There are many different treatment options available to lessen the effects of chronic pain, improve functioning, and enhance quality of life. According to current estimates, more than 116 million Americans are living with chronic pain. Physicians who manage patients with chronic pain often find it challenging to treat because what works for one person doesn’t always work for another (see also, Striving Toward Quality Pain Management). Effective pain management plans must be individualized, and integrative approaches—which include a combination of treatment options—are often needed.

CAM Use More Common to Manage Pain

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is increasingly being used by patients to assist in their fight against chronic pain. CAM has been defined as a group of diverse practices and products that are not generally considered part of conventional medicine as practiced by physicians and allied health professionals. CAM practices are often grouped into two broad categories: 1) natural products and 2) mind and body medicine.

“More than 83 million people in the United States use some form of CAM therapy to manage and treat their health problems, including pain.”

It’s estimated that more than 83 million people in the United States use some form of CAM therapy to manage and treat their health problems, including pain. More than $33.9 billion a year is spent on out-of-pocket visits to CAM practitioners and for the purchase of CAM products, classes, and materials. Some of the most common pain-related reasons people seek CAM therapies are for back, joint, and neck pain, arthritis, severe headaches or migraines, and fibromyalgia.

An Important Initiative on CAM Education

To further educate healthcare providers, the American Pain Foundation has launched a new online educational module that focuses on the safe use of CAM as part of its PainSAFE (Pain Safety & Access For Everyone) initiative. Available for free online at, the module was developed with materials and assistance from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. It provides trustworthy information on the effectiveness of CAM therapies for managing pain, potential side effects and risks associated with each therapy, and how these therapies can be used safely. In addition to information on CAM, PainSAFE has also rolled out educational modules on opioid medications, implantable devices, and OTC drugs for pain.

Empowering Providers & Patients

Patients living with pain should be informed about all of their treatment options as well as the risks associated with each option. A benefit of the PainSAFE website on CAM is that it can assist physicians in educating and empowering consumers with the tools and resources they need to become active participants in how they’re managed. Providers can refer to the website to get the latest scientific information on treatment modalities (see also, Pain Management: A Look at Provider Perspectives).

The PainSAFE initiative provides easy-to-use links on specific CAM therapies, including acupuncture, dietary supplements, massage therapy, relaxation techniques, spinal manipulation, tai chi, and yoga. Each section provides basic information about pain and the CAM therapy, current research, side effects and risks to consider, and resources for additional information. Physicians and other healthcare providers can use the website during patient encounters to illustrate the pros and cons of CAM therapies and foster discussions on safe and coordinated use. Many providers feel that they lack complete knowledge about the best strategies to treat chronic pain, but resources like PainSAFE can be of great assistance and serve as a valuable asset.