Alternative Therapies

Dimitris Papadopoulos MD Fellow Of Interventional Pain Practice (FIPP)

Updated 06 April, 2011


The term “Alternative Therapy” is generally used to describe every medical treatment or intervention which is not scientifically documented as safe and effective therapy for a specific disorder or disease.
There are various alternative therapies, such as: acupuncture, chiropractic, yoga, hypnoanaesthesia, aromatherapy, relaxation, music therapy, massage, herbal supplements etc.


Spirit – body therapies aim at training the spirit so as to have an effect on the functions and symptoms of the body.  Such therapies are: physio relaxation, hypnosis, biofeedback and directive expression.


The World Health Organisation (WHO) recognizes more than 30 diseases and disorders that can benefit from acupuncture. However, acupuncture is more frequently used for the treatment of chronic pain.
Chinese physicians of the 16th century believed that a disease comes as a result of the distortion of body energy balance. Stainless steel disposable needles are used to stimulate 14 meridians or energy channels of the body, correcting in this way the energy imbalance induced during some disorder.
Acupuncture is believed to reduce pain because the body releases endorphins (natural strong analgesics) into the blood. Acupuncture does not cause any side-effects and can be combined with the rest of pain treatments in many chronic painful conditions, such as headache, low back pain, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis etc.


Chiropractic is an alternative therapeutic technique used as therapy several painful conditions of the musculosceletal system. Its efficacy has not been proven with clinical studies. However, quite many patients trying this type of therapy, feel significant relief.
Massage is very often applied to patients suffering from chronic neck and low back pain. It induces relaxation of contracted muscles and improves their blood circulation. There are various kinds of massage.


Healing touch and Reiki contribute to activating the mechanism of natural healing and recovery of the body from disorders and diseases and thus eliminating pain. Although they are called energy therapeutic techniques, they do not require real physical contact but surely they entail close physical proximity between the therapist and the patient. These therapies are not scientifically documented.


Some people believe that reducing food intake and consuming natural vegetable foodstuff  rich in natural anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory substances, may help in pain relief.
It has been shown that weight loss, as a result of diet combined with increased physical activity,  helps to reduce pain in osteoarthritis.
There are no evidence-based studies demonstrating the efficacy of a specific diet in chronic pain relief.


There is strong evidence that glucosamine and chondrotoinin are effective in knee osteoarthritis. These natural ingredients have been shown to reduce pain, increase knee mobility and are well-tolerated and safe.
Other dietary supplements, such as fish meal, also seem to be beneficial. However, further research and evidence are required to establish their efficacy.


It is hard to draw conclusions on the efficacy of herbs. Should you decide to use herbs to treat your pain, it would be better to consult your physician first. Some herbs may interact with drugs you are already taking for the treatment of pain and other disorders.