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NCCIH Research Blog

New Priorities for Nonpharmacologic Management of Pain

June 7, 2016

Partap S. Khalsa, D.C., Ph.D.

Partap S. Khalsa, D.C., Ph.D.


Division of Extramural Activities

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

Chronic pain is a common and difficult problem. The 2012 National Health Interview Survey showed that nearly 40 million U.S. adults (17.6 percent) have severe pain and about 25.3 million (11.2 percent) have pain every day. The annual economic cost of chronic pain in the United States, including both treatment and lost productivity, has been estimated at nearly $635 billion. To manage pain, many patients are prescribed drugs such as opioids, but the drugs aren’t consistently effective, can have disabling side effects, may worsen pain conditions in some people, and can be misused.

There’s evidence that some complementary health approaches may help people manage pain, and they might also enable people to reduce their use of pain medications. Finding the best ways to incorporate effective complementary approaches into pain management strategies is one of our Center’s top research priorities. We also seek to understand how complementary approaches work to relieve pain and to predict which people will most likely respond to the approaches. This could help health care providers plan more effective pain treatment programs.

In our Center’s new 2016 Strategic Plan: Exploring the Science of Complementary and Integrative Health, we focus on nonpharmacologic management of pain as one of our top scientific priorities. Some of the key research questions that we hope to answer in the next few years include:

  • Can nonpharmacologic methods be combined with drug treatment in ways that might safely reduce the use of opioid painkillers?
  • Could pain management be improved by using multiple complementary approaches together (say, probiotics along with meditation)?
  • What objective measures can be developed and validated so that we can better measure the effect of complementary approaches on pain?
  • What role does the microbiome play? How does signaling between the brain, gut, and microbiome affect chronic pain?

Want to learn more? Please visit our new strategic plan to find out about more about our priorities for pain research. If you have any comments, you can share them with us below. We welcome your input.


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