Fighting chronic pain without prescription drugs

Program offered at Cleveland Clinic combines alternative approaches

By Tera Roberson - Special Projects Producer

HOUSTON - Pain affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined. It's the most common cause of long-term disability and it often leads to anti-depression and painkiller addiction. But now there's a new way to heal the pain without the medications.

Horseshoer Chris Wightman has lived a life of adventure and pain. He's had knee surgery, compressed discs, sciatica, arthritis, torn rotator cuffs, pinched nerves and tennis elbow. To make matters worse, Wightman has a blood vessel and liver condition that makes using pain meds dangerous.

"My lifestyle is a wanna-be cowboy! I didn’t have much at my disposal. I was depressed and I was self-medicating with alcohol," Wightman said.

But today, Wightman's pain is under control thanks to a unique program offered at the Cleveland Clinic.

The program combines alternative approaches including hypnotherapy, yoga, acupuncture, massage, chiropractic care, Chinese herbal medicine and emotional health training, all in one place.

"We use everything that we have here to give them as many options as we can," said Josie Znidarsic, Cleveland Clinic staff physician.

An analysis of 29 studies involving nearly 18,000 people found acupuncture led to a 50-percent reduction in pain. A study in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed patients with neck pain who used a chiropractor or exercised were more than twice as likely to be pain-free after 12 weeks than those who took meds.

"We've seen people definitely reduce pain medicine. We've seen people get rid of their walkers," Znidarsic said.

It's been more than a year since Wightman has used alcohol or drugs for pain relief.

"I'm high on life. It absolutely changed my life," he said.

Doctors believe the Cleveland Clinic's drug-free pain-management program is the only one of its kind in the country. They currently have a waiting list of nearly 100 patients who want to participate, and they are putting together a research report to share their methods with other hospitals.

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