Cathy Iannetta, 44, can hardly remember a day in her life without a headache. “They started in high school, usually around the time of my period,” says the Cleveland mother of two. In college, manageable pain morphed into debilitating migraines that worsened after she had her first child 12 years ago.
“By the end of each day, I was nauseous and dizzy and my head was throbbing,” she says. Over the years, doctors prescribed a slew of medications. Neurological and blood workups ruled out serious disease. She knew her triggers—strong smells, certain foods, lack of sleep—and tried to avoid them. Yet nothing helped. Her breaking point came in September 2015, when she had to go to the emergency room for an injection of a painkiller during a prolonged migraine attack.
Soon after, a friend who worked at the Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute suggested acupuncture. “I was skeptical, but I was desperate,” says Cathy. After a thorough evaluation, she began weekly sessions. “I felt better after the first appointment— I was shocked,” she says. Even more amazing: The relief lasted. Instead of weekly meds, she took them only three times in the course of her initial six-week treatment. These days, she gets acupuncture every three weeks and rarely suffers a migraine.
People who live with chronic pain— an estimated 100 million Americans, two-thirds of them women, per the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies—often shuttle from one doctor to another, scour the Internet for breakthroughs and test the wacky ideas someone’s best friend’s sister-in-law swore worked for her. At some point in their odyssey, they’ll likely hear about integrative medicine, a fusion of conventional Western medicine with practices rooted in ancient Chinese and other Eastern approaches.
A growing body of research shows that certain alternative treatments can lead to a significant reduction in pain. Many prestigious hospitals and medical centers now prescribe them in tandem with, or even instead of, traditional ones. “If medication doesn’t work or causes intolerable side effects, we’ll try acupuncture or meditation,” says David Katz, MD, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine. “I don’t care if a treatment comes from a test tube or a tree leaf, as long as it’s safe.” Per the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), some 33 million Americans are turning to alterna-therapies—which are increasingly covered by health insurance. Here, learn about common ones.