Physical therapy, yoga and acupuncture are just some of the effective alternative treatments for pain that can be used to supplement more traditional treatments.
Alternative Medicine for Pain
MATT LAUER, co-anchor:
Dr. John Dombrowski is the director of the Center For Pain Medicine in Washington, DC. Hey, doctor, how you doing?
Dr. JOHN DOMBROWSKI (Director, Center For Pain Medicine): Great to be here.
LAUER: It used to be when you said alternative therapies, people started hearing, OK, people are playing harps and, you know, they're--they're rubbing herbs all over me. The--the attitude has changed quite a bit, hasn't it?
Dr. DOMBROWSKI: Certainly. It certainly has. And the good news is, for--for me as an anesthesiologist, we've--we've been in the operating room doing pain work all the time, and now we're doing, over the past 50 to 60 years, bringing this out of the operating room, into patients' offices.
LAUER: So these therapies, these alternative therapies, are offered in conjunction, most times, with traditional therapies.
Dr. DOMBROWSKI: Oh, most certainly. Again, it’s integrated medicine.
LAUER: All right. Let's talk about some of the options out there.
Dr. DOMBROWSKI: All right.
LAUER: And you tell me why they're supposed to work, OK? Physical therapy, what does that work for?
Dr. DOMBROWSKI: Sure. Physical therapy works wonderful for people with fibromyalgia, back pain, musculoskeletal pain. Again, it's the whole idea if the muscles are in spasm, touch, massage, stretching it out. As you can understand, can certainly help the situation improve.
LAUER: I've heard people say when you get a massage, you get oxygen into the muscles. Is that--is that accurate?
Dr. DOMBROWSKI: Well, there's something to be said for that, because sometimes when muscles are in tremendous contraction or in spasm, they have the inability to get oxygen to those muscle cells, the muscle cells become more ac--acidotic, build up carbon dioxide, and create more pain. So that does--you're exactly right, Matt.
LAUER: People--and I am, I have to say, I've gone several times, acupuncture.
Dr. DOMBROWSKI: Right.
LAUER: I've tried it for golf elbow, it's worked, I've tried it for back pain, it's worked. What's the theory behind it?
Dr. DOMBROWSKI: Well, there's really--the theory is that these points are incredibly special. The NIH has done many studies with this. And over the past 20 years they've shown that these points are--have greater electrical resistance. There is some sort of hole that we can touch and create this movement of this energy to get people better, that you've experienced yourself.
LAUER: And we showed it works great for back pain, also people with migraine headaches...
Dr. DOMBROWSKI: Migraine headaches.
LAUER: ...get great results with acupuncture.
Dr. DOMBROWSKI: That's right.
LAUER: What about yoga?
Dr. DOMBROWSKI: Yoga--again, the whole idea of yoga is sort of like physical therapy, relaxation techniques, but with movement. And, again, my mother used to do this, she would take yoga classes, again, to help her with her chronic--she had peripheral neuropathy, been wonderful for that. Again, the whole is to get you limbered up, to do deep breathing, just like you do in yoga.
LAUER: And you want to see just how far you can take this. A lot of people say meditation...
Dr. DOMBROWSKI: Mm-hmm.
LAUER: ...gives them wonderful results if they have cancer pain.
Dr. DOMBROWSKI: Exactly. I've done that with patients in my own office. With people who have had pain and they're on a host of medications and they start become too somnolent, too sleepy, we can do some meditation with them, do them bio feedback and relaxation techniques, so they can take care of their own pain in their own mind.
LAUER: Bottom line: if you're someone experiencing pain and you go to your traditional doctor, and that doctor talks about alternative therapies as all this much hocus pocus, what should you do?
Dr. DOMBROWSKI: I think you should go on the Internet or--or--or seek something out. This has been a great venue here on the TODAY show, millions of people have seen this and they think there's something to this. And because there is science behind it, we know that there's something to this.
LAUER: And, you know what, if it makes you feel better and takes the pain away, it doesn't matter what other people think.
Dr. DOMBROWSKI: Exactly right.
LAUER: Dr. John Dombrowski, thanks very much.
Dr. DOMBROWSKI: Thank you for the time.
What is pain? It might seem like an easy question. The answer, however, depends on who you ask.