Research is increasingly demonstrating the effectiveness of certain complementary/alternative treatments such as acupuncture, massage, tai chi, yoga, meditation and biofeedback for chronic pain, reduced mobility and other ailments. Why then are more insurance companies not paying for them? I think more of us need to “vote with our feet” by demanding coverage for proven alternative treatments and switching to insurance companies that pay for them. We and the health care system will all benefit. As one study found, support for lifestyle changes that prevent disease is far cheaper than hospitalization and expensive pills!
Category Archives: Chronic Pain
A relatively new approach to chronic back pain is beginning to make headway into mainstream medicine: It is called “physical therapy boot camp” and I am in my fourth week of the program run by New England Baptist Hospital. The results, at least for my Marfan-related back pain, are miraculous. For the first time in what seems like years, I can walk longer and engage in daily life activities without pain in my lower back and hip. It takes work, rather than popping pain pills (which I don’t take): I go twice a week for directed stretching and an hour of closely supervised weight training on gym machines, with steadily increasing weights and repetitions. At home, I follow their program of stretching, walking and weights. And it is really working. This is going to become a regular part of my life.
The slow, flowing movements look like a dance, but it is what goes on inside the body that makes Tai chi different: During a class recently, I felt as if my body were getting hooked up to a universal “filling station” and being replenished with energy. The result? Better ease of movement, increased flexibility and a sense of peaceful well-being. I do a “short form” almost every morning that takes all of ten minutes, one of the helpful ways I have found to live with Marfan syndrome.
Tai chi originated thousands of years ago as part of the ancient system of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The movements have their origins in martial arts, but are performed slowly, with controlled breathing and an awareness of the flow of energy inside the body. Tai chi has been called “moving meditation.”
Studies have found that Tai chi strengthens the immune system and can help with pain caused by osteoarthritis of the knee. In other research, Tai chi has been found to improve balance and coordination in older people, and reduce falls. It can also help with osteoporisis by increasing bone density.
All in all, not a bad ten-minute investment of time. Anyone else have Tai chi stories to share?
If your health problems include chronic pain in your joints or back, headaches, or ear infections, you might benefit from a craniosacral therapy — after consultation with your doctor, of course. During a session of craniosacral therapy, you lie on your back, fully clothed, on a cushioned table. As the practitioner places her hands under your back on the connection between your head and neck, there is no sensation of “forcing” a movement. “I try to detect and focus on the deepest reservoir of the body, below the ‘radar’ of the conscious mind and even of the muscle,” says Dr. Eurydice Hirsey in Own Your Health—Pain: back pain, arthritis, migraines, joint pain and more, by Adam Perlman, MD, MPH. “I often just follow the body’s own impulse, gently helping it to undo the resistance in its own way, without pushing on the muscles or joints,” says Dr. Hirsey, a chiropractor who is also trained in craniosacral therapy. “This is how craniosacral work differs from chiropractic or even massage, where the practitioner might force or create a change in the body. It is the patient’s own response to the practitioner’s gentle touch that provides the release.”
When the muscle resistance does finally relax, the sensation is one of deep release from a tension you might not have been aware of. “For some people this can be an enormous, sometimes volcanic release,” said Dr. Hirsey. “They may cry, laugh or feel anger, often depending on whether the physical restriction in the body came from an emotional trauma.”
Craniosacral therapy, which can be performed by other practitioners, such as chiropractors, massage therapists, nurses and physical therapists, grew out of the system of osteopathy and treats the central nervous system and its relationship to the spinal cord in a similar way. Practitioners say that craniosacral “rhythm” within the body comes from the regular pulsing of the liquid — called cerebrospinal fluid — that bathes, nourishes and protects the spinal cord. It is through the regular pulses of the cerebrospinal fluid that the brain transmits nerve messages to keep the body alive and functioning.
Blockages or restrictions in the craniosacral fluid can result from tension in the muscles or “fascia,” the tissue just under the skin that overlies muscle and some organs, like a kind of inner “sleeve,” says Dr. Hirsey. “As I place my hands on the spine and head of my patient, I can often feel enormous resistance to the flow of cerebrospinal fluid, caused by blockages in the tissue,” she explains. “Any injury or trauma that alters or minimizes the flow of this fluid can cause pain and have a negative effect on our well-being and health.”
No matter who the practitioner is, the most important component in effective treatment is that the practitioner take into account the condition of the entire body, and that the technique is never used to replace necessary conventional treatment.
What’s the Evidence?
No controlled trials of craniosacral therapy seem to exist, according to one author, Dr. Edzard Ernst, who surveyed the literature, pointing out that Dr. Upledger himself, an osteopathic physician who developed the technique, does not cite them in his own writing. “Even though small movements between cranial bones are possible, there is no good evidence to suggest that restrictions of these movements have any health related relevance,” writes Ernst. -Ernst, Edzard, ed. The Desktop Guide to Complementary and Alternative Medicine: An evidence-based approach. Harcourt Publishers Limited 2001. P. 48.
However, practitioners, patients and parents claim that the technique is beneficial for problems such as birth trauma, chronic pain, cerebral dysfunction, cerebral palsy, colic, depression, dyslexia, ear infections, headaches, learning disabilities, Méniere’s disease, musculoskeletal problems, migraine, sinusitis and stroke. Young children are believed to respond particularly well. Personally, I have found regular craniosacral treatments helpful in dealing with the chronic musculoskeletal pain of Marfan Syndrome.
A lesson in the Alexander Technique is one of effortless ease — almost as if you were floating without the pull of gravity. You want to package up that floating feeling, carry it off with you, and release it the next time you need to trudge up a flight of stairs. If you have the patience to stick with the lessons, you eventually learn to do just that.
I used the Alexander technique as part of my recovery from a stroke, and also as a way to deal with the muscle and joint discomfort of Marfan syndrome, an inherited disorder of the connective tissue.
Developed by a Shakespearean actor named Frederick M. Alexander at the turn of the 20th century, the Alexander Technique has become a way to promote effortless movement in all activities.
The Alexander Technique is based on three main principles:
-Function is affected by use;
-The organism functions as a whole;
-The relationship of the head, neck and spine is vital to the organism’s ability to function optimally;
What is it used for?
Conditions most frequently treated include chronic pain, osteoarthritis, stress and headaches. While there is limited research, it has been found to be effective for these conditions, as well as Parkinson’s disease, breathing problems and anxiety. It is also common for musicians, dancers, singers and actors to use the technique to improve their performances onstage.(See Own Your Health for research citations.)
For more information: http://www.ati-net.com/
Do you believe that you are only the total of your physical parts: the bones, muscles and internal organs, and the cells and molecules that make them up? Some people — and I am one of them —argue that there is something more, something invisible — which might be called the soul or spirit — that exists within us as well. This question is important in any discussion of complementary and alternative health practices because most, if not all, of these treatments are based on the second premise: the belief that there is, in fact, some non-material “life force” within us that is the essence of our personalities and that may also play an important role in the health of our bodies.
This hard-to-define and mysterious quality has many names in different cultures. Practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine — a system that is thousands of years old — call this energy Qi (pronounced “chi”). It is believed that Qi — which is also thought to pervade everything in the universe — pulses through our bodies, much like the blood, through invisible but well-mapped pathways called “meridians.” Blockages in the flow of Qi lead to disease or pain, and much of Chinese medicine is directed to removing these blockages, freeing the flow of energy so that the body can heal itself.
The belief in a “universal life force” has been present throughout recorded human history. More than five thousand years ago, Ayruvedic healers and yogis in India referred to Prana as energy that, like the Chinese concept of Qi, is not only within us, but also in the world around us. The Japanese word for life force is “Ki.” The ancient Egyptians called it ‘Ka,’ and the Hawaiians ‘Mana,’ In these cultures, people believe that healers can direct and restore these healing forces to cure disease and relieve pain.
Something to think about.
We do get older, of course, says Alexa Fleckenstein, M.D., but HOW we age, makes all the difference. Research on centenarians (people who live to be 100) tell us that while genes are important, what you DO with them is even more important. “You can get a bit stiffer and a bit fatter and a bit more stooped and a bit more depressed every day, or you can embark on an exciting journey into old age that makes you glow with health, sparkle with interest and explode with love,” says Dr. Fleckenstein in her book, “Healthy to 100: Aging with vigor and grace.”
Her advice is simple, not more difficult than doing 2-minutes of exercise every day, eating a bit more reasonably, staying involved with friends and community and finding something you love to do. She also gives advice about dealing with common complaints of aging, including chronic pain, digestive problems and joint stiffness.
So forget aabout hours at the gym, expensive spa vacations or face lifts. Take a look at the everyday, simple measures in this little book.