Treatment: Alternative Therapy
Alternative, or "complementary therapies," the term preferred by many who practice these treatments, are therapies that are outside the field of traditional Western medicine. Numerous people use these therapies as an adjunct to traditional medical treatment. Because of the popularity and increasing use of these modalities, the National Institutes of Health created the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 1998.
Many alternative/complementary therapies are grounded in Eastern philosophy and include such practices as yoga, tai chi and acupuncture. Although these therapies do not follow traditional Western medical practices, some are endorsed by the Western medical community because
their benefits have been confirmed by anecdotal and/or scientific investigation.
There are many types of alternative/complementary therapies, too numerous to examine here. Listed below are summaries describing commonly used and/or accepted forms of complementary therapies for people with chronic fatigue syndrome. Insurance coverage may be available
for certain types of treatment. People will need to contact their health insurance company to determine what benefits are available.
Yoga was first practiced in India more than 5,000 years ago. The word literally means, "union," and more specifically, the union of body, mind and spirit. Yoga is a system of exercises designed to realize physical or mental control and general well-being. It can improve muscle tone, posture, mental clarity, stress control and self-understanding. Yoga can create a sense of calm and relaxation that may be helpful for pain relief. Classes, books, videos and internet resources are available to help learn more about this therapy. There are currently no standards or certifying agencies that regulate yoga teaching and practice.
Acupuncture is a Chinese therapy practiced for more than 2,000 years. It involves the insertion of tiny, hair-thin, smooth-pointed needles into specific body points called meridians. There are 12 meridians, each believed to be associated with a vital body function or organ.
It is thought that by stimulating these points, a person's "vital energy," or "qi," can be balanced. Acupuncture is used to relieve
pain, prevent nausea and to treat substance abuse as well as several other conditions. Side effects are minimal but there is a risk of infection from improperly sterilized needles. To help decrease this risk, it is important to find a certified practitioner. There are standards and certifications in place for acupuncture practitioners.
Acupressure, or shiatsu, is similar to acupuncture in that it focuses on the body's 12 meridians, or pathways to vital energy. It is based on
traditional Chinese medicine that applies manual pressure to specific points along the pathways to relieve pain, stress, mild depression, and other disorders. There are no national standards for the practice of this technique.
Tai Chi is an ancient Eastern martial art practice combining the mind and body and is thought to provide healing and soothing properties. This stress-reducing and healing therapy is based on the principle of using slow continuous motions, evenly paced and natural, which are connected by breathing. The mind-body connection of tai chi is based on the premise that negative physical body reactions can be minimized if a person learns to control their own thoughts and their reactions to those thoughts. There are no national standards and certifications in place to regulate the practice of tai chi.
The theory of therapeutic massage is that the body's soft tissues respond to touch, an essential element of health and well-being. According
to Massage Magazine, massage was the first health procedure used to relieve pain, because the first thing that people do is touch and rub a painful area. Massage is defined as rubbing soft tissues of the body to alleviate pain and stress. Proponents of this therapy also report that massage eases the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Nationally certified practitioners and health care providers routinely order massage therapy and health insurance programs frequently cover this treatment.
There is much controversy surrounding touch therapy and its legitimacy has been questioned; however, specially trained clinicians continue to provide this therapy, which is found to help some people. Many touch therapists are registered nurses who integrate this therapy with their routine nursing care. Therapeutic touch attempts to redirect the body's energy fields to promote healing and alleviate pain. The name of this therapy is misleading because there is no actual touch involved. The therapist senses these energy fields and, with their hands held above a person's skin, reroutes the energy. Practitioners can obtain training certification but there are no national standards of practice for this therapy.
Practitioners of naturopathy believe in the natural healing capacity of a person and adhere to the concept of harmonious functioning of the
entire being: physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, environmental and social. Naturopathic practitioners treat people with a combination of many methods, which can include nutrition, plant-based (botanical) medicine, physical medicine, exercise, massage, counseling, biofeedback, and hypnotherapy. Certified naturopathic doctors undergo rigorous training and four years of postgraduate study in medical sciences. Other naturopathic
therapists have varying amounts of training but are not certified.
Homeopathy utilizes highly individualized treatment plans that consist of natural pharmaceuticals, derived from plants, minerals and animals. These substances are chosen to create the same symptoms a person is experiencing so that the body can build its own defenses and heal itself. Supporters of this therapy cite the use of immunizations in traditional medicine as a type of homeopathic therapy, because the body develops antibodies (builds a defense system) to protect it from disease after the vaccine is given. Certification is provided for medical
doctors (M.D.), osteopathic physicians (D.O.), and dentists (D.D.S.) by the American Board of Homeotherapeutics and national standards govern the practice of certified practitioners. National certification and standards are not in place for other homeopathic therapists.
Twelve U.S. states recognize licensed homeopathic practitioners and only three U.S. states license physicians to practice homeopathy. The Council for Homeopathic Certification certifies non-medically trained practitioners. To obtain certification, these practitioners undergo lengthy education and practical experience (apprenticeship) and a rigorous certification exam process.
Meditation is used to ease stress, chronic pain and anxiety by giving the mind and body a break from the pressures that accompany life. The mind
and body are calmed by staying in the present moment. This is done by focusing on breathing, an image or a sound. It takes practice to acquire the capability to do this, but once this is accomplished, proponents of this therapy state that it is quite successful. Meditation can take several forms and it is important that a person choose the one that is right for them. Learn more about this therapeutic technique by finding an instructor, reading a book, listening to audiotapes or searching the Internet for additional information.
According to the Biofeedback Research Institute, this therapy uses external instruments to monitor physiological responses to thoughts. Heart and breathing rate, body temperature and brain wave activity are examples of physical signs that are measured. Biofeedback teaches people to recognize their reactions to thoughts so that they can control these reactions, thereby producing more positive effects for the mind and body. Biofeedback therapy is often available in hospitals, clinics and mind-body wellness centers by trained technicians. Therapists are health care professionals
who undergo specialized training to learn biofeedback techniques and instruments and can choose to be certified by the Biofeedback Certification Training Association of America, which has developed standards of practice. Some insurance companies may cover biofeedback therapy.
Many of the Internet links noted below provide information on multiple alternative therapies and can serve as resources for a variety of related topics.
Articles of Interest