Complementary and Alternative Therapies

Integrative Pain Management is based on the belief that blending traditional treatments with a range of complementary and alternative therapies—from acupuncture to yoga—is the ideal way to personalize the optimal pain management plan for each patient. With the U.S. government's designation of the years 2010 to 2020 as the "Decade of Pain Control and Research" plus recent funding by the National Institutes of Health, such Eastern Medicine practices are becoming increasingly mainstream.

Under the directorship of Houman Danesh, MD, Mount Sinai's Integrative Medicine practice is based on a foundation of physical and rehabilitation medicine, which examines kinetic changes as well as muscle tightness and imbalances to not only treat the pain but address its underlying cause. Our resulting approach to pain management could incorporate complementary techniques as well as dietary changes and traditional treatments to treat a variety of conditions, from chronic cancer pain to migraine headaches.

Mount Sinai's Pain Management and Integrative Medicine practice is pleased to provide a spectrum of alternative and complementary therapies, such as the following.


Cupping is a form of Eastern Medicine used to improve the circulation of blood and the movement of energy (called chi) throughout the body, thereby restoring balance. This technique involves placing multiple cups over problem areas of the body (which may coincide with acupuncture points), then suctioning air out of the cups, pulling the skin and superficial tissue under it. The therapy (which may leave temporary ring-like bruising) typically takes about 15 minutes. While there is some immediate benefit, the full effects are usually seen in three - five sessions.

Gua Sha (Scraping)

Gua sha is used to free the body's chi in order to restore balance and hopefully lessen pain. The technique involves lubricating the skin, then using a smooth edge (traditionally a ceramic Chinese soup spoon) to apply repeated pressure in a scraping motion along the body, following pathways of acupuncture meridians. The therapy (which may cause red skin blemishes that take two - four days to fade) typically lasts about 15 minutes. While there is some immediate benefit, the full effects are usually seen in three - five sessions.

Medical Acupuncture

Acupuncture is an ancient method of treating medical problems by restoring balance. Originating in China more than 4,000 years ago, it is now used worldwide to manage a variety of ailments—from headaches to low back pain. "Medical acupuncture" is acupuncture practiced by our licensed, western-trained physicians. Based on the belief that pain states arise when the body's chi is out of sync, acupuncture involves inserting extremely thin, flexible needles of varying sizes into certain points of the body to restore the balance of chi and relieve discomfort. Most people find the treatment painless; others report a deep "grabbing" sensation after the needle is inserted. The therapy is performed in our office and typically lasts approximately 15 - 30 minutes. While some patients may benefit from treatment immediately, full therapeutic effects are usually felt after five - six treatment sessions.

Nutrition Integration

Nutrition can be used to treat pain by decreasing inflammation. Instead of focusing on the use of over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, dietary changes can be made to naturally decrease inflammation, thereby reducing discomfort. Through our Integrative Medicine practice, nutrition consults are available to help create a custom diet, personalized to the needs of each patient.

Yoga Review

Weak muscles—which can result from a lack of activity—can lead to pain. Yoga is an excellent practice for strengthening those muscles. There are many types of yoga (such as Hatha and Vinyasa), and our Integrative Medicine physicians can guide each patient to the yoga program best suited to them based on the source of their pain. Our patients have access to private yoga instructors who work closely with our department.