As you get older, you may notice the aches and pain – a sore knee, a swollen hip – becoming too common. More than 50 million adults in the United States live with chronic pain, according to the National Institutes of Health. Unfortunately, pain becomes more common as we get older: more than a quarter of people aged 45 to 84 say they currently experience it, according to the Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention. In search of relief, many seniors have tried alternative therapy. About two-thirds of attendees at a new Michigan university National Healthy Aging Survey, which was backed by AARP, report that they used an integrative medicine strategy such as acupuncture, chiropractic, massage, meditation, or yoga. Over 90% said they found these types of treatments helpful. The poll report is based on the results of an online and telephone survey of 2,277 adults aged 50-80 conducted in January and February 2022.
“Anecdotally, my patients tell me they benefit,” says Rachael Maciasz, MD, a general internal medicine physician at Michigan Medicine who worked on the report. “It gives them another tool in their toolbox to deal with issues like chronic pain.” This is particularly important as around a third of adults in their 60s and 60s take at least five different prescription medications and research shows that painkillers are the most commonly prescribed. “These have side effects, especially in older people,” adds Maciasz. “If we can empower patients to use non-pharmacological approaches to their health when appropriate, it’s often safer and we can also reduce their out-of-pocket expenses.”
But many seniors are paying for their own alternative therapies, the poll found. Only 15% of respondents said insurance covered some or all of the costs. So it’s important to research any treatment you’re considering and talk to your doctor beforehand to make sure it’s right for you, Maciasz points out. And according to the new survey, it’s not a common conversation; less than 20 percent of respondents said they had discussed an integrative health strategy with their primary care provider.
Experts say more quality research needs to be done on alternative, complementary and integrative therapies. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health funds such scientific research and chronic pain is one of the areas of study. Just keep in mind that it does not replace traditional medicine and you should always speak to your doctor before trying any complementary therapy. Here’s a look at five integrative health treatments commonly used by survey participants: what they are, what the research shows, and whether some — or all — of the cost can be covered by insurance.
1. Acupuncture for pain
What it is: a technique in which a trained practitioner stimulates specific points on your body by inserting needles through your skin. Traditional Chinese medicine believes needles open blocked energy channels so they can flow properly, which encourages healing, says Gary Soffer, MD, director of the Integrative Medicine Program at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven. , Connecticut. “From a scientific point of view, the understanding is less, but we believe that the opiates in your body are released when the needles are placed, which helps reduce pain,” he explains. Sixteen percent of survey respondents said they had tried it, according to the AARP survey.
Studies show: According to the National Institutes of Health, it is effective in treating many different forms of chronic pain, including pain related to the back, neck, and osteoarthritis such as knee pain. A 2019 review published in the journal Acupuncture in medicinefor example, analyzed 14 trials involving more than 2,100 patients with acute or chronic low back pain and found that those who used acupuncture had significant reductions in discomfort immediately after treatment compared to those who did not. had not or who used sham acupuncture (where needles that look like real acupuncture needles were used but not inserted into the skin.) “Acupuncture can be difficult to study because there is evidence that sham acupuncture can also relieve pain,” says Soffer.
Is it covered by insurance? Medicare covers up to 12 acupuncture treatments by a licensed acupuncturist over a 90-day period for chronic low back pain alone (defined as pain that lasts 12 weeks or more), and eight additional sessions if you show improvement. You cannot have more than 20 acupuncture treatments in a 12 month period. If you have private insurance, contact the company. Even if it’s not covered, you can use your health savings account or flexible spending account to pay for treatment if it’s recommended by a medical professional for a medical condition.