It all began when I got back from a two-and-a-half week vacation in the United States last January. As I resumed my normal routine of running, yoga and the daily schlep to both kids’ schools, something didn’t feel quite right. Specifically, there was a throbbing pain on the left side of my bum.
I’d had recurring trouble with my piriformis muscle before, so I began doing some stretches that I’d learned during my last round of physiotherapy. But after things got so excruciating that I had to give up yoga and started popping painkillers on a regular basis, I booked in to see an osteopath at a nearby facility. (I’d seen an osteopath successfully for a different injury a few years back.)
Osteopathy didn’t work this time around. The pain didn’t go away. Instead, over the next few months, it migrated to other parts of my back – upper and lower. There was one point when I could hardly walk. Meanwhile, my migraines – which have grown in intensity over the past decade or so – were getting progressively more frequent, despite changing – and upping – my meds.
Enter Pilates. At the advice of a friend who’d also had severe back pain, I began doing intensive Pilates and massage with a physio-therapist in my neighborhood three to four times a week throughout July and August. She also did acupuncture on my back and neck and gave me this weird magnetic patch to wear on my back on the airplane and when I sat at my desk for long intervals.
The upshot? I feel fantastic. Sure, I spend 40 minutes every morning doing back exercises (because eventually we all turn into our mothers.) But other than the occasional twitch to remind me that I still have something called a Lattisimus Dorsi muscle and it isn’t necessarily my friend, I feel really great. I’ve resumed running three times a week. And most importantly of all, I haven’t had a headache in 16 days…which must be a record for since moving to England five years ago.
I wouldn’t say that the cumulative effect of this experience has been to make me an evangelist for alternative medicine, but it has certainly moved me much closer in that direction. I’ve never had an issue with popping pills to address aches, pains and all manner of illness, and I still don’t. But I now feel that alternative medicine – whether used alone or in conjunction with traditional medicinal cures – can be hugely helpful.
And apparently, I’m not alone. More than one third of adults and nearly 12% of children in the United States now rely on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), according to a large Federal survey released in 2008. Non-vitamin, non-mineral natural products are the most commonly used CAM therapy among adults. But use has also increased for things like deep breathing exercises, meditation, massage therapy and yoga. What all of this suggests is that CAM is becoming normalized within our health care system, as reflected in the fact that several CAM provisions were included in President Obama’s health care reform bill.
So the next time that back gives you some trouble and you reach for the Vicodin, give it a second thought and call a physical therapist instead. You might find yourself pleasantly surprised.
How about you? Have you ever tried alternative medicine and found it useful…or not?
Image: Pain by Racchio via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.
September 13, 2011, 6:55 pm
Delia, I’m really glad to hear you’re doing better, but I’m not sure I would put Pilates under the “alternative medicine” umbrella. It seems pretty similar to what you’d be doing with conventional physical therapy, and there’s a clear, science-based causal mechanism linking the treatment to the outcome (heal strained muscles by stretching and strengthening them). Now, if you told me you’d tried acupuncture, herbal remedies, or homeopathy…well, that would seem truly “alternative.”
September 13, 2011, 8:07 pm
Thanks, Jay. Actually, if you look under the definition of “alternative medicine” pilates and yoga do fit the bill (though I take your point.) And I *did* actually try acupuncture which was really strange! I guess my main comparison is one of taking pills to deal with things like headaches and back pain vs. pursuing non-medicinal cures. The weird magnet thing I wear when I type is certainly unorthodox!
September 13, 2011, 8:29 pm
I am very much into alternative medicine and especially since my health insurance will not cover me. My pain is so great I can not even do the Pilates any more or yoga….let alone walking with this Plantar faciitis and I am finally getting rid of a 3 year old virus attacking my liver with Chinese Herbs…it is slow work but oh so worth it. I have only had the eye lights of a migraine headache 3 times in the past 3 years of work – a piece of heaven at work within me…
I can not afford all the massage treatments I need…so the therapist added Medicine Ball therapy – or Miracle Ball Therapy and organic chicken soup with carrots, onions, and celery ( no spices especially not salt) the acupuncturist added short grain brown rice to the soup to calm the stomach…I have it for breakfast and dinner. My muscles are starting to relax and heal
A Naturopathic Physician took care of my daughter’s allergy to strep…she could run, play soccer, and enjoy life.
Celiac Disease makes us dependent on food for a cure.
After 2 days of 4 hours of miracle ball sessions – I am nearly pain free….I think by October I might be able to resume my exercise. I will not resume old eating patterns.
As a person who can not take a single synthetic drug without becoming violently ill, I have to be very careful each day. If one does the work that the body needs – there would not be such a need for all these drugs.
September 14, 2011, 12:30 am
Interesting that you mention the sort of pain you do (which I have suffered from for several years, with nearly no break). To say that it hampers everyday living is an understatement, but we tend to set it aside most of the time, able to simply get on with the day.
Unfortunately, in this country, the run-around we receive from traditional health care providers is such that a few cursory tests may be all we can afford, and when the most obvious (serious) causes are ruled out, you’re simply dismissed with a Motrin (or Prozac).
Only recently, I encountered someone (on a painful flight) who offered me a measure of hope that there is something “alternative” that may indeed help me.
Hoping you don’t mind – this is that story. http://dailyplateofcrazy.com/2011/08/31/the-gift/
And hoping I can pursue a solution, because frankly, I’m tired of living in pain.
September 14, 2011, 9:50 am
@patricia – miracle balls rock. it’s great when you can actually do much of the therapy yourself at home. @biglittlewolf – what a great story-I could totally relate! Thx for sharing. (BTW: my physiotherapist taught me to squeeze the skin between my thumb and index finger to ease headache pain….try it!)
September 14, 2011, 11:03 pm
I don’t regard pt as “alternative medicine”, since each of my excellent experiences with it were prescribed by an MD (necessary in the US for insurance purposes). I surely do swear by it, tho’!
September 15, 2011, 4:45 pm
That is great you have found these therapies, and that you are feeling better! I totally agree with you. I’ve started bringing more and more of these therapies into my life recently, simply because I love the peacefulness that is attached to the remedies (which I don’t feel with conventional methods). (Plus of course I simply believe that they work.) I am trying to do yoga and pilates more regularly and even to schedule monthly massage sessions. I used to think massage was too extravagant but I’ve decided that it was important enough for me to set aside some budget for that, and simply reduce some of my other more wasteful spending (fancy coffees and what not). Being Chinese my family always preached alternative medicine (well, not alternative to them). I grew up in the US though, and used to pop painkillers behind my mother’s back. But they have done very well ignoring their American doctors’ orders and instead relying on their more natural Chinese remedies (including curing my dad’s diabetes)…
September 15, 2011, 8:23 pm
Massage is a must. I think we all grow up seeing it as a luxury rather than a necessity, at lst once you hit middle age. I was lucky enough to get several free massages this summer from a Swede (gorgeous no less!) and it helped immensely with my recovery.
September 18, 2011, 1:43 pm
I agree that non-prescription remedies are valuable for all kinds of ailments, but I wonder if there is a ocean’s gap in the words we use to describe them. Physical therapy is not, in my experience, considered “alternative,” but part of a medical plan. LIkewise, I have been taught meditation by two psychiatrists, who consider it as necessary to the weekly regimen as exercise. Perhaps what we consider alternative is changing…
September 18, 2011, 7:46 pm
Good point, @maria and thanks for dropping by. If you google “Alternative Medicine” you’ll see that meditation, massage and pilates are all part of it, along with things like acupuncture and herbal remedies. I guess the main distinction that I see is between taking pills and alternative means to solve/reduce pain. Funnily enough, my GP also recommended mindfulness recently to reduce stress/muscle tension!
September 22, 2011, 7:32 pm
It seems there is a time for everything.
I suffered with depression from age 13 to 29. At 27 it became unbearable and I couldn’t function. Unwilling to continue living like that and unwilling to die I put all of my goals aside and committed to doing whatever it would take to find true healing. Thus began what would be the most important journey of my life, a healing journey lasting three years that would profoundly change my life.
I did prozac for a year at the beginning of this journey. It stabilized my mind so I could do the work necessary to begin the process of truly healing. When I went off the prozac the depression was still there but by then I had learned how to get to the true roots of my depression and heal them. Slowly, healing episode by episode, I completely healed my depression and several other things, such as an eight-year lower-back problem.
I wish I could say I healed without meds but the truth is I don’t know if I could have. It definitely expedited the process. The prozac wasn’t the cure but it definitely WAS a TOOL. After 16 years being depression free I’m very happy I did the work needed to truly heal and am happy I’m not dependent on meds.
I have an essay on my website chronicling the journey. Please check it out:
September 23, 2011, 11:17 am
Hi Doug. Thanks for chiming in. I’m really glad that you licked your depression AND your back pain. Your story will hopefully inspire others to have the faith to tackle their own demons. I will indeed have a look at your post.
September 23, 2011, 4:00 pm
Thanks Delia. And thanks for what you do! Peace.