Complementary and alternative medicine
Complementary and alternative therapies for pain and stress management aren't new. Some, such as meditation and yoga, have been practiced for thousands of years. But their use has become more popular in recent years, especially with people who have chronic illnesses, such as fibromyalgia.
Several of these treatments do appear to safely relieve stress and reduce pain, and some are gaining acceptance in mainstream medicine. But many practices remain unproved because they haven't been adequately studied. Some of the more common complementary and alternative treatments promoted for pain management include:
- Acupuncture. Acupuncture is a Chinese medical system based on restoring normal balance of life forces by inserting very fine needles through the skin to various depths. According to Western theories of acupuncture, the needles cause changes in blood flow and levels of neurotransmitters in the brain and spinal cord. In a 2006 Mayo Clinic study, acupuncture significantly improved symptoms of fibromyalgia. Research on the benefits of acupressure — a similar practice that uses finger pressure on the skin rather than needles — is inconclusive.
- Chiropractic care. This treatment is based on the philosophy that restricted movement in the spine may lead to pain and reduced function. Spinal adjustment (manipulation) is one form of therapy chiropractors use to treat restricted spinal mobility. The goal is to restore spinal movement and, as a result, improve function and decrease pain. Chiropractors manipulate the spine from different positions using varying degrees of force. Manipulation doesn't need to be forceful to be effective. Chiropractors may also use massage and stretching to relax muscles that are shortened or in spasm. Because manipulation has risks, always go to properly trained and licensed practitioners.
- Massage therapy. This is one of the oldest methods of health care still in practice. It involves use of different manipulative techniques to move your body's muscles and soft tissues. The therapy aims to improve blood circulation in the muscle, increasing the flow of nutrients and eliminating waste products. Massage can reduce your heart rate, relax your muscles, improve range of motion in your joints and increase production of your body's natural painkillers. It often helps relieve stress and anxiety. Although massage is almost always safe, avoid it if you have open sores, acute inflammation or circulatory problems.
- Osteopathy. Doctors of osteopathy go through rigorous and lengthy training in academic and clinical settings, equivalent to medical doctors. They're licensed to perform many of the same therapies and procedures as conventional doctors. One area where osteopathy differs from conventional medicine — but is similar to chiropractic medicine — is in the use of manipulation to address joint and spinal problems.
By Mayo Clinic Staff
June 25, 2007
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