The following is not a definitive guide to the alternative therapies available for pain relief. Instead, it lists those that have a reasonable, scientific body of evidence that suggests they have some success in reducing pain or getting rid of it altogether.
Because of its analgesic effects, acupuncture is probably the best known, and most popular, alternative therapy for pain relief.
Scandinavian doctors reported dramatic results in osteoarthritis cases that were so severe as to be scheduled for surgery. Despite such advanced cases, monthly acupuncture was found to relieve as much as 80 per cent of the pain.
Another study showed that acupuncture is at least as effective as diazepam for relieving pain.
Electroacupuncture via the Codetron machine has also been shown to be highly beneficial and just as effective as other forms of acupuncture, though less effective than Transcutaneous Electronic Nerve Stimulation (TENS).
Herbal medicine tends to treat specific causes of pain, such as arthritis, although willow bark (Salix) is a recognized general pain reliever. It was tested on 210 patients with chronic back pain, who were given either a placebo or 120 mg or 240 mg of oral willow bark. After four weeks, 39 per cent of those receiving the higher dose were still reporting no pain, compared with 21 per cent of those taking the lower dose and six per cent of those taking placebo. More of the placebo group also needed to supplement with a painkiller.
A century ago, electromagnetic fields were used extensively in medicine, but this died out when the drug-based approach to disease took over. In the last 20 years, however, their use has begun a tentative comeback. To date, their major medical application has been in orthopedic bone fractures. For unknown reasons, magnetic fields can speed up the natural bone-healing process.