An integrative approach to pain management that puts an emphasis on individualized patient care significantly reduces pain and improves quality of life, according to a new study published in the journal Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Researchers with the BraveNet Research Network tracked 252 chronic pain patients over a six month period, and reported a 23 percent drop in pain severity, as well as improvements in their quality of life and overall well-being.
Participants in the BraveNet study were predominantly white (81%) and female (73%), with an average age of nearly 50. Their most common complaint was pain in the neck, spine, shoulder, hip or knee.
“Chronic pain is very difficult to treat,” said lead researcher Donald Abrams, MD, a cancer and integrative medicine specialist at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, University of California San Francisco.
“Many patients with chronic pain become resistant to conventional medical treatments or suffer adverse effects from widely used prescription medications with high addictive potential, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents or opiates. For these reasons, patients with chronic pain frequently seek to integrate complementary therapies, often without the knowledge of their primary care provider.”
Integrative medicine places an emphasis on personalized patient care that addresses the full range of physical, emotional, mental, social, spiritual, and environmental influences on health. Practitioners at each of the BraveNet clinics devised individualized treatment plans that may include acupuncture, mindfulness meditation, yoga, massage therapy, physical therapy, nutritional education and psychological therapy.
At the start of the study, over half (52%) of the participants reported symptoms of depression. After 24 weeks of integrative treatment, only one in three (35%) had depressive symptoms. Patients also reported less stress and fatigue, while their work productivity and sense of control increased. Blood tests showed a significant decline in C-reactive protein, a marker for stress.
“Particularly notable is the decrease in severity of participants’ depression symptoms, given what is known about the challenges of treating chronic pain and depression,” Abrams said.
“Our study demonstrates that an integrative approach to treating chronic pain had a significant impact on patients’ pain as well as on associated symptoms and quality of life. This success was in the context of long-standing chronic pain, with an average duration in our sample of greater than eight years. Whereas conventional medical interventions, such as pharmaceuticals or surgery, generally focus on one outcome, integrative interventions have the potential to affect multiple aspects of health and well-being.”