Alternative therapies have become increasingly popular in recent years. Though they were once viewed as fringe by the medical establishment, studies from the National Institutes of Health show that a third of Americans now use alternative therapies. With their rise in popularity, we decided to highlight some therapies you may be interested in.
By Jade Spilka
In acupressure, practitioners apply physical pressure to meridians on the body such as the hands, elbows, and feet. These meridians are considered to carry life energy throughout the body. The pressure is put on these acupuncture points with the goal of clearing blockages in these particular areas. Based on studies, acupressure is thought to help nausea, lower back pain, tension headaches, and stomach aches.
Acupuncture, a component of traditional Chinese medicine, involves the insertion of thin needles into the body. It improves the body’s natural functions and promotes the self-healing process by stimulating acupuncture points. This form of alternative therapy is most often used for pain relief and is rarely used on its own as a primary treatment. It is commonly used to treat low back pain, shoulder stiffness, and knee pain. Along with pain relief, acupuncture can also improve sleep, digestive function, and overall sense of well-being.
Aromatherapy is the use of plant oils to promote psychological and physical healing. When used properly, the pure essence of plants, essential oils, are effective in providing benefits to a vast range of ailments. Aromatherapy also encourages the use of other natural ingredients such as cold pressed vegetable oils, hydrosols, herbs, milk powders, sea salts, sugars and muds.
Biofeedback allows individuals to control bodily processes that usually happen involuntarily. This includes processes like heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, and skin temperature. Those who benefit most from the practice are usually patients who have stress-related conditions. In the initial sessions, biofeedback therapists attach electrodes to the skin to measure bodily or mental states. Eventually techniques can be practiced without the aid of a therapist or professional equipment.
Chiropractors focus on musculoskeletal and nervous system disorders. They work to eradicate pain in the back, neck, joints, arms, legs, and head of a patient. Chiropractors adjust patients’ bodies in order to align them. These adjustments are meant to improve mobility and loosen muscles. It is estimated that chiropractors treat 27 million American patients annually. A study conducted by the American Chiropractic Association showed that 56% of those who saw a doctor for low back pain received a 30% reduction in their pain after four weeks, but 94% of patients who underwent chiropractic treatment saw a 30% reduction in low back pain after 4 weeks.
Homeopathy is similar to receiving vaccinations. Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy, based the practice on his doctrine of like cures like. Though it is still practiced, studies have shown that homeopathy is ultimately only effective as a placebo. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates these remedies, but the FDA does not evaluate these therapies safety or effectiveness.
Naturopathy is based on vitalism and self-healing. It is generally anti-medicine, going against medical testing, drugs, surgery and vaccinations. The alternative therapy is based on the idea that the body has an ability to heal itself through an energy or force that guides bodily processes internally. People visit naturopathic practitioners for primary care, overall well-being and the treatment of illnesses. The practice is often thought to be unethical and harmful, though advocates would claim otherwise.
Reflexology involves the application of pressure to the hands and feet with specific techniques. William H. Fitzgerald, an ear, nose and throat specialist, and Edwin F. Bowers first brought it to the United States in 1913. The Cochrane Collaboration defines reflexology as “gentle manipulation or pressing on certain parts of the foot to produce an effect elsewhere in the body.” Reflexology has been shown to improve stress-related illnesses. According to the American Medical Association, as many as 85% of illnesses are caused or worsened by stress. Reflexology can be used as one tool to help combat these stress-related ailments. In a Chinese study, there was a 50% success rate for those who used reflexology from a pool of 20,000 documented cases.
In subsequent issues of Health & Wellness, we will be investigating in more depth the pros and cons of these and other ‘Alternative’ Therapies.