It's only recently that doctors have begun to treat chronic pain as an illness in its own right — and about time, too. Around 50 million Americans live with some form of chronic pain, from migraine to back issues, fibromyalgia to osteoarthritis, lingering pain from old injuries to pelvic floor dysfunction. While medications like NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and opioids are useful for treating acute pain, they often fail to provide meaningful relief for pain that's become chronic, and in the case of opioids, can create more problems than they solve. Fortunately, there are multiple non-pharmacological treatments and approaches available today that can decrease chronic pain and help people learn to enjoy life again.
Other modalities that have been shown to be effective in reducing brain activity around some types of chronic pain are pain reprocessing therapy (PRT) and pain neuroscience education, which use education and psychological techniques to retrain the brain to better respond to bodily signals and encourage positive sensations and feelings instead. A study published in JAMA Psychiatry in December 2021 found PRT eliminated or nearly eliminated chronic low back pain in two-thirds of participants.
These centuries-old Chinese techniques combine different postures and gentle movements with mental focus, breathing, and relaxation. One review published in 2020 in Complementary Therapies in Medicine reviewed more than 800 (mostly small) studies and concluded that qigong often results in pain reduction as well as improved physical function and quality of life in people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or other conditions.