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Alternative Medicine Techniques
What are alternative medical techniques?
Alternative medical techniques most commonly are outside of conventional medical care (1). In other words, they promote wholistic healing for pain management. Wholistic healing involves treating the whole person, body, emotions, mind, relationships, and spirit (1). Alternative medical techniques include:
* Craniosacral therapy
* Mind/body techniques
* Guided imagery
* Thermal treatments
* Chiropractic approach
* And others
More doctors are recommending alternative medical techniques to patients for chronic pain. Recent surveys in the United States demonstrated that alternative medical techniques were important for personal healthcare and maintaining well being (2). Also, there is evidence that one or more alternative medical techniques can help patients with: cancer, arthritis, fibromyalgia, back pain, neck pain, Tourette syndrome, multiple sclerosis, and many more.
What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is “a system of complementary medicine in which fine needles are inserted in the skin at specific points along supposed lines of energy” (3). Acupuncture is a part of Chinese traditional medicine that has been around for at least 2,500 years (4). Today, millions of Americans are utilizing this approach for pain management, or as a combination with traditional medical treatments, when conventional medicine is not working for them.
In acupuncture, you should expect:
* One to several needles inserted at varying depths (4)
* Needles may be left in for 15 to 30 minutes (4)
* 2-4 treatments for one condition (2)
There are many conditions that can receive relieve from acupuncture. The top ten conditions treated are: back pain, joint pain or stiffness, neck pain, severe headache, recurrent pain, allergies, arthritis/gout/lupus/fibromyalgia, depression/anxiety, joint/bone injury, and sleepiness (2).
How effective is Acupuncture?
There are a multitude of studies that have confirmed the effectiveness of acupuncture on pain. One study examined the immediate effect of acupuncture stimulation on the most painful point in patients with low-back pain. It found that:
* low-back pain was given immediate relief (5).
* the amount of pain was reduced (5).
Another study examined the treatment of Tourette Syndrome using the acupuncture method. The research indicated:
* 97% of the acupuncture group was effectively treated (6).
* 82% were “cured” (6).
Massage & Chronic Pain
Massage can also be used to relieve pain for a variety of conditions and usage is increasing. Medical massage therapy is being offered in hospitals 30% more since 2004 because of its benefits for not only pain management, but also for depression and anxiety (7). The top three reasons hospitals offer massage are: stress relief (71%), pain management (67%), and relief for cancer patients (52%) (7).
There are several types of massages including:
* Deep tissue massage: focuses on the deeper muscles and soft tissue to relieve chronic pain and tension (8).
* Swedish massage: emphasizes that all strokes go towards the heart. It is comprised of five strokes that stimulate the blood in the soft tissues (8).
* Hot stone massage: involves the placement of heated stones to the body during massage (8).
* Lymphatic massage: aims to increase lymphatic circulation through the body's filtration system, so the body is detoxified and supporting our immune system (8).
* Thai massage: involves a choreographed set of techniques performed on a mat has been around for thousands of years in Thailand (8).
* Marma therapy massage: is a form of Ayurvedic massage developed in ancient India that aims to stimulate 107 “marmas,” which are vital, junction points between mind and matter (8).
How effective is massage?
There is an ample amount of research that indicates massage can be very beneficial in relieving pain. One study performed by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine says that:
* Massage can reduce pain up to four years in arthritis patients (9).
* It can reduce the number of physician visits (9).
Furthermore, massage therapy could:
* Reduce pain, anxiety, and sleep disturbances caused by low-back pain (10).
* Increase range of motion in patients (10).
* Relieve nausea and pain in cancer patients (11).
* Reduce pain by 50% in cancer patients (12).
* Reduce the amount of pain medication needed for pain control (12).
What is reflexology?
Reflexology involves applying manual pressure on specific points of the feet (13). This technique has been used as a healing technique in China for thousands of years (8). The organs that can be affected and return to optimal functioning by reflexology include (8):
* Pituitary glands
How effective is reflexology?
There is research that suggests the effectiveness of reflexology. One study examined the effects on multiple sclerosis patients and found that reflexology:
* Significantly improved paresthesia, urinary symptoms and spasticity (13).
* Improvement on muscle strength (13).
* Paresthesia improvement lasted for at least three months after the sessions (13).
Other studies show that reflexology:
* Reduces anxiety in cancer patients (14).
* Relieves nausea and vomiting from a variety of medical conditions (14).
* Decreases fatigue (14).
* Decreases diastolic blood pressure and triglyceride levels while improving life satisfaction (14).
* Decreases depression and perceived stress (14).
* Increases quality of sleep and serotonin levels (14).
What is craniosacral therapy?
John Upledger introduced this technique in the 1970s. This therapy involves “gently guiding and releasing tensions through very mild pressure on the different cranial bones near the sutures of the skull, where one bone lies next to another (8).” However, this therapy can be used all over the body, as well. Ironically, this therapy is performed with little applied pressure, usually less than the weight of a nickel (8).
How effective is craniosacral therapy?
Craniosacral therapy (CST) can also provide relief for a variety of medical conditions and types of pain. They include:
* Headaches and migraines (15)
* TMJ dysfunction (15)
* Back and neck pain (15)
* Chronic fatigue (15)
* Stress (15)
* Central nervous system disorders (15)
* Orthopedic problems (15)
* Reflex sympathetic dystrophy (16)
Furthermore, CST in combination with massage and other manual therapies can be an effective treatment for chronic pain conditions (17). CST may enhance the body's ability to naturally correct imbalances and dysfunctions that contribute to painful conditions (17). John Upledger, the founder of CST, says that in thousands of cases, CST has proven to enhance general health, reduce accumulated stress, strengthen central nervous system function and improve resistance to disease (18).
In addition, one case study measured functional improvements after a series of CST treatments. It found that:
* Pain scores decreased 52% from pretreatment to discharge (19).
* Disability scores decreased 93% from pretreatment to discharge (19).
* The pain and disability scores did not change greatly 5 weeks after discharge, suggesting a lasting effect of CST (19).
What other alternative medical techniques are effective?
* A form of acupressure, called shiatsu, can relief pain from Parkinson's Disease, fibromyalgia, musculoskeletal aches, irritable bowel syndrome, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis (20).
* Chiropractic therapy can help treat musculoskeletal conditions, including problems in the joints, bones, muscles and connective tissues (21).
* Guided imagery can improve functional status and sense of self-efficacy for managing pain and other symptoms of Fibromyalgia (22).
* Guided imagery can boost the immune system, alter blood pressure and decrease pain (23).
One drawback to alternative medicine is that insurance companies may not cover some of these services. For example, one survey found that 60% of respondents reported that insurance companies did not reimburse their acupuncture services (2). So, discussing service coverage on alternative medical techniques with your insurance may be important. Many people see the benefits of some techniques to pay out-of-pocket.
An informed, educated patient can make the best decisions about which treatments to try and for how long. The training and experience of the provider is always important to verify and be comfortable with, as well. Being an empowered consumer is important when considering alternative or conventional medical techniques.
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