Complementary and Alternative Medicine for Lupus Pain Management

Close up acupuncturist applying acupuncture needles to womans neck
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If you're looking for new approaches to add to your lupus pain management toolkit, you might want to consider a few treatments outside of conventional, or mainstream, medicine.

Some of the methods might stray just off the path of conventional medicine, and into complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). CAM is defined as a group of diverse medical and healthcare systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional, Western medicine. You might also see CAM referred to as "complementary and integrative health," which is a newer term for the same idea.

CAM for Lupus Pain Management

It is important to note at the outset that the Lupus Foundation of America will not recommend medications, products, or methods that are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the American College of Rheumatology. Here's why: The group states that “remedies that have not undergone the scrutiny of scientific investigation, lack the crucial information and data necessary to enable physicians to make sound recommendations regarding substances.”

Here's an introduction to four CAM methods that are sometimes used for lupus pain management. These approaches are novel to some and completely familiar to others. The methods themselves have been in use by various cultures for thousands of years.

Meditation for Pain, Depression, and Stress

What It Is: Meditation is a conscious mental process using certain techniques, such as focusing your attention or maintaining a specific posture, to relax your body and mind by suspending your stream of consciousness thoughts. For health purposes, patients often use it to increase physical relaxation, mental calmness, and psychological balance; to cope with one or more diseases and conditions and for overall wellness.

Safety and Efficacy: For people with lupus, meditation may help to ease pain, depression, and stress. The biggest benefit may be overall wellness. Scientists aren't sure yet how meditation affects the body specifically or what specific influence it has on overall health. It's generally a safe technique, although some studies have suggested that intensive meditation may actually worsen symptoms.

As always, it is best to consult your healthcare provider before starting any health treatment.

Medical Acupuncture for Pain Relief

What It Is: Acupuncture is the stimulation of specific points on your body by a variety of techniques, including the insertion of thin metal needles through your skin. Among the oldest healing practices in the world, acupuncture is based on the concept that disease results from disruption in the flow of “qi,” a life energy, and imbalance in the forces of “yin and yang.”

Safety and Efficacy: The technique has been around for thousands of years, and scientists today are studying the efficacy of acupuncture for a wide range of conditions. There are minimal reports of complications and most center around poorly sterilized needles.

If you decide to explore acupuncture after speaking with your healthcare provider, make sure to visit a licensed practitioner. The FDA requires these providers to use needles that are sterile, nontoxic and labeled for single use by qualified practitioners only. Many doctors are also certified to perform acupuncture along with standard medical treatments.

Massage Therapy to Reduce Swelling and Alleviate Pain

What It Is: Many people with chronic pain issues like lupus explore massage therapy. Massage therapy, as a practice, dates back thousands of years. There are many types of massage, including pressing, rubbing, and moving muscles and other soft tissues of the body, primarily by using the hands and fingers. The treatments often last for 30 minutes to an hour and can be performed in an office or home setting.

Safety and Efficacy: The goal of massage therapy is to increase blood flow and oxygen to the area being massaged. You may find that this reduces swelling, alleviates pain, promotes relaxation and reduces stress.

Again, if you’re considering massage therapy, first talk to your healthcare provider and then, if you proceed, find a licensed massage therapist.

Hypnotherapy for Lupus Pain Management

What It Is: Hypnotherapy, or hypnosis, is another lupus pain management option. Hypnosis is a trance-like state of mind in which your attention is more focused, you’re more relaxed and calm and often more open to suggestion. Patients who undergo this type of therapy are brought under hypnosis by licensed, trained hypnotherapists. The ultimate goal is to provide a way for the patient to gain more control over their physical well-being.

Safety and Efficacy: Anecdotally, hypnosis appears to help with a variety of health conditions, including pain management, easing the symptoms of illnesses like asthma and kicking bad habits. There are a variety of techniques, and the one that makes the patient the most comfortable is almost always the best fit and most successful.

It's unclear how hypnosis works, and it is always best to consult your healthcare provider before undergoing hypnotherapy to make sure it complements your standard medical treatment.

Choosing the Best Lupus Pain Management Plan for You

The best treatment for systemic lupus erythematosus depends on the patient and their healthcare practitioner. You might explore different ways to manage your lupus pain throughout your life. As you consider different approaches, including complementary and integrative health, remember that people react differently to treatment plans, and while a method works for one person, it may not work for at all for you.

None of these therapies should replace your regular medical care or delay you seeing a doctor about a medical problem. These therapies may help relieve your symptoms, but they don't affect survival rates or remissions.

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Article Sources

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  • An Introduction to Acupuncture. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. National Institutes of Health. December 2007.
  • Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Lupus Foundation of America. March 2008.
  • Massage Therapy as CAM. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. National Institutes of Health. September 2006.
  • Meditation for Health Purposes. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. National Institutes of Health. June 2007.