Complementary Health Approaches

Research on Pain Management

About 100 million U.S. adults suffer from chronic pain conditions. (Chronic pain is pain that lasts for a long time, usually at least several months.) The annual economic cost of chronic pain in the United States, including both treatment and lost productivity, has been estimated at approximately $600 billion.

Chronic pain is more common among women than men, and it becomes more common with increasing age. Experts expect the number of people with pain to increase, in part because the U.S. population is aging, and some painful conditions, such as arthritis, become more common as people get older.

The 2007 National Health Interview Survey showed that use of complementary health approaches was common among adults with painful conditions. For example, 47 percent of survey respondents who had migraine or back pain with sciatica used complementary approaches, as did 41 percent of those who had headaches regularly.

More adults used complementary health approaches for painful conditions than for any other type of health problem. Back pain was the number one reason why adults used complementary health approaches, and neck pain, joint pain/stiffness, arthritis, other musculoskeletal pain, and severe headache or migraine all ranked among the top 10.

What the Research Shows

Research has shown that some complementary health approaches may help people with some types of pain. Here are some examples of complementary approaches that may be helpful for certain conditions.

Pain Research at NIH

Pain is an important focus of NIH research.

NIH has established a Pain Consortium to enhance research on pain and promote collaboration among researchers from the many NIH agencies that have programs and activities related to pain.

NCCAM, which is NIH’s lead agency for complementary health approaches, is part of the consortium and is working to improve the evidence on the effectiveness and safety of complementary approaches for pain. In addition, NCCAM has a research program that focuses on the role of the brain in perceiving, modifying, and managing pain.

NIH-sponsored Research on Complementary Health Approaches for Pain

Examples of NIH-sponsored research on complementary health approaches for pain include the following.

For More Information

You can find more information about complementary health approaches for pain on the NCCAM Web site. Another NIH agency, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, also has information on the treatment of pain, including the use of complementary health approaches.