Rapid Rise in "Complementary" Medical Services

Have you been to a practitioner besides your family physician? Whether chiropractic care, acupuncture, yoga or homeopathy, Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) has become increasingly common in the United States, and 72% of adults use some form of CAM therapies according to the US National Centers for Disease Control and US National Center for Health Statistics. A recent cover story in The New York Times Magazine highlighted how chronic pain tends to be under treated because doctors worry about over prescribing medications, and being liable for malpractice or even criminal penalties. Many doctors fear entering the field of pain management at all. Many patients are also concerned about becoming dependant on medication or about the invasiveness and dangers of surgery and anesthesia. CAM therapies, which are able to treat pain and help manage diseases without medication or surgery, are rapidly growing services as people search out better, safer approaches. So how effective are Complementary and Alternative Medicine therapies?

One recent study published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics tracked data from a unique organization, the Independent Physicians Association (IPA) where chiropractors serve as first-contact, primary care physicians. This study found patients treated by these practitioners reported lower costs and higher satisfaction rates than those treated by conventional medical doctors.

One of the co-authors of the study James Winterstein DC, said that they found that, "patients visiting CAM-orientated primary care physicians (PCP) - primarily chiropractors - experienced fewer hospitalizations, underwent fewer surgeries and used considerably fewer pharmaceuticals than HMO patients who received traditional medical care."

 A large national survey of all studies on treatments for back pain, the most common cause of disability in working Americans, lead by William Meeker, DC, PhD, and Marc Micozzi, MD, PhD, found that chiropractic was more effective at reducing pain and restoring function, and was less costly and dangerous than medical and surgical management.

 Another study, in the Journal of Rehabilitation, Research & Development examined the effectiveness of a wide range of complementary and alternative medicines in the treatment of chronic pain. This encompassing study examined clinical trials and previous studies done on the therapies. Acupuncture is an effective treatment for chemotherapy related pain, dental pain, low back pain, and probably premenstrual syndrome pain.

They found massage therapy effective for lower back pain and shoulder pain, but found less evidence for its treating fibromyalgia, neck pain, headache, and carpel tunnel syndrome. Yoga in turn has been found to very effective for carpal tunnel syndrome and many forms of arthritis.

For some therapies like reiki, homeopathy, and therapeutic touch ("laying on hands"), there are few clinical trials done, making it difficult to prove effectiveness. Still, for the many who routinely seek out alternative and complementary treatments, it has less to do with clinical trials than with their own positive experience.


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