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What is Alternative Medicine? ...

Posted Dec 13 2008 11:33pm

What is Alternative Medicine?

Thursday, February 7, 2008 20:44

If someone says “alternative medicine” to you, what image does it conjur to mind?

Alternative medicine is considered by many people to be a branch separate from Western medicine. But more and more “alternative” treatments are being incorporated into modern health care. Your doctor might even prescribe massage, acupuncture, reiki or other treatments to help ease pain and increase your mobility.

While many people — including doctors — will deride “alternative” treatments as unsubstantiated wives’ tales, the truth is that many are scientifically proven and administered. Doctors don’t always have the full story when it comes to these treatments.

If you look back into history, much of Western medicine began unscientifically and yielded poor results, for thousands of years. Before we began to understand how germs work, there was little doctors could do to halt disease, and they often employed dangerous “treatments” such as bloodletting, which harmed patients more than it helped.

When I was seeing a physical therapist, I had an interesting interaction where the PT explained Trigger Point therapy and acupuncture to me, but a doctor later told me that he didn’t understand how it worked.

This experience taught me that although doctors have a great deal of valuable knowledge, they don’t know everything. Physical therapists often have the greater understanding of how the mechanics of the body work as a whole. In this way, PTs practice healing more in the way that massage therapists and acupuncturists do, than like the doctors they work with.

Click here to learn more about my conversations with the therapist and my doctor…and some conclusions about alternative treatments…

My therapist was discussing the relationship between Trigger Point therapy and Acupressure, which essentially are the same, she said. She explained that trigger points are specific places in the body, which can get blocked in some way and cause pain elsewhere. Often, they are places where muscles or nerves come together, for example. If they get pinched or the blood doesn’t flow to those points enough, the blockage can cause you to feel pain in a related place. For example, if it is a point in your neck or shoulders, it might affect your entire arm or just one point in your hands.

My PT explained that two doctors studied trigger point therapy several decades ago, and identified a certain number of trigger points in the upper body as well as the points that they affected. They never finished their work, but a book of their findings was published and is used today.

Interestingly, she said these points are analogous to the points used in acupuncture and acupressure therapy, which has been practiced in China for thousands of years. The richer Chinese would go see doctors who used acupuncture, while the rural farmers or the poor would practice acupressure — the practice of pressing down physically on the point — to treat themselves or their loved ones.

However, acupuncture has more points than trigger point therapy, my therapist told me. This is because it’s been studied for many more years, and because the doctors who studied trigger points left their work unfinished.

My doctor, however, clearly had not heard this story and had not researched the history. Modern doctors have a great knowledge of the internal anatomy of the body and of pharmacology, or the medicines we can take, but they don’t always have that hands-on experience that physical therapists get in working directly with the human body. For RSI issues, which are in many ways elusive mechanical problems rather than diseases, sometimes a physical therapist will be the more valuable resource.

The other lesson I took away from this experience is that Western medicine has a lot to learn. We haven’t studied all treatments yet, so we don’t always know why they work or whether they work at all. Sometimes, we just have to try and find out–within reason, of course.

So, if you have seen a doctor, been through physical therapy, and are still not seeing the results you’re looking for, you might want to try an alternative therapy. I’ll go over a few in another post, but for now, here are some you might research — the benefits of massage therapy, acupuncture and acupressure, trigger point therapy, and A.R.T (Active Release Technique).

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3 Responses to “What is Alternative Medicine?”

  1. Niteen says:

    February 7th, 2008 at 11:18 pm

    Interesting experience/blog. Dr. Andrew Weil and others have coined the term integrative medicine, others are are using Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). The acceptance is growing.

    Acupressure has good scientific evidence of working on insomnia, other conditions more trials are needed, according to Natural Standard.

    Our site covers CAM, it’s effectiveness for 7 chronic conditions. Here’s a link to Acupressure and scientific trial grades.

    The site is in preview mode. Feedback welcome.

  2. Holistic Junction says:

    February 14th, 2008 at 7:09 am

    Interesting…my neurologist told me that if he had had a degree in homeopathy he’d be a wealthy man. Not sure if he was taunting alternative medicine or not, but he had told me in the past that traditional medical schools do not teach nearly enough about natural health modalities.

    This is also probably why the conventional Western medical establisment is less inclined to refer patients to CAM practitioners. Fear and the unknown.

    I’ve heard about and researched these trigger points, which the therapy itself, is very similar to acupressure.

    Interesting read…thanks for sharing.

  3. Alternative Therapies for Treating RSI « Home Treatment For Repetitive Stress Injury says:

    March 31st, 2008 at 9:53 pm

    [...] 31, 2008 In an earlier post, I talked about some of the alternative treatments that Western medicine is starting to recognize. [...]

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