Integrative medicine is a branch of medicine that accepts and recommends complementary and alternative (CAM) practices. This field combines CAM and conventional treatments that have been proven safe and effective. Doctors who are trained in CAM therapies and medical doctors are called practitioners.
Andrew Weil, a best-selling author and integrative medicine doctor, is one of the most prominent. His numerous publications and well-known website have helped to inspire the public and other medical professionals not to consider conventional medicine the only healing method.
A modality can be any type of therapeutic technique or agent. Massage therapists may use a variety of modalities, such as deep tissue and Swedish massage. A conventional doctor might prescribe pain medication and anti-inflammatory drugs to relieve back pain.
This article will cover the most common CAM treatments for back pain. These options can be tried without the need for a prescription from a doctor. We recommend you inform your doctor about all the treatments you try. You should also tell your CAM practitioner about any other treatments you have tried, particularly medicines.
Let’s briefly define the different schools of medicine. Alternative medicine refers to therapies and practices that are not covered by conventional medicine, such as massage or acupuncture.
Alternative medicine, which does not penetrate the body like surgery, is generally gentler and more based on nature (such as herbal medicine). This practice is more holistic in that it examines the whole person—mind, body, and spirit—in its entirety.
Alternative medicine can sometimes be used instead of traditional medicine. For example, you could use ginger to soothe nausea rather than Pepto Bismol.
Complementary medicine is the use of alternative medicine with traditional practices. These may be patient-selected or doctor-recommended–for example, using massage and chiropractic along with ibuprofen for lower back pain treatment.
Conventional medicine is the system you are most familiar with. It involves doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other health-care professionals who diagnose and treat diseases and symptoms using drugs, radiation, or surgery. It is also known as allopathic medicine (mainstream medicine) and Western medicine.
Integrative medicine, a branch of conventional medicine that incorporates CAM techniques, has a lot of scientific evidence behind it. This field is rapidly growing. It’s possible to find integrative medicine centers in many major hospitals.
However, even if an integrative doctor recommends a treatment for you, many patients have to pay out-of-pocket for the services. Some insurance policies now cover services like biofeedback, therapeutic massage, and chiropractic treatments. Learn more on how to deduct medical expenses for your back pain treatments.
Chiropractic treatments are often referred to as “back cracking.” You may feel something similar to popping your knuckles when you receive an adjustment. Don’t worry, nothing is breaking. It’s not known exactly what causes the sound, but the most common theory is that trapped air is being released from the joints. Although it is not painful, it can be quite disconcerting.
Chiropractic treatments aim to align your spine. Poor posture, repetitive stress, or injury can cause vertebral bones to shift slightly out of alignment. Chiropractors manually adjust the spine to place the bones where they belong.
It is not uncommon for a first visit to a chiropractor to be long. It should be. Chiropractic doctors will also chart your pain sensations and location, much like conventional doctors. The chiropractor will take a detailed medical history and perform a physical exam. Your posture will be assessed by a chiropractor as you stand, walk, stand, or lie down.
After assessing your condition, the chiropractor will adjust your spine. A drop table is used to adjust the spine. This table looks similar to a massage table, but has a platform built in that can move up and down a few inches.
The chiropractor will ask you to lie on your back, face down, or sideways. Your spine will be moved back by the chiropractor using his or her hands and the force of the droptable.
Your chiropractor may also use your arm strength to turn and twist your spine in different directions. It’s a very physical experience. Although many people feel immediate relief, it may take several treatments before the body can get back into alignment.
Avoid chiropractors that promise ongoing treatment after your first visit. Before you commit to a series, see how you feel afterwards.
It is still a matter of debate whether chiropractic care is long-term effective. Some question whether manipulation and realignment are enough to fix the problem when there is no way to prevent it from recurring.
Muscles move bones. If you don’t address the root cause, you can’t prevent your bones from shifting again. A wise chiropractor will incorporate postural awareness and exercises into a comprehensive program to maintain spinal health.
Acupuncture and Acupressure
These treatments are part of traditional Chinese medicine. In the United States, they are generally practiced as stand-alone treatments by a person trained in acupuncture and/or acupressure. Acupuncture is a licensed specialty in most states.
The philosophy behind acupuncture and acupressure is the same, based on the idea of energy that flows through all life. This energy is known as chi (pronounced “chee”) or qi.
The opposing forces of life energy are called yin or yang. In simple terms, yin can be described as passive, absorbing, and yielding, while yang is more assertive, penetrating, and assertive.
They are not superior to each other; they complement each other. If these forces are not in balance, it can lead to a health problem. Acupuncture and acupressure help release blockages to restore natural flow.
The meridian lines are the pathways through which life energy flows. There are 14 main lines and many more. Acupuncture and acupressure practitioners identify the areas where energy is blocked along meridians and seek to release it.
Acupressure uses pressure, usually with the thumb; acupuncture uses needles. The needles are thin and don’t hurt when they are inserted. They usually stay in place for around 20 minutes.
Acupressure is where the practitioner holds the point for a period of time and then releases it. The person receiving treatment will feel relaxed in either case. It is recommended to have several sessions.
Acupuncture is a practice that has been used in Asia for over 4,000 years. In the last few decades, it has made its way to the United States. It is becoming more popular, particularly as conventional doctors are recommending it for everything from back pain to headaches and carpal tunnel. It is worth trying!
A good massage can help you relax. Science has shown that massage can do more than help you relax. It can also help with chronic or acute back pain by releasing natural pain-reducing chemicals.
Chinese medicine is the origin of massage. Like acupuncture and acupressure, it’s been practiced as a healing art for thousands of years. Per Henrik Ling, a Swede who popularized it in the West in the late nineteenth century, was the first to do so.
There are many types of massage or modalities. Many massages are based on Swedish massage. It has four main techniques: tapping, stroking, and friction. These movements are basically small circular movements.
The client’s needs will dictate the pressure. It is important to communicate with your massage therapist throughout your session. A good therapist will be able to tell when you are feeling too pressured. They’ll sense tension in your muscles and help you release it. They are not mind-readers. Tell them if it hurts. If you feel the need to apply more pressure, tell them.
Although massage is usually done while you’re naked, some prefer to wear underclothes. While you’re being massaged, the therapist will leave the room and you will be covered by a sheet. Only the massage areas are revealed by the therapist.
A scented or unscented oil is applied to your skin to help the therapist massage your skin. Ask the therapist if you have any allergies to the products used.
You should have a warm, dimly lit massage room with relaxing music. If you would prefer silence or temperature control, please let us know. It is important to relax in order to release tension in the muscles. However, you won’t be able to do this if you are annoyed by the environment.
A good massage therapist will conduct a thorough health assessment (also called an intake) and keep your chart in their files. You will be given tips and tricks to make the most of your massage session before, during, or after it.
Although it may take several sessions to get the maximum benefits, it is a fun way to relieve stress and relax your body. Many insurance policies cover therapeutic massage, but you will need to get a referral from your doctor. You may also be limited to certain massage therapists. Before you accept coverage, make sure to check the details of your policy benefits.
There are stories of ancient yogis who could lower blood pressure and heartbeats through meditation. It is true. It’s possible for them to do it, and you can too. You can control certain physiological reactions. Biofeedback allows you to see the changes happening right in front of your eyes. You don’t need to meditate for eight hours every day.
A biofeedback machine measures physiological conditions such as body temperature, blood pressure, and muscle activity. The electrodes are small pads that are placed on the body and then connected to a machine.
The monitor immediately displays the results through blinking lights or beeping sounds. The blinking lights speed up when electrodes are applied to tense back muscles.
Relaxation techniques can cause the blinks and beeps to slow down. This is because your thoughts are changing your physiological reactions. Pretty neat, huh?
A biofeedback therapist, who could be a nurse, physical therapist, or nurse, will assist you with the machine and guide you through relaxation techniques. This is where the ultimate goal is to get you off of the machine.
You can then use these techniques whenever you feel stressed or when your back pain gets worse. This will take several sessions to master. It is essentially learning a new behavior, and it takes time to change.
However, the instant feedback from the machine can accelerate the change process for those who “have to be seen to believe it.” You can also purchase home-based biofeedback machines.
An ultrasound machine uses high-frequency sound waves to relax tense muscles. It is painless, and you won’t feel any sound waves. However, you will feel a tingling sensation. The treatment will be administered by a trained person in ultrasound therapy (usually a physical or occupational therapist).
The cool gel used for ultrasound therapy is similar to the oil that massage therapists use to glide their hands across your skin. After applying the gel to the area, the ultrasound therapist moves a wand-like device around your back in a circular motion.
Sound waves penetrate deep into your tissues. These sound waves also heat the tissues, which increases circulation. A topical anti-inflammatory may be mixed with the gel to make the medication more absorbable.
Ultrasound waves can produce heat in a manner similar to microwave ovens but milder. This heat increases circulation. Experts believe that ultrasound is not more effective than a heating pad and is therefore a relatively expensive treatment.
It is not a new idea to turn the body upside-down in order to stimulate healing. This is why yogis practice headstands, handstands, and other upside-down postures. From the perspective of pure physics, inversions are counter-intuitive to gravity.
Gravity is constantly pressing down on your spine and intervertebral disks all day. The spine becomes decompressed when we turn our heads upside down. It doesn’t matter if you stand on your head, which can cause neck pain.
Proponents also say that you don’t need to be upside down in order to reap the benefits. Even at -5 to -10 degrees, you can feel the benefits by keeping your torso below the waist.
This gentler way of inclining is better than hanging upside down. Hanging upside-down can cause back problems by stressing discs and facet joints.
There are many ways to hang upside-down, but the most popular and easiest is with an inversion desk. You can control how far you want to go with these tables.
The machine can be tilted backward by being positioned on its side. You can turn the machine upside-down in small increments, from a few degrees up to full upside-down.
Inversion tables can be purchased for home use. They may be available for purchase by physical therapists and exercise professionals. Do your research before you make a purchase. Before you attempt inversion therapy, consult your doctor.
If you have any medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, detached retinas, or glaucoma, inverting your body is not advisable. Inversion therapy may also increase laxity in the joints or spondylolisthesis.
Although this treatment can be considered an alternative, it is not in the same class as the other ones. This is not a holistic approach to treatment. It is an invasive medical procedure.
Prolotherapy aims to stimulate the growth and development of tendons, ligaments, and other connective tissues. Tendons connect muscles to bone and ligaments to bone. These tissues stabilize your spine.
People with degenerative disc disease (a condition where the discs shrink) are most likely to try prolotherapy. If intervertebral disks shrink in height, ligaments or tendons can become weaker and no longer provide the necessary support for the spine.
Prolotherapy involves injecting mild solutions (typically sugarwater) into the affected tendons or ligaments. This is an example showing how the body’s natural healing process is the inflammatory response.
Local inflammation is caused by the injection solution into the affected tendons and ligaments. An increase in blood flow to the area and nutrients are provided to encourage tissue repair. This new growth gives the spine more support. This therapy may require several injections to be effective.
Some patients do report some relief, but most doctors are skeptical. They argue that the majority of injured tissue is already irritated and more irritation won’t cause it to respond. Patients suffering from chronic pain will try everything to find relief. However, it is not clear if prolotherapy works.
- There are many alternative treatments for back pain; some have more scientific backing than others.
- Alternative treatments include ancient healing methods that have been providing relief for people for many centuries.
- Many complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practices take a holistic approach to healing.
- Many traditional doctors will recommend CAM treatments for back pain.
- You can also seek alternative treatments from your doctor.
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- Ultrasound Therapy for Chronic Low Back Pain. (2020, July 5). Ultrasound therapy for chronic low back pain | Cochrane. https://www.cochrane.org/CD009169/BACK_ultrasound-therapy-chronic-low-back-pain.
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- DC, FACO, S. Y. (n.d.). Chiropractic Services Beyond Adjustments. Spine-health. https://www.spine-health.com/treatment/chiropractic/chiropractic-services-beyond-adjustments.
- What Is Integrative Medicine? A Complete Definition & Examples. (2019, October 9). Hearthside Medicine. https://www.hearthsidemedicine.com/post/what-is-integrative-medicine.
- Andrew Weil, M.D. | DrWeil.com | Integrative Medicine & Healthy Living. (2018, October 16). DrWeil.com. https://www.drweil.com/.