In an earlier post, I talked about some of the alternative treatments that Western medicine is starting to recognize. I also pointed to some of the misunderstandings that doctors still have regarding those treatments. As a patient, it’s good to research and understand all your options.
Below, I’m providing an overview of some of the most common alternative treatments. Like any therapy, what works for one person may not be effective for another. However, your doctors or physical therapists may be able to guide you on what treatments might work best for you, and they may even be able to prescribe some of the treatments or help you find a good practitioner.
If you’re going to see an alternative doctor, you may want to get a recommendation from a friend or other health professional you trust, or look for online reviews by visiting yelp.com (in the Bay Area) or another similar site for your area.
Active Release Technique (A.R.T.) – A typical ART session is like a combo of massage, trigger point therapy, and guided stretching. The practitioner presses on specific trigger points and then guides the patient to stretch. As the muscles are stretched, the pressure hits the tension points, engaging and releasing them. A.R.T. is helpful in relieving tension, pain and increasing range of motion and circulation. Also, it’s a therapy designed to help with overuse injuries specifically.
All ART practitioners must be certified in some other area of treatment before receiving their ART certification. I have personally had marvellous results with this technique from Psoas Massage and Bodywork in SoMa in San Francisco. Don’t go expecting to be pampered–but do go expecting to tell your practitioner where you hurt, what you think is causing it, and expect to actively help the practitioner release that tension by moving around and stretching.
Massage Therapy — Massage therapy is great for helping increase circulation and mobility and for breaking up scar tissue. But not all massages are alike — in fact, there seem to be a gazillion different types of massage these days. Some are “new” and patented, while others are older than the California hills. There’s Swedish massage, soft tissue massage, shiatsu, sports massage, rolfing, and more.
What you should know is that the relaxing massage you get at your local spa (with that expensive facial) will likely be different from the kind your occupational therapist would recommend for treating your injury. Make sure that the practitioner has experience treating your specific kind of injury and gears the massage specifically to your affected muscles and tendons, and the related areas of your body.
If possible, do some research to find out what types of massage you’d like, then make some calls to find the right practitioner. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine also has an excellent article on the history and uses of massage, as well as the different certifications that practitioners may earn.
Acupuncture, acupressure and trigger point therapy – Both acupuncture and acupressure have been practiced since ancient times in China. In Chinese medicine, it is believed that there are several channels running through the body, each related to a major emotion and organ of the body. Along these channels, called meridians, are certain points. Manipulating these points helps to relieve tension in other, related areas of the body.
Because Chinese medicine sees the body as a whole instead of separate parts, it is thought that treating one area can have a profound affect on other areas of the body, including on the emotions. A strong, inexplicable emotion, even in a dream, may show there is an imbalance in one of these meridians. Balance is restored by treating the related points and releasing the blocked energy stored there.
Western medicine has shown acupuncture to be useful, particularly in relieving pain. A lot more research needs to be done in this area. You can easily try it out on yourself, by finding a Web site that lists some of the acupressure points. Use a few fingers or a tennis ball wrapped in a sock to press the points on yourself, or find a friend to help you out.
Trigger Point Therapy –Earlier I lumped Trigger Point therapy with acupressure because topically they are very much the same. Trigger point therapy uses most of the same points as acupuncture. Like acupuncture, trigger point therapy operates on the premise that tension in one area of the body will cause pain in related areas.
However, trigger points don’t rely on the same concepts of meridians that are found in Chinese medicine. Instead, trigger points are identified as points of tension in a muscle. Tension in one area causes the rest of the muscle to be stretched out. The result is pain in other areas, such as the places where the muscles are attached to bone. A good description including visual images can be found here.
Feldenkrais Method — Feldenkrais is a series of guided movements designed to show the patient how small changes in posture or movement can cause tension. By performing small and slow movements, Feldenkrais aims to helps people regain awareness of their posture, and ease the tensions that cause overuse and posture related disorders.
My former acupuncturist recommended me a book called Somatics by Thomas Hanna, who was a student of Moshe Feldenkrais. Hanna Somatics focuses on areas of contraction in the body and ways to re-educate the mind, to automatically release that tension.
And there you have it — a short list of some of your other options, if you want to see a specialist but the regular approach doesn’t seem to be working. As an interesting exercise, bring them up with your doctor, and see what he or she recommends.