A growing number of medical practitioners now incorporate complementary therapies, such as massage, acupuncture, and Reiki, into their treatment plans as part of a more holistic approach to health. Such therapies are referred to as complementary because they complement traditional medical practices. And, according to the National Institutes of Health, as many as 40 percent of Americans now use such complementary healthcare therapies as well as, or instead of, mainstream medical practices.
Why take advantage of such complementary therapies?
Complementary medicines are often used in an approach to health that considers the whole person, rather than simply the specific problem he/she is being treated for.
They may help improve the overall results of the whole treatment plan. Some complementary therapies are designed to reduce stress, thereby helping patients achieve an overall sense of wellness. Others are used as an alternative method of pain relief or to promote healing. And some seem to work with chronic conditions that traditional medicine cannot address in all individuals.
One commonly practiced complementary medicine technique is acupuncture. The 500-year-old practice, which originated in China, is believed to stimulate the production of pain-killing endorphins and also invigorate the immune system. Studies have documented that it does work, even though scientists are not yet sure exactly how it works. Leslie Wilshire, LAc, is a licensed acupuncturist who has seen the practice become more accepted in the last few years. She practices at Northern Dutchess Hospital’s Women’s View Health Annex, which employs a holistic approach to women’s health, with both conventional medical and complementary treatments. “It’s rare now that I find a physician that doesn’t believe it works,” says Wilshire. She has used acupuncture to treat not only non-gender specific issues, such as depression and anxiety, but also a range of women’s issues, including infertility, fibroids, heavy bleeding, and hot flashes. “I worked with women who had hot flashes because they had to take Tamoxifin as part of their breast cancer treatment,” says Wilshire. “So I developed a treatment for patients with regular hot flashes with outstanding results.” Wilshire recommends that anyone seeking an acupuncturist look for a LAc-licensed professional because the licensing requires more hours of practice. “But like anything else,” she says, “It’s important to choose someone who will be a good fit for you.”
Massage has also become a more popular complementary therapy. Its various uses include relieving tension, alleviating pain, and treating symptoms from conditions as varied as cancer and diabetes. “Massage therapy is used specifically for pain management,” says Michele Muller, a licensed massage therapist (LMT) at Women’s Annex. “I see patients who have had knee replacement surgery, back issues, or neck pain who don’t want to take pharmacological drugs for the pain. Massage can also help with the pain associated with diabetic neuropathy.” Muller works with patients affected by cancer, stroke, Crohn’s disease, and fractured hips, but she also employs massage to help laboring and postpartum mothers. She has even used it as a drug-free way to induce labor. “Massaging pressure points may stimulate contractions that speed up the dilation of a laboring woman’s cervix,” she says. “This is especially useful if moms are trying to avoid drugs.” Postpartum massage can be used to reduce a new mom’s muscle tension and stress levels. “That way moms can go home in a calm state,” adds Muller.
If a condition precludes applying pressure, the technique known as Reiki may be used. Reiki is a Japanese technique that uses a healer’s hands to channel life energy through the body. Like massage, it is used to reduce stress and promote healing.
Another technique that is used to reduce pain is biofeedback. This technique helps alleviate pain by making patients more aware of how they react to signals from their bodies. It works best when the pain is exacerbated by stress, as may be the case with migraines. Biofeedback helps patients avoid tensing up at early signs of pain and thereby making the pain worse.
Meditation is a centuries-old technique that is designed to reduce stress and improve overall health. It may also help practitioners learn to control their attention and moderate emotions. Scientific data now supports claims of meditation’s medical benefits, showing that it can be a useful part of treating respiratory disease and reducing the symptoms of ulcerative colitis. It has also been shown as effective in helping people quit smoking. According to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey, 20 million U.S. adults use meditation for health purposes.
These approaches are designed to help achieve an overall sense of wellness.
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine tests the safety and effectiveness of complementary treatments. You can find out more about this at National Institutes of Health agency at nccam.nih.gov/. Also, be sure to discuss any complementary therapy with your medical practitioner.