Does alternative medicine work? When it comes to pain relief, the truth may surprise and delight you. We’ve put together a list of treatments and therapies that scientific studies have found effective.

These types of alternative medicine have delivered such great results that many doctors use them with, or even instead of drug therapies. Plus, more and more insurance companies have begun to cover them.

Most importantly, these types of complementary and alternative medicine specifically treat different kinds of pain. For each, we’ll tell you what it is, how it works, and, finally, how to find reputable practitioners of alternative medicine to provide you with these services.

Ready to Learn More About Alternative Medicine?

You may have heard that yoga, acupuncture, and biofeedback are for hippies, but guess what? These therapies are not only scientifically proven to help relieve pain, they’re also good for you in general.


Image CC by 4.0 by Madhav Pengoria, via Wikimedia Commons

Yoga Therapy

What it’s called

Yoga, Yoga Therapy, Therapeutic Yoga

What it is

Yoga is a set of physical exercises that stretch and relax the body. There are many different kinds of yoga. Some use fast movements, while others are slow and gentle. Others focus on strength and power. Still, others emphasize breath and meditation. Most help with muscle flexibility. 

The theory behind it

Yoga movements are said to direct the flow of different kinds of energy through the body. By directing different kinds of spiritual energy to different parts of the body, many yoga practitioners believe a person can affect their physical condition.

The science behind it

Yoga stretches help relax and strengthen muscles. In addition, it increases flexibility and range of motion. Therefore it can help with different kinds of joint and muscle pain. Because one goal of Yoga is deep, full-body relaxation, it helps with stress-related conditions, including migraines. It can also help with anxiety and depression for the same reason. In addition, because Yoga strengthens muscles, it can also help with conditions caused by muscle weakness.

What it can help with

Yoga can help a variety of pain types, anxiety, depression, and stress-related conditions. It can also help female incontinence, muscle weakness, arthritis, fibromyalgia, migraines, and insomnia. Many find that yoga exercises can reduce or eliminate the need for pain medication.

Find an Alternative Medicine Doctor or Practitioner

Some insurance plans will cover certain alternative therapies, so you should check with your insurance company. Next, research yoga therapy for your specific condition. There are over one hundred kinds of yoga, and it’s important to choose one with movements that address your problem. Finally, find a qualified yoga teacher or yoga therapist. The International Association of Yoga Therapists can help you find a certified practitioner near you. In addition, you can find low-cost yoga classes through the YMCA, local parks and recreation departments, and other organizations near you.

Where you can read more

Acupuncture: Charlotte Stewart treating a patient.

Image CC 2.0 by Wonderlane, via Flickr.


What it’s called


What it is

Acupuncture treatment involves inserting very thin metal needles into the skin. The United States has strict training and licensing requirements for acupuncturists. Also, the FDA regulates acupuncture equipment.

The theory behind it

Acupuncture seeks to release the flow of the body’s vital energy or “chi” by stimulating points along 14 energy pathways. To do this, an acupuncturist inserts needles into the skin.

The science behind it

Scientists say acupuncture needles cause the body to release endorphins. Endorphins are natural painkillers. Also, some scientists believe that acupuncture boosts blood flow and changes brain activity.

What it can help with

Acupuncture is an effective alternative medicine for pain, including arthritis, back pain, shoulder pain, menstrual cramps, migraines, and headaches. It can also help with stress-related conditions like TMJ and overactive bladder syndrome, as well as with problems like IBS, which are made worse by stress. Furthermore, it can help with nausea and vomiting. The World Health Organization has an exhaustive list of conditions it believes acupuncture can effectively help.

Find an Alternative Medicine Doctor or Practitioner

First, figure out if acupuncture can help your condition. Next, see if your health plan covers acupuncture. Third, search for a licensed acupuncturist in your area. The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) has a directory of certified practitioners around the country. Finally, contact and interview a small number of acupuncturists. Make sure you pick the right one for you.

Where you can read more

An Overview of Medical Acupuncture, by Joseph M. Helms, MD

The American Academy of Medical Acupuncturists

Scientific American: Five Scientists Weigh in on Acupuncture

The Atlantic: Demystifying the Science Behind Acupuncture


A Handheld biofeedback device.

Image CC 2.0 by Bruce, via Wikimedia Commons.

What it’s called

Biofeedback, biofeedback therapy

What it is

Biofeedback is a mind/body technique that helps a person to gain control over involuntary functions. During a biofeedback session, patients wear monitors that allow them to see their body’s stress responses. These responses include raised blood pressure, increased heart rate, sweating, and more. The biofeedback therapist guides the patient through relaxation exercises to help the patient control these stress responses. As a result, the patient will eventually be able to use the exercises on their own when they need them.

The theory behind it

There is no esoteric philosophy behind biofeedback, but many still consider it to be a form of alternative medicine. Biofeedback is simply the idea that by harnessing the power of your mind and being aware of what’s going on inside your body, you can gain more control over your health.

The science behind it

First, patients learn how to observe their body’s stress responses. Then, they learn how to control those responses. As a result, patients learn how to ease the symptoms of stress-related conditions.

What it can help with

Biofeedback is an effective form of alternative medicine for stress-related conditions, anxiety, migraines, chronic pain, incontinence, and high blood pressure.

Find an Alternative Medicine Doctor or Practitioner

Many biofeedback therapists are already licensed healthcare professionals. At the same time, because there are no licensure requirements for biofeedback therapists, you must check the qualifications of any biofeedback therapist you’re considering.

You might see various biofeedback and other alternative medicine devices for sale on the Internet. These are not a replacement for a qualified biofeedback therapist. In fact, only one biofeedback device, Resperate, has been approved by the FDA. In conclusion, the best plan is to work with a qualified biofeedback therapist until you have mastered the exercises you need to help your condition.

The Biofeedback Certification International Alliance has information about different kinds of biofeedback, as well as therapist certification. In addition, they have a therapist directory to help you find a certified biofeedback therapist in your area.

Where you can read more

National Institutes of Health: Biofeedback in Medicine: Who, When, Why, and How?

Mayo Clinic: Overview of Biofeedback Therapy

Web MD: What is Biofeedback?

A Traditional Chinese Medicine hand massage chart.

Image CC 4.0 by Wellcome Images, via Wikimedia Commons.

What about other types of alternative and complementary medicine?

These are a few of the “gray area” forms of alternative medicine. There are people who swear by them, and people who are skeptical. When considering these types of alternative therapies, do your own research, and make your own decisions.


Reiki is a kind of touch therapy. Practitioners believe they can transfer healing energy from their hands into their patients. The National Institutes of Health state that there isn’t enough research to prove that Reiki is effective. However, the NIH does not believe Reiki to be harmful.


Practitioners believe a disease can be cured by taking a substance that produces similar symptoms in healthy people. Furthermore, they believe that the smaller the dose, the greater the effect. The NIH finds these ideas to be contrary to the fundamental principles of chemistry and physics. The NIH also believes some homeopathic remedies can be harmful.


Naturopathic doctors use many different treatment approaches, including exercise, diet, herbs, and psychotherapy. Licensing and training of naturopaths vary, from fully qualified physicians to people who have completed a short course or seminar. So be careful and do your research. Read more at the NIH website.

Ayurvedic Medicine

This is an ancient school of alternative medicine from India. Practice includes the use of herbs, diet, exercise, and more. According to the NIH, studies show Ayurvedic medicine to be effective for some conditions. However, there is not enough research to prove its effectiveness for other conditions. In addition, Ayurvedic practitioners are not licensed or regulated in the United States. So be careful.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

TCM is another ancient school of alternative medicine, with millions of adherents around the world. TCM also uses different approaches, including herbs, exercise, and diet. Science supports some components of TCM, like acupuncture, but other parts need more research. In the United States, TCM is heavily regulated. Doctors of Traditional Chinese Medicine must undergo extensive training and be board certified at the national and state levels. In addition, licensing requirements are very strict. You can read more about TCM in the NIH fact sheet.

In Conclusion

Can alternative medicine help? Of course, it can! Can it help you? That depends. There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about drug-free alternative therapies for pain. But it’s important to do your research so that you can choose a therapy that is appropriate, effective, and safe.

Featured image CC0 by Pixabay, via Pixabay.

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