Ancient treatment outperforms “usual care” for pain

As the opioid drug epidemic rages on, one ancient, safe, and effective non-drug treatment is finally getting the attention it deserves. In fact, in a huge, new meta-analysis, this ancient treatment performed “significantly better” than the “usual care” doled out for pain management.

A mainstream expert (who presented these findings at the Academy of Integrative Pain Management’s annual meeting) really stuck his neck out when he predicted: “I think it’s fair to say that it’s here to stay. It’s going to be a permanent addition to our tool box.”

Really? It’s about time the mainstream comes around. It’s only been around for centuries…

In fact, use of this treatment was first documented over 2,000 year ago, when a scholar, Prime Ministor Qi Bo, advised the famous “Yellow Emperor,” Huang Di. While the dialogue is attributed to having occurred way back in 3rd century BC antiquity, the classic manuscript documenting the dialogue was recorded and compiled in 200 BC during the Classic Han Dynasty.  Today, it’s known as the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine.

But when it comes to modern medical practice, I suppose we should take what we can get…

Better late than never

Modern medical research began to demonstrate this ancient treatment’s clinical effectiveness for chronic pain conditions — such as headache, musculoskeletal conditions, and osteoarthritis (OA) — nearly 40 years ago.

And since then, there’s been a rapid increase in the number of quality research studies published on the treatment. These studies spell out the treatment’s clear benefits in a language the modern medical practice should be able to appreciate.

Unfortunately, a treatment’s long history of success typically isn’t enough to persuade practitioners to give up their favorite pills and potions. Rather, it takes an overwhelming problem, such as the opioid epidemic, to motivate changes in medical attitudes and procedures.

Apparently, the opioid epidemic has now reached such critical proportions, it has spurred some doctors to finally look at the actual evidence they demand. (But — as I said — the historic evidence has been hiding in plain sight for over 2,000 years. And growing in volume and scientific certitude over the last 40 years.)

Indeed, you can find more than 1,000 published research studies on this treatment in readily available medical literature. Plus, in the years between 1997 and 2010 alone, more than 600 clinical trials were published on this ancient approach.

For the new meta-analysis, researchers with University of San Diego selected 29 of the highest quality studies from the past 20 years. These studies included more than 18,000 patients.

Overall, the researchers found that this non-drug treatment worked “significantly better” than a placebo and “usual care” treatments across a wide range of conditions, including neck and back pain, osteoarthritis of the knee, headache, and migraines.

Imagine if we could start fresh and never turn another American into an addict simply recommending this safe, effective, natural treatment instead of opioid drugs for pain…

Furthermore, imagine if we could avoid all the useless and dangerous surgeries performed on backs and knees by trying this safe, non-drug treatment…

Our communities and workplaces would be revived. Families would be saved. Resources could be allocated elsewhere.

In my view, doctors and patients should always try this treatment in every case of pain, before drugs and certainly before surgery. And doctors should only recommend the dangerous, mainstream medical treatments as the last resort, not as the first.

How does it work?

Chronic pain disrupts functional connectivity in various brain centers. And the bombardment of the brain with continuous pain signals leads to “rewiring” and “short-circuiting” of the brain itself.

Research shows this ancient pain treatment helps to modulate and normalize functional connectivity in the brain. So, as I long suspected, this remedy really works as a “mind-body technique.”

Mind you, the new analysis I mentioned above was big enough to reveal that not everybody responds successfully to this technique. And, as I always report, people are individuals in both the illnesses to which they’re most susceptible and the treatments to which they best respond.

I remember one of my appearances on Good Morning America with Charlie Gibson and Joan Lunden, about 20 years ago, after my first medical textbook had come out. I was in the Green Room with Placido Domingo — and we were getting ready to appear live on air.

While waiting, we talked about my work on natural healing. And he shared his experiences with his Spanish grandmother and folk healing. I remarked to Placido, “When we go on the air, you explain about folk medicine…and I’ll sing.”

He threw back his head and laughed.

A few years later, I took my daughter to the Washington Opera after Placido Domingo had become director. My daughter recently reminded me that he hugged me and said he remembered that I had made him laugh. (I actually can sing opera, but it works best in the shower.)

All laughing and singing aside, Joan Lunden described on air how this ancient treatment had worked for friends of hers. Then, Joan suffered a shoulder injury while riding her horse. She expected this treatment to work for her as well, especially after her friends had told her it how they’d found success with it. Even her practitioner predicted it would work.

But it didn’t work for her, she said live, in front of millions of Americans.

I could only respond, off the cuff, that everyone is an individual and that we need more work to determine who will respond under what conditions. (For example, we had already figured out that people respond differently to hypnosis.)

You may have guessed the treatment I’m talking about here… and the treatment Joan tried is… acupuncture.

That experience with Joan led me on a quest to develop a simple questionnaire to help figure out and predict which natural treatments will work best for you based on your emotional type.

It turns out, acupuncture scores very well for most people. And Joan was one of those few-and-far-between cases where it didn’t work out.

If you’re a difficult case like Joan, and acupuncture just doesn’t work well for you, there are many other “mind-body” therapies people have found great success with.

At the same time, many western practitioners are unaware of the many alternative acupuncture protocols available. Which are incredibly useful, especially when patients may not respond well to a “standard” treatment method. (In fact, in China there is an entire book called the Classic of Difficult Issues from the Tang Dynasty, 600 to 900 AD.)  Watered-down western acupuncture typically doesn’t often explore these therapies.

However, I’ve done the extensive research into these options. To find out which therapy will work best for the type of healing you need, take my “emotional type” survey, or read my book with Mike Jawer, Your Emotional Type — both available at



“Acupuncture for Chronic Pain: Unprecedented Advances,” Medscape ( 10/30/2017