also was taught how to do modified exercises, yoga and use lumbar support while driving and sleeping.

 “It is important to get patients who are inactive because of pain involved in purposeful activities; it also helps reduce the perception of pain,” said Guy McCormack, chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy and Occupational Science in the MU School of Health Professions.

 Modifications, such as teaching better body mechanics, finding ways to simplify daily activities and use of assistive devices are all important ways to help with chronic pain. Relaxation techniques, breathing techniques, imagery and visualization can all help with how patients perceive pain.

 “It gives patients more control over their pain instead of just having someone hand them a pill,” McCormack said. “It also helps alleviate the concerns some people have about dependency and addiction with medication.”

 Complementary therapies also can be used to alleviate side effects from medications, such as chemotherapy. Often cancer treatments cause nausea and acupressure can help detoxify the body somewhat, according to McCormack. Patients with terminal illnesses may need to be taught relaxation techniques or be given special emotional support to take their minds off what is happening.

 “Complementary practices do not compete with conventional medicine whereas alternative medicine might. Acupuncture, chiropractic care, Indian or eastern medicine are considered alternative medicine and are less accepted by the conventional medical community. Doctors are more accepting of other methods if it complements what they are doing,” McCormack said.

 The study was recently published in OT Practice, a journal of The American Occupational Therapy Association.