Reducing Pain Through Integrative Medicine

Pain is one of the top three reasons people seek out medical care,” says Dr. Kevin Yao, chief of neurosurgery at Englewood Health. In fact, joint and back pain are two of the three most common complaints from patients.

Integrative medicine therapies, including acupuncture, nutritional counseling, massage therapy, Reiki, yoga, meditation, and aromatherapy, can help treat pain. These evidence-based therapies can be used separately or in combination with conventional medical treatments to reduce pain and improve quality of life.


Nonsurgical Options for Pain Relief

Dr. Yao, who is also a member of the advisory council at the Graf Center for Integrative Medicine at Englewood Health, says patients come to him with a variety of neck and back complaints, often seeking surgery. As a neurosurgeon, Dr. Yao always counsels patients that surgery is the last resort. Most patients can achieve pain relief without surgery.


Pain often results from conditions like obesity or imbalanced ergonomics, which can cause asymmetry in the body’s structure and excessive stressloading over time. This can lead to arthritis and pain. Without treatment or a change in lifestyle, permanent damage can result. Alternative or complementary therapies can reverse these processes and effectively reduce pain. “Ideally, the source of neck and back problems should be addressed as soon as symptoms arise, says Dr. Yao. “This often requires lifestyle changes, and, if instituted early enough, can typically avert the need for surgery.”


Acupuncture is one complementary therapy offered at the Graf Center for Integrative Medicine. This gentle, noninvasive holistic treatment uses fine needles along specific points on the body that stimulate the central nervous system.


Acupuncture has proven effective in relieving neck and back pain, as well as pain from headaches, sports injuries, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, and cancer,” says Dr. Tracy Scheller, medical director of integrative medicine at Englewood Health. It can also promote weight loss by treating body imbalances and regulating hormones, appetite, and digestion. In addition, acupuncture can counter feelings of stress and anxiety by increasing endorphins, helping the body regulate heart rate and blood pressure. And it can help manage side effects of various conditions and treatments, including nausea, fatigue, mood swings, and infertility.


Nutritional Counseling

A patient’s weight frequently contributes to pain. “Every extra pound we have on our frame transmits force and stress to every part of our spine,” as well as to other parts of the body, says Dr. Yao. He encourages patients with a high body mass index (BMI) to consider weight loss, and recommends the Graf Center’s nutritional counseling program, which has helped many patients lose weight and maintain a healthier diet.


Sometimes a loss of just 10 to 15 pounds can significantly reduce pain and help patients avoid surgery. And if surgery is necessary, the center’s nutritionists and dietitians can ensure that patients are eating healthy foods and getting all the nutrients they need to stay strong before the procedure—and to recover more easily afterward.

Stress Relief

Stress is a common source of pain. When we worry, we clench muscles in the jaw, shoulders, neck, and back unconsciously, or we hold ourselves in awkward positions. Stress results in “unbalanced and unnatural posturesand movements that our bodies take on unconsciously,” says Dr. Yao.


Various therapies help reduce stress, relax tight muscles, and increase body awareness so patients realize when they are adopting unhealthy postures or clenching muscles, and can alter their behavior.


Therapeutic massage and Reiki (a type of massage that generates heat to help relax muscles and restore the body) can reduce anxiety and relieve pain. In my opinion, massage is a key component to improving how the body feels,” says Dr. Yao. “Massage, Reiki, and acupuncture can all help mitigate pain and improve energy flow throughout the body.


Acupuncture, yoga, and meditation also help relieve pain. Yoga increases flexibility and strength and improves body awareness, while meditation can reduce worry and negative thinking, lessening anxiety that results in unhealthy movements and postures.


Preparing for Surgery, Facilitating Recovery

When surgery is required, patients can use integrative medicine techniques to prepare their bodies and minds to promote a successful recovery.


Many patients feel anxious before surgery, which can impede healing. “Stress and anxiety have a direct negative impact on how the body functions,” says Dr. Yao. Meditation, yoga, and massage can all help to reduce those effects in preparation for surgery.


Guided meditation classes can be accessed in person or online. The center also offers a 15-minute recording in both English and Spanish, accessible on its website, that can help patients relax before their procedure.


After surgery, meditation and massage can help reduce pain and facilitate recovery. “Meditation directly helps one reduce perceived stress and brings the body and mind back into a resting state, which is the optimal condition for healing,” says Dr. Yao.


Thanks to generous donors, we have many meditation opportunities available both in person and virtually,” says Dr. Scheller. “The Rodgers Family Meditation Program offers meditation for stress, anxiety, and depression; prenatal moms; children and families; and a weekly meditation program in Spanish. There’s something for everyone.” Many sessions are available on the Graf Center’s Facebook page.



Overall Wellbeing

To promote overall well-being, Dr. Scheller offers one-on-one consultations, during which she reviews health and medical history—including pain and stress levels, eating and digestion habits, sleep patterns, social support, current medications, and overall lifestyle—to develop a collaborative holistic treatment plan.


Dr. Yao notes that one of the Graf Center’s advantages is that it is fully part of Englewood Health, located on the main hospital campus. “It’s part of the medical center, so each patient has access to traditional medical therapy, as well as alternative treatments,” he says. “That’s the definition of integrated medicine.”


As integrative medicine becomes more widely embraced by the medical community, insurance carriers are also expanding coverage. The Graf Center for Integrative Medicine accepts most insurances for acupuncture, consultations with a dietitian, and integrative medicine consults.


For more information, visit