When I operate on a patient with heart disease, the ravaging effects of the illness are immediately apparent. I can see the source of the problem—a damaged blood vessel, a clogged artery—and know exactly what I need to do to try to fix it. Unfortunately, that's not the case with chronic pain. Its source can be difficult to pinpoint, it's hard to measure, and it's not something a doctor can stitch up with sutures. And for reasons science can't fully explain, of the more than 100 million Americans who experience chronic pain (defined as any discomfort that lasts three to six months or longer), the majority are women—they're more than twice as likely as men to have rheumatoid arthritis, for instance, and seven times as likely to have fibromyalgia.
For generations, the default method for treating pain has remained largely the same: prescription and over-the-counter painkillers. But sustained use of painkillers can lead to its own problems, including stomach ulcers, liver failure, and addiction (about 1.9 million Americans with legitimate prescriptions are hooked on their pain meds). The good news: As a doctor who has long praised alternative therapies, I'm happy to report that pain management is one area in which drug-free treatments are showing promising results. In fact, a recent survey found that 75 percent of integrative-medicine centers across the country were successful at relieving chronic pain with therapies that don't come in the form of a pill.
When you're hurting, these strategies can help alleviate the discomfort.