Alternative and Complementary Therapies

Alternative medicine for pain management has been a big topic of discussion these days, and with good reason. In an effort to use more natural treatments with fewer side effects, many chronic pain patients are investigating their options. We discuss some great starting points as you begin to explore alternative medicine for pain management.

Do note that while many of these treatments are generally recognized as safe, it’s always important to talk to your doctor before trying any new treatments.

An introduction to alternative medicine for pain management

The use of alternative medicine (also called complementary or integrative medicine) has increased over the past decade. Unlike western medical treatments that focus mostly on treating one specific physical issue, alternative medicine often takes a more holistic approach.

For example, your doctor might prescribe supplements or alternative therapies that focus on boosting overall health, or they might use alternative medicine to really home in on a specific issue. Regardless of the approach, western medicine is actively making space for alternative medicine and treatment options.

Even just taking supplements for overall wellness seems to yield positive results. In a large cross-sectional study, long-term users of dietary supplements had better blood pressure, less diabetes, and more positive blood test results in general. In addition, these same study participants had lower levels of chronic disease-related biomarkers. That is, they were less likely to have chronic disease in general.

Alternative medicine, for pain management and overall health, can be a useful part of your treatment plan.

Common alternative medicine approaches for pain

Common alternative medicine approaches for pain can be divided into two basic categories: nutritional, supplemental therapies and physical therapies.

These are nutritional approaches to chronic pain that use research-supported alternative medicine methods. Again, always talk to your doctor before trying any of these as your current medications could interact harmfully with new supplements. Your doctor can also advise you on safe versions of these supplements from reputable providers.

Coenzyme Q10

Coenzyme Q10 is a natural product found in certain cells of your body that produce energy. Co-Q10 functions as an antioxidant that helps to increase your physical energy. Co-Q10 may also lower blood pressure and boost weight loss.

Flax seed oil

The benefits of flax seed oil may be due to the presence of lignans within the flaxseed. Lignans are rich in antioxidants as well as the properties of estrogen.

Flaxseed oil is rich in linolenic acid, which is frequently deficient in our diets. These essential fatty acids are important in our body because they keep cell walls and membranes strong. They also help in energy production and the regulation and consumption of cholesterol and triglycerides.

Flax seed oil may reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, which might reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack. Flax seed oil may also improve the symptoms of inflammatory conditions (eczema and psoriasis) and may reduce the risk of certain cancers.


Garlic is a common supplement that seems to have anti-microbial and anti-tumor effects. It also helps to regulate blood sugar, which may help control diabetes.


CBD is a newer and slightly more controversial alternative approach to chronic pain management, but research is growing.

Legal in all 50 U.S. states, research is indicating CBD’s effectiveness in the reduction of stress and anxiety and the increase in better quality sleep. Patients with PTSD and chronic pain are finding relief, as are those who have joint pain.


Ginseng is a popular supplement used in the United States to decrease stress and increase cognitive function. It’s also used for improved athletic performance, immune system enhancement, and better control of Type 2 diabetes.

Ginkgo biloba

Ginkgo biloba is made from the ginkgo tree and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries.

It may increase mental sharpness and memory, thin blood, assist in Alzheimer’s disease, and have some antidepressant effect. In general, gingko biloba has been proven effective in treating age-related disease.


This is a well-known and researched supplement. Glucosamine is a natural substance found in the cartilage that makes up your joints.

Many people taking this supplement see improvement of osteoarthritis and joint protection. Some do experience mild side effects such as heartburn, but this supplement is generally safe, with minimal side effects.

Kava Kava

Derived from the root of a pepper plant, kava kava is commonly used as a sleep aid, anti-anxiety, antidepressant, and a mood stabilizer.


Lycopene is similar to beta carotene (found in vegetables). It works as an antioxidant in the body and may be protective against cardiovascular disease and some cancers. You could certainly increase your intake by simply eating more foods rich in lycopene, but a supplement helps streamline that process.


Melatonin is a natural substance produced in your body to help maintain a normal sleep cycle.

When used as a supplement, it can be used as a sleep aid and is commonly recommended for the recovery of jet lag.

Milk thistle

Milk thistle is taken by many people for protection and restoration of damaged liver tissue and to decrease bile production.

It is also antioxidant, helps block toxins, and has potential anti-inflammatory action.

St. John’s Wort

St. John’s Wort is a yellow flower that has been used for centuries for a multitude of symptoms, most commonly depression.

St. John’s Wort may decrease symptoms of depression and mood disorders, increase energy levels, aid in wound healing, boost the immune system, and encourage weight loss. In some cases, this may simply be due to the placebo effective of taking the supplement.

Complementary therapies for pain

Following that, the most utilized complementary therapies for pain management include:

  • General nutrition and exercise counseling: Promotes healthier habits to maximize other treatments, reduce fatigue, and find a healthy weight
  • Sleep support: Helps you develop healthier sleep habits to support rest and recovery
  • Acupuncture: Uses hair-thin needles at specific points to release blocked energy in the body
  • Acupressure: Follows acupuncture points but applies external pressure only
  • Chiropractic care: Focuses on spinal alignment and correction through manipulation
  • Stress reduction: Includes meditative exercises, like meditation, yoga, and tai chi
  • Biofeedback: Teaches patients how to recognize physical distress signals and relax through them
  • Massage: Breaks up adhesions and tight muscles that might be causing pain

Learn more about alternative medicine for chronic pain

The type of approach you choose depends on your symptoms and the recommendations of your doctor.

People living with chronic pain know how hard it is to treat. The best kind of treatment approach takes a holistic, mind-body approach to improving your symptoms.


  1. Everitt AV, Hilmer SN, Brand-Miller JC, Jamieson HA, Truswell AS, Sharma AP, Mason RS, Morris BJ, Le Couteur DG. Dietary approaches that delay age-related diseases. Clin Interv Aging. 2006;1(1):11-31.
  2. Xie JT, Wang CZ, Ni M, Wu JA, Mehendale SR, Aung HH, Foo A, Yuan CS.J American ginseng berry juice intake reduces blood glucose and body weight in ob/ob mice. Food Sci. 2007 Oct;72(8):S590-4
  3. Kennedy DO, Scholey AB, Wesnes KA. The dose-dependent cognitive effects of acute administration of Ginkgo biloba to healthy young volunteers. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2000 Sep;151(4):416
  4. Kalkunte SS, Singh AP, Chaves FC, Gianfagna TJ, Pundir VS, Jaiswal AK, Vorsa N, Sharma S. Antidepressant and antistress activity of GC-MS characterized lipophilic extracts of Ginkgo biloba leaves. Phytother Res. 2007 Jul 18;21(11):1061-1065
  5. Cauffield JS, Forbes HJ.Lippincotts Prim Care Pract. Dietary supplements used in the treatment of depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders. 1999 May-Jun;3(3):290-304
  6. Zink T, Chaffin Herbal ‘health’ products: what family physicians need to know. J.Am Fam Physician. 1998 Oct 1;58(5):1133-40.
  7. Mehta K, Gala J, Bhasale S, Naik S, Modak M, Thakur H, Deo N, Miller Comparison of glucosamine sulfate and a polyherbal supplement for the relief of osteoarthritis of the knee: a randomized controlled trial MJ.BMC Complement Altern Med. 2007 Oct 31;7(1):34
  8. Ligeret H, Brault A, Vallerand D, Haddad Y, Haddad PS. J Antioxidant and mitochondrial protective effects of silibinin in cold preservation- warm reperfusion liver injury. Ethnopharmacol. 2007 Oct 24
  9. Block G, Jensen CD, Norkus EP, Dalvi TB, Wong LG, McManus JF, Hudes ML Usage patterns, health, and nutritional status of long-term multiple dietary supplement users: a cross-sectional study. Nutr J. 2007 Oct 24;6(1):30