Acupuncture and chiropractic replacing opioids for pain control

Written by Douglas A. Schwan, DC, Dip ac. Posted in Health and Beauty

Chronic pain is one of the most frequent complaints of patients seen in physicians’ offices today. As the average age of the baby boomer population passes 60 years old, chronic pain becomes a much more prevalent problem as years start taking their toll.

Recently, awareness has surfaced of the pervasive issues with opioid dependency in America. Long-term opioid use is fraught with problems. These strong pain medications were never meant to be used for long-term pain control.

Many addicts report getting hooked after first taking prescription opioids for pain relief.

When opioids are taken over time, the effective dose will rise, and people who are addicted are forced to keep taking higher and higher doses to get the same level of pain relief. Eventually, the effective dose can come close to lethal levels.

Diverting of opioids into the black market and their subsequent abuse is also a huge issue. In just 2017, 47,600 people died directly from opioid overdose.

Non-opioid pain relievers, such as aspirin, acetaminophen, and naproxen, which come at prescription levels and over-the-counter strengths, have their own issues. Long-term use has been linked to heart, liver, kidney, and gastric problems.

So what alternatives are there for those suffering from chronic pain?

A report by the Joint Commission on Healthcare in August of 2018 issued the recommendation that acupuncture and chiropractic care should be first-line treatments in chronic back pain, shoulder pain, and migraine-type headaches. This was seconded by the American College of Physicians.

There has been an explosion of awareness and insurance coverage for these alternative treatments as the horror of the opioid crisis finally rose to the level where it absolutely had to be dealt with.

Medicaid policies in many states, including Ohio, now cover chiropractic and acupuncture treatments 100%. Veterans can now seek and get referrals for 100% coverage for acupuncture and chiropractic treatments for a wide variety of chronic pain conditions. More traditional insurance carriers are looking deeply into adding alternative care options in their coverage. The list of insurance carriers offering them grows daily.

The National Institute of Health has noted efficacy in the treatment of a wide variety of chronic pain disorders: fibromyalgia, post-operative pain, osteoarthritis, myofascial pain, and the facial pain of trigeminal neuralgia and of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction. The NIH panel pointed out that acupuncture and chiropractic is associated with a lower risk of adverse events than those associated with drugs, surgery, or other medical intervention.

Recently, The American College of Physicians guidelines for treatment of lower-back pain have chiropractic care and acupuncture along with several other alternative therapies as the preferred first-level treatment methods. They suggest avoiding most types of drug-based pain relievers as able to provide little or no relief.

A study by The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that patients who received alternative chiropractic and acupuncture care for their lower-back pain were much less likely to obtain a drug prescription than those who didn’t receive such treatment.

Drugs and surgery will always have a place in the modern approach to management of chronic pain lasting over three months. What we are seeing today is a societal evolution where, instead of being front-line treatments, strong drugs and surgery are being replaced increasingly by alternative treatments such as chiropractic and acupuncture for initial management of chronic pain.

In order to practice chiropractic or acupuncture, one must first be a licensed professional. To practice chiropractic, one must be a Doctor of Chiropractic and be licensed in the state. Acupuncturists may be one of several different types of professionals (including medical and chiropractic physicians) who have received advanced training and are licensed to practice acupuncture after passing a state board.

Most professionals will offer a free consultation to discuss your health concerns and advise you if chiropractic and/or acupuncture is a good fit for you. The best thing is that neither chiropractic nor acupuncture will cause irreversible harm, unlike the irreversible complications that can occur with opioids or surgery as a first-line treatment.

Dr. Schwan is a Doctor of Chiropractic and a Diplomat of the International Academy of Medical Acupuncture. He is president of Schwan Chiropractic & Acupuncture Clinic in Toledo, Ohio. He is an author, lecturer, and one-time stand-up comedian and has maintained an active practice in Toledo, OH since 1982. He is available for lay lectures and may be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..