Client Outreach: Nonpharmacological Approaches to Pain

Health care providers are taking a serious look at the benefits of nonpharmacological integrative therapies like massage for pain.

August 1, 2019

There is real and valid concern about the opioid epidemic and the toll it’s taking both financially and in the cost of human lives lost. However, the fact that people need help managing pain, which is sometimes chronic and debilitating, doesn’t change with this awareness.

What is changing is how health care providers are approaching pain management, with many looking seriously at the benefits of nonpharmacological integrative therapies like massage. As research begins to uncover the role massage therapy can play in pain management, patients and providers alike are paying more attention.

The Study

To better understand how integrative medicine services provided to inpatients could help reduce pain post-treatment, this study analyzed documented integrative medicine services requested, indications for the requests, and pre- and post-treatment pain scores. The study population was inpatients from Oct. 1, 2017, to Dec. 31, 2017, at Mayo Clinic’s Methodist and St. Mary’s Hospitals in Rochester, Minnesota. A paired t-test was used to determine significance.

During the study period, 1,220 integrative services were provided, the top two being massage (87 percent) and acupuncture (9 percent).

The Results

Both massage therapy and acupuncture were highly significant at reducing pain scores post- treatment to inpatients. These results suggest integrative therapies can help alleviate pain and other symptoms of the inpatient population, making these approaches potential complements to opioids prescribed for pain or, in cases where appropriate, replacements.

Additionally, more than one-third of the patients fell asleep during their therapy service time, suggesting that integrative therapies like massage promote a state of relaxation.


1. Clark SD, Bauer BA, Vitek S, Cutshall SM. “Effect of integrative medicine services on pain for hospitalized patients at an academic health center.” Explore (NY). 2019 Jan–Feb;15(1):61–64.