A qualitative study of traditional healing practices among American Indians with chronic pain

Crystal Greensky, Mollie A. Stapleton, Kevin Walsh, Leslie Gibbs, Jacque Abrahamson, Dawn M. Finnie, Julie C. Hathaway, Kristin S. Vickers-Douglas, Joan B. Cronin, Cynthia O. Townsend, W. Michael Hooten

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Objective: Although chronic pain is prevalent among American Indian (AI) populations, the use of traditional healing practices has not been widely investigated. The aim of this qualitative study was to solicit information from adult AIs with chronic pain regarding use of traditional health practices (THPs) for chronic pain and pain reduction. Design: Prospective qualitative design. Setting: The Min No Aya Win Human Services Center, Fond du Lac Band Reservation in Cloquet, MN, and the Center for American Indian Resources, Duluth, MN. Patients: The cohort included 21 (10 women and 11 men) AI patients with chronic pain. Intervention: A semi-structured interview guide was developed, and audiotaped interviews were conducted with all patients. Outcome Measure: Audiotaped interviews were transcribed, and thematic analysis strategies were used to identify core concepts and categories for coding interview data. A qualitative software analysis program was used to facilitate data coding. Results: A range of THP were described including smudging (burning sage), sweat lodge (ceremonial sauna), sema (ceremonial tobacco), feasting (strengthening process), pipes (ceremonial herb and tobacco), storytelling (nonhierarchical environment for verbal communication), and contact with a traditional healer (elder spiritual leader). The majority of individuals from the Reservation described prior exposure to THP; however, the majority of urban individuals reported limited exposure. Although the majority of individuals endorsed inclusion of THP in ambulatory-based pain treatment programs, recommendations for inclusion of specific practices were not systematically identified. Conclusions: The findings of this qualitative study suggest AIs from this tribal community utilize THP, but which specific THPs should be included in an ambulatory-based pain treatment program will require further research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1795-1802
Number of pages8
JournalPain Medicine (United States)
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2014


  • American Indian
  • Chronic pain
  • Traditional health practices

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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