You’ll see that complementary and alternative (CAM) providers can have a high level of education and training.
According to the National Institute of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (a division of the National Institutes of Health), back pain is the most common reason people seek CAM therapies.
This article will cover the most common complementary and alternative therapy providers you’ll encounter when searching for relief for back pain.
This article will explain how these providers are educated and what to look for in terms of experience and credentials.
Complementary Care Providers
CAM practitioners generally ask patients to be involved in the healing process. They might recommend self-treatments or exercises. Some doctors avoid pharmaceuticals because they believe that drugs mask symptoms and hinder the body’s natural ability to heal.
Combining complementary and alternative therapies with conventional medicine can be very effective for many people.
Some people might find relief only by using alternative therapies. That’s fine, too. Last but not least, let me remind you about the differences between complementary and alternative providers.
Complementary therapies are those that can be used alongside conventional medicine. Your doctor may recommend one or both of these depending on their philosophy.
Conventional medicine has embraced and encouraged a variety of complementary and alternative therapies that have scientific support. This is known as “evidence-based medicine” in the medical world.
Acupuncture, chiropractic manipulation, and massage therapy are the most popular CAM treatments for back pain. Scientific evidence supports the effectiveness of all three treatments in relieving back pain.
We’ve already mentioned that integrative medicine, a new branch of medicine, endorses many complementary and alternative practices. It also includes them within its own practice scope.
Integrative medicine departments include providers such as chiropractors, massage therapists, and acupuncturists. Here are the details about the providers.
The American Academy of Physician Acupuncturists is an association for doctors who practice acupuncture. Their practice is called “medical acupuncture” by the AAMA.
A practitioner must hold a valid medical license as either a doctor of osteopathy or a doctor of medicine to become a full member. They also need to have completed 220 hours of acupuncture education and have two years of experience as medical acupuncturists.
Acupuncture training programs vary. One program offered by Harvard Medical School for doctors is a nine-month program that offers 300 credit hours. The more rigorous schools require three-to-four years of training for those not already licensed as doctors (about 3,000 hours).
Comprehensive training programs include a deep understanding of traditional Chinese medicine. This includes acupuncture, anatomy and advanced needling techniques. There are also online courses that provide certificates of completion that allow unqualified individuals to practice.
Ask about the education of any person who is going to be inserting needles into your body. This includes years of schooling, practice experience, and licensing. Ask about their experience treating back pain patients and what pain relief options they recommend.
Each state regulates acupuncture. Some states don’t require licenses, while others require certification from the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. This organization requires ongoing education and the renewal of licenses every four years.
For more information about what your state requires, visit the organization’s website, www.nccaom.org.
The largest and most regulated CAM profession is chiropractic. After dentistry and conventional medicine, chiropractic is the third-largest doctoral-level health care profession. The state regulates and licenses chiropractic. To practice, you must have a license in all 50 states.
The United States Department of Education has certified the Council on Chiropractic Education as an agency to accredit chiropractic colleges. A candidate must have at least a few years of college credit in the sciences to be eligible for accreditation in a program that trains chiropractors.
The four-year chiropractic program is both classroom and clinical. Spine anatomy, physiology, and microbiology are all covered. Nutrition is also included. Hands-on experience with patients is required. After graduation, graduates receive a doctorate in chiropractic and are eligible for the state licensing exam.
Each state requires chiropractors to be licensed. The requirements for each state are different. Most states require at least two years of education, and in some cases, four years. A Mock patient encounter is part of the national board’s licensing examinations.
In order to maintain their licenses, chiropractors must earn continuing education credits each year in all 50 states. You can find more information on the American Chiropractic Association website at www.acatoday.org.
What Is the Role of a Massage Therapist?
A massage therapist’s education is much less than that of other health-care professionals. Students must learn anatomy, business ethics, and hands-on techniques to obtain the basic certificate or diploma.
The training required for credible programs is at least 500 hours and takes approximately a year. A clinical massage therapy program usually offers more training.
Massage training programs are usually approved by a state board or an independent agency like the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation. Massage therapy is a practice that requires licensure and formal training in many states.
You should look for massage therapists who have completed at least 500 hours of education and are COMTA accredited. Professionalism is also demonstrated by membership in a respected professional association. The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) is the largest of these non-profit associations.
Most states require licensure and passing a national exam. This is usually through the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork.
Many states require that massage therapists have malpractice insurance and participate in continuing education. To find out your state’s requirements, go to www.massageregister.com/massage-license-requirements.
Medical massage therapy is distinct from traditional massage therapy. Special certification is available in some states for medical massage therapy.
Both can be beneficial, but insurance coverage is unlikely to cover lavender-infused massage oils and cucumber water. Instead, you will need to sit in white fluffy robes while listening to Enya.
Alternative Medicine Providers
This is where we enter murkier waters in relation to state requirements. The following practices are not covered by the law: These practices aren’t less credible because there isn’t any regulation, but it does allow the unregulated to practice more freely. Health claims about cures are more often made without any evidence.
Follow your gut instincts. Ask providers about their back pain experience and methodology. These providers are educated in their respective fields.
It is very similar to being a doctor when becoming a naturopath. They are highly trained practitioners. A bachelor’s degree is required to be admitted to a naturopathic school.
The same curriculum is used for naturopathic medical students as well as traditional medical students. Their education includes clinical hours under the supervision of a licensed naturopathic physician (ND).
Naturopathy aims to treat the whole person, not just a specific disease. It also aims to improve a person’s overall well-being. Naturopathic studies focus on holistic and non-toxic therapies like acupuncture, homeopathy, and clinical nutrition.
Naturopaths can also learn psychology and counseling strategies to help people make lifestyle changes. The Association of Accredited Natural Medicine Colleges states that there are six basic principles of naturopathic medicine.
- Do no harm. Use the least invasive, natural and toxic therapies.
- Nature’s healing power: Rely on your body’s natural wisdom to heal yourself.
- Find the cause and treat it.
- Help patients understand the steps involved in achieving and maintaining good health by acting as a teacher.
- The whole person is important. Treat them as a whole.
- Prevention: Stress on overall health and wellness.
Only 15 states have licensed naturopaths. A naturopath in those states is considered the same as a primary-care doctor. Look for NDs who have completed a four-year college and are continuing their education in non-regulated states.
To find a credentialed doctor and learn more about their scope of practice, see www.naturopathic.org.
Homeopathic doctors are healthcare professionals who have received basic college education in anatomy, pathology, physiology, and disease. They also learn homeopathic remedies and how to treat individuals.
Two people may report back pain and receive different treatments. These OTC remedies for back pain are made from specially prepared, diluted animal, plant, and mineral substances. Since 1796, homeopathic remedies have been known.
This field is gaining popularity in the United States. Homeopathy is a healing modality that can be added to the practice of medical doctors. Some courses are specifically designed for them. The course work for Naturopaths includes homeopathy.
Homeopathy is recognized worldwide. There are many regulations. It is not covered in the United States, but is in France and Austria.
Homeopathy is covered by the public health programs of Denmark and the United Kingdom. Schools in the United States have different requirements. Homeopathic doctors should have at least 500 hours of training. Ask about their experience treating back pain.
The healing properties of plants have been around for a long time. They were the first medicines. Many pharmaceuticals today are based on plants. The practice of herbal medicine is still a very important part of many cultures, particularly the Chinese.
Traditional Chinese medicine is often associated with herbalists. Some courses last only six months, while others require years of study. This field is not subject to regulation in the United States.
The American Herbalists Guild, which sets standards for education, is responsible for defining educational guidelines that are applicable to all who seek a holistic education.
They recommend that practitioners complete 1,600 hours of education, with 400 hours of supervision and clinical training. The course work should cover basic sciences such as anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry. It also must include hours in therapeutic herbalism.
Ask about the hours of education and past experience in treating back pain when you are looking for a herbalist. To find an herbalist and learn more about the practice, go to www.americanherbalistsguild.com.
Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), one of the most ancient and widely-used traditional medical systems, is one of the most important in the world. It incorporates traditional Chinese medicine and therapeutic practices from the past.
Practitioners of TCM can recommend or administer acupuncture and traditional Chinese herbs. They also have nutritional guidelines and shiatsu massage. Others may be trained in traditional Chinese herbs or acupuncture.
Master’s programs require four years of full-time study (about 3,300 hours) and include clinical training. Accredited schools by the Accreditation Committee for Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine (ACAOM) are considered the best.
Some schools offer courses that allow M.D.s to incorporate TCM into their practice. While most states have licenses for acupuncture, they regulate TCM therapies differently. Nearly all states that license acupuncture require passing the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine’s (NCCAOM) written exam, but some states may also require a practical exam.
Remember to communicate with your providers. Make sure you inform your team if you’re taking blood thinners or have bleeding disorders. Don’t be embarrassed. It is possible for herbal remedies to interact with prescription medications in a dangerous way.
- Many CAM practitioners have the same education as conventional doctors.
- Some CAM therapies are rooted in centuries-old healing traditions from other countries.
- Each state has its own regulations regarding CAM providers.
- Chiropractic is the most regulated CAM treatment; all states require that chiropractors be licensed.
- Unregulated does NOT mean unqualified. To evaluate a provider, you will need to inquire about their credentials, education, and licensure.