One-quarter of Americans are in pain daily, according to the journal The Lancet. That’s a lot of hurt, but today there are more practitioners than ever to help you find relief. While there’s no one magic bullet that erases pain across the spectrum, the rise of alternative and holistic medicine has made drug-free therapies more available and reliable. Some therapies on this list are so tried and true that they are routinely covered by insurance; others are less established and more expensive, though many practitioners provide service on a sliding fee scale according to a patient’s resources. What works for someone else might not work for you, but each of these 10 types of specialists is worth seeking out if you are one of the millions of Americans for whom pain is a fact of life.
1. Massage Therapists
Massage therapists use touch to ease tension and relieve the aches and pains that come from stress, injury, and physical exertion as well as chronic conditions including fibromyalgia. You want to find a practitioner who is licensed in your state and has been certified by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Body Work. There are many styles of body work—from widely offered massage varieties, like Swedish and Shiatsu, to more specialized practices, like Reiki—and you may need to experiment with the different modalities until you find the treatment that works for you.
How to find one: Get a referral from the American Massage Therapy Association. While not all states require a license to practice massage, municipalities and counties often set regulations. The AMTA recommends asking massage therapists if they are licensed or otherwise meet requirements to practice in your area.
Acupuncturists use superthin needles to stimulate energetic pathways that heal and balance the body’s systems according to traditional Chinese medicine. Acupuncture is used to treat a wide range of conditions, from insomnia to migraine headaches, and the body of scientific research on its effectiveness has grown dramatically in the past 10 years. Many people report a reduction in pain after a series of treatments, and acupuncture is gaining traction in the medical community, particularly among those who practice holistic medicine.
How to find one: Check out the American Association of Acupuncturists & Oriental Medicine.
3. Physical Therapists
These pain experts typically step in to help you heal from an injury after your MD's work is done, but they also commonly work with those who experience chronic pain. They put patients on a path to well-being by prescribing specific exercises to stretch and strengthen the body—for example, get a jogger with runner’s knee lacing up her sneakers in time for a 5-K. Often, coached sessions come first and are followed by a program to do on your own at home. Foam rollers, fitness balls, and resistance bands are some of the tools you might see in a physical therapist’s office.
How to find one: Find a qualified practitioner through the American Physical Therapy Association.
Your pharmacist isn't just there to hand out prescriptions. These highly trained professionals can dispense expert advice too. Talk to your pharmacist about your pain, and he or she may be able to recommend an over-the-counter option that works well. And if you are picking up a prescription, your pharmacist can alert you to any hazardous interactions.
Nutritionists can help you lose weight, and many people underestimate the degree to which excess pounds can put painful stress on the joints and spine. Seek out a registered dietitian—they are some of the savviest people around when it comes to food. For example, an RD can help you get to the bottom of any food sensitivities you may have that can cause mysterious headaches or stomachaches. They can also set you up on an anti-inflammatory diet that can help ease pain as well as aid in the prevention of diseases like diabetes.
How to find one: Turn to the American Dietetic Association.
6. Yoga Instructors
Yoga classes have brought relief to many back pain and tension headache sufferers. This mind-body practice combines awareness and breathing with a series of poses that loosen up muscles and joints. It also increases range of motion and aligns the spine, which can ease aches for those who have chronic back complaints. Styles of yoga range from seated to athletic, so there’s a class for everyone regardless of fitness level. How to find one: Yoga is taught everywhere from yoga studios to health clubs to retreat centers. Once you’re in class, tell the instructor about any injuries or chronic pain issues, and don’t do anything that hurts or strains your body.
7. Meditation Experts
Meditation experts can help you learn to quiet your mind and sink into a state of stress-free relaxation, but you don’t need to see one in person to learn the skills and get relief. Books, guided meditation recordings, and even online tutorials can help you become a Zen master. Meditation is a particularly great option because the benefits are many and the risks are none. And unlike some other alternative treatments, scientific studies have shown that meditation can diminish pain. How to find one: Many yoga studios offer guided meditation sessions, where an instructor will help you get settled in a comfortable position before leading the group in breathing exercises. On your own, try these simple meditation techniques.
Hypnotists are not like what you've seen in the movies, where they sway a watch before your eyes and make you cluck like a chicken. A trained hypnotherapist can, however, help patients deal with issues both physical and psychological. The therapist simply talks to you in a soothing tone as he or she guides you into a highly relaxed state.
How to find one: Get a referral from the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis.
Mental health experts are important for anyone suffering from any kind of chronic pain—whether the source is cancer, migraine headaches, lower back issues, or anything in between—because those who live with pain on an ongoing basis are more likely to get depressed. Once that happens, the depression itself can bring on additional discomfort, kicking off a vicious cycle. Psychologists can help stop that downward spiral in its tracks by providing the emotional support pain sufferers need.
How to find one: Check out the American Psychological Association’s tips for choosing the right therapist.
Chiropractors have a bad reputation in some circles, probably because of the myth that their treatments can be painful or dangerous, but these pros have had extensive health care training and can offer safe and effective relief. A visit to one can be helpful for many people, especially those suffering with back, neck, and head pain. Chiropractors treat patients primarily through a series of precise spinal manipulations and adjustments that bring relief by restoring the body’s natural alignment. How to find one: Get a referral from the American Chiropractic Association.
Published November 2011, Prevention