Comprehensive Pain Care Overview

Pain is the most common and compelling reason for seeking medical attention.1,2 The prevalence of chronic pain problems in the general adult U.S. population is high; estimates have ranged from 11% to 47% in recent large surveys depending on the specific sample, with a documented association between pain and impairment in physical and psychological functioning and lost work productivity.3 Recent estimates for the US cost of pain care range from US$560 to US$635 billion annually.4 This exceeds the annual expenditures for the nation’s priority health conditions (heart disease, cancer and diabetes) combined.5 Low back and neck pain, osteoarthritis (OA) and headache are the most common pain conditions in the United States and are leading global causes of disability in 2015 in most countries.6

This prevalence of pain is set in the context of the ongoing prescription opioid epidemic that continues to claim 130 lives a day in the U.S, where nearly 80% of heroin users reported misusing prescription opioids prior to heroin.7 The probability of long-term opioid use increases after as little as five days of prescribed opioids as the initial treatment of pain.8 While not addictive, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) commonly used for pain carry risks of adverse events including gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms like nausea, abdominal pain, stroke, heart attack, renal failure and GI complications including acute and chronic bleeding as well as delaying healing of injury.9,10 There are 16,500 deaths annually from NSAID-associated GI complications among rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and OA patients alone;11,12 and as of the year 2000, 25% of all reported adverse drug reactions were attributed to prescription NSAID use.13

In response to the risks of pharmacological treatments for both acute and chronic pain, and more specifically to the ongoing opioid crisis, nonpharmacologic pain approaches are recommended as a first line of care by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)14 and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA),15 the Army Surgeon General Pain Task Force,16 the American College of Physicians (ACP),17 and as part of comprehensive pain care3 by the U.S Agency for Health Care Research and Quality (AHRQ),18 National Institutes of Health (NIH),19  the National Academy of  Medicine (NAM, formerly the Institute of Medicine IOM)10 and the Joint Commission (TJC).20,21

Evidence-based Nonpharmacologic Strategies for Comprehensive Pain Care: The Consortium Pain Task Force White Paper

On January 1, 2018, the Joint Commission’s revised pain standard included nonpharmacologic options for pain as a scorable element of performance. In support of the Joint Commission’s decision the Consortium’s Pain Task Force has published a White Paper to serve as a source for the evidence-base of nonpharmacologic pain strategies as part of comprehensive pain care’

Tick H, Nielsen A, Pelletier KR, Bonakdar R, Simmons S, Glick R, Ratner E, Lemmon RL, Wayne PM, Zador V. Evidence-based Nonpharmacologic Strategies for Comprehensive Pain Care: The Consortium Pain Task Force White Paper. Explore (NY). 2018;14(3):177-211.The White Paper is open access and may be downloaded by clicking on the button below.


Click on the image to view the document.


Acupuncture Cancer Pain
Acupuncture Chronic Pain
Acupuncture Post Op Pain Opioid Sparing
Acupuncture Therapy Acute Pain
Chiropractic & Osteopathic Move Therapies
Clinical Guidelines Low Back Pain
Massage Therapy for Acute Surgical Pain
Massage Therapy for Chronic Pain
Massage Therapy in the Treatment & Management of Cancer Pain
Movement Therapies
Tai Chi for Chronic Pain
Yoga Therapy For Chronic Pain


Noninvasive, Nonpharmacological Treatment for Chronic Pain:

A Systematic Review

Comparative Effectiveness Review U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)

The Consortium and other pain experts have provided comments as part of the AHRQ call for predissemination peer review of this document. The document is posted here as a resource to provide a comparative effectiveness review of the evidence on noninvasive, nonpharmacological treatments for common chronic pain conditions, focusing on whether improvements are seen for at least one month post-intervention. While this results in not including some studies, by doing so it focuses on more sustainable benefits of nonpharmacological approaches.

Key Messages of the Review:

  • Interventions that improved function and/or pain for ≥1 month:
    • Low back pain: Exercise, psychological therapy, spinal manipulation, low-level laser therapy, massage, mindfulness-based stress reduction, yoga, acupuncture, multidisciplinary rehabilitation (MDR).
    • Neck pain: Exercise, low-level laser, mind-body practices, massage, acupuncture.
      Knee osteoarthritis: Exercise, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
    • Hip osteoarthritis: Exercise, manual therapies.
      Fibromyalgia: Exercise, CBT, myofascial release massage, mindfulness practices, tai chi, qigong, acupuncture, MDR.
    • Tension headache: Spinal manipulation.
  • Some interventions did not improve function or pain.
  • Serious harms were not observed with the interventions.


American College of Physicians (ACP) Clinical Practice Guidelines
Cognitive and Mind-Body Therapies for Chronic Low Back and Neck Pain: Effectiveness and Value
Evidence-Based Evaluation of Complementary Health Approaches for Pain Management in the United States (2016)
ACIMH Commentary to CMS; RE: NCA Tracking Sheet for Acupuncture for Chronic Low Back Pain
ACIMH Commentary to HHS on Inter-agency Task Force Pain Manageemnt Best Practices Report
Integrative Pain Management
Viewpoint - Primary Care of Patients with Chronic Pain
Decision Memo for Acupuncture for Chronic Low Back Pain
Are Nonpharmacologic Interventions for Chronic Low Back Pain More Cost Effective Than Usual Care? Proof of Concept Results From a Markov Model
Health Care Costs and Opioid Use Associated With High-impact Chronic Spinal Pain in the US
Patient Willingness to Pay for Reductions in Chronic Low Back Pain and Chronic Neck Pain
The Use of Complementary and Integrative Health Approaches for Chronic Musculoskeletal Pain in Younger US Veterans: An Economic Evaluation
HHS 2019 Pain Management Best Practices
Core Competencies in Integrative Pain Care for Entry-Level Primary Care Physicians


On September 18, 2017, the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) wrote to the America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) call for coverage to be revised to support non-opioid approaches to pain management. In the letter below, signed by 37 Attorneys General, NAAG requested that AHIP "take proactive steps to encourage your members to review their payment and coverage policies and revise them, as necessary and appropriate, to encourage healthcare providers to prioritize non-opioid pain management options over opioid prescriptions for the treatment of chronic, non-cancer pain."

Click here to view the Attorneys-General_Letter-to-Insurers_2017