National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH)
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Chronic Pain—A Personal Burden and Public Health Problem

July 17, 2012

For chronic pain patients, pain is a devastating personal burden.  For our health care system, chronic pain is an overwhelming public health problem. According to the Institute of Medicine, 100 million Americans are coping with chronic pain and it’s costing our health care system more than $600 million each year.  Despite many advances in drug treatment for acute pain, treatment of chronic pain is still highly unsatisfactory. For many people who suffer from chronic pain, conventional medical approaches—like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or opioids—do not completely solve the problem and often have adverse effects. Chronic pain conditions—including back, neck, joint pain and headaches—are the most common reason people look to complementary therapies.  

Evidence suggests that some complementary health practices may be helpful in managing pain and that, in some cases, they engage certain processes in the body that are involved in pain and emotion. Research to better understand how such complementary health practices can produce beneficial effects is very important and, I believe, will ultimately advance the science and practice of pain management.

That’s why I am thrilled to announce the appointment of Catherine Bushnell, Ph.D. as the scientific director of NCCAM’s new research program that will focus on the role of the brain in perceiving, modifying, and managing pain. Some of the research Dr. Bushnell will be doing at NCCAM includes investigating the role of the brain in pain processing and control, and how factors such as emotion, attention, environment, and genetics affect pain perception. This new program will also explore how chronic pain produces changes in the brain that can modify how the brain reacts to pain medications like opioids.

In keeping with the topic of pain, we have some new materials on our Web site about chronic pain, including the latest issue of the NCCAM Clinical Digest and Time to Talk Tips. I encourage you check out this information, and I hope you find it helpful. Take care, and be well!

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This page last modified April 01, 2015