Looking at Alternative Treatments for Arthritis: What You Should Know

February 22nd, 2010  Posted at   Arthritis

Now that you have a better idea of what to look out for and how to communicate with all kinds of medical practitioners, let’s discuss some of the specific modes of alternative treatment.

Ayurveda: means “science of life.” This form of alternative therapy focuses on maintaining physical health and well-being so a person can pursue a greater spiritual development. The main emphasis is healthy living through a good diet, exercise, moderation and meditation. The practitioner is just an advisor. Each person must put the advice to use. The theory of this kind of therapy is centered at body energy. What the practitioners helps you achieve is a balance of energy within yourself and the forces around you. Most of the treatment has to do with your digestion and elimination systems. The idea is to purify the system by eliminating toxins, therefore restoring balance within the body.

Chinese Medicine: “Balancing Vital Energy.” This form of therapy also has to do with finding balance in the body. The Chinese describe it as the yin and yang energies. These two forces are often opposing, but need to be in balance for optimal health. The Chinese also believe in something called Qi, which loosely translated represents life itself. It is referred to as life flowing through our bodies. When the Qi is blocked somewhere in the body the person becomes sick and the practitioner must work with that person to unblock the Qi. To accomplish the unblocking and re-establish the balance between the yin and yang they prescribe acupuncture, acupressure and exercises called tai chi chuan and qi gong as well as other herbs and preparations.

Naturopathic Medicine: This form of therapy centers around the body healing itself by living a healthy lifestyle and giving the body what it needs to function properly. It focuses on the person and not the disease and also working with the patient to prevent disease. The doctor plays the part of a teacher, with the patient educating themselves on healthy habits. Some of the focus is on removing poisons and bad habits and encouraging things like exercise, positive attitudes and bringing balance into ones life. One of the key areas the practitioners focus on is nutrition. Modern naturopathic physicians study a variety of disciplines including, nutrition, manipulation, herbal medicine, hydrotherapy and counseling. This type of practitioner is not equipped to provide all the treatment you will need for arthritis. It is truly a complementary form of medicine; therefore you also will need a medical doctor to treat you as well.

Osteopathic Medicine: Today osteopathic doctors go through almost the identical education process as regular MDs. They can do surgery and write prescriptions and they can also specialize in other fields of medicine just as a regular MD. The big difference between a regular MD and an Osteopathic doctor is the Osteopathic doctor looks at the musculoskeletal system as the core of the problem. They feel that if they can help the patient get their bones and muscles in good working order that other problems will resolve themselves. They use manipulation of the entire bone structures of the body. Some other forms of therapy used include massage, relaxation, diet changes and also exercise.

Chiropractic: This form of alternative therapy is widely used. It is the third largest health-care profession. Millions of people each year seek the help of a chiropractor for the relief of back and neck pain. Many people find themselves going to a Chiropractor after an accident or injury. It is also a form of therapy that many people with musculoskeletal problems find relief from their discomfort. The focus of treatment is to realign the spine. Chiropractors feel if there are problems with the alignment of the spine (subluxation specifically) this causes pain and sometimes immobility and loss of function. By aligning the spine they feel the patient will benefit by a reduction in pain and an increase in overall mobility.

There are two different kinds of Chiropractors “straights” and “mixers.” Traditional or “straights” concentrate on just doing spinal manipulations. “Mixers” use several different approaches to treatment. Some include, electrical stimulation, ultrasound, herbal and vitamin therapies, and nutritional counseling. These practitioners may also have other certifications including massage therapy and physical therapy or work closely with practitioners that provide these complimentary services. “Mixers” use more of a comprehensive approach that involves more than just spinal manipulations. People with arthritis should use caution when seeking help from a chiropractor. Manipulating weak, diseased joints can cause more damage to the joint.

Mind-Body Connection: There are many therapies that are practiced by individuals for pain relief and stress reduction. Most people use these with other forms of conventional therapy. It has been well documented that negative emotions such as stress, depression and anxiety can increase symptoms and result in more pain and loss of function. The mind-body connection and how it can be used to help a person get control over symptoms and their life is an accepted form of therapy. This fact was proven a few decades ago when researchers used a placebo on a group of patients. In a controlled study some patients were given the real medicine and others were give a sugar pill or placebo. It was proven in several research studies that about 30 percent of the people in the studies responded the same whether they got the medication or the placebo. From this research they concluded that there was something to the mind, body connection and how a patients physical well-being was affected by their mental health. Because of these studies and others like them the whole field of mind-body therapy immerged. Some of the more common forms of mind-body therapies follow.

Biofeedback: This is a method where electronic monitors are used to teach the patients how to lower muscle tension and reduce pain. It is performed at a clinic initially and then as the patients become familiar with the process they can do it at home. Basically an electrical monitor is used to detect tension at a specific area of the body. The patient is lead through a series of relaxation exercises focusing on that area of the body to help relieve the tension. The monitor is used to help the patient or clinician detect a change in how the muscle is reacting to the relaxation techniques. This form of therapy takes concentrated work on the part of the patient. The results come over time as the patients become more in tune with their bodies and can focus on certain areas of the body. It also requires a place where the patient can go and not be interrupted and can feel safe.

Meditation: People who practice meditation find it helps relieve tension, pain, stress and depression. It is a form of therapy that develops an inner calmness when practiced regularly. Meditation is not a form of therapy that can be learned and applied overnight. It takes practice, focus and belief in the process. Usually the longer a person practices the more effective the outcome.

Hypnosis: There is self-hypnosis and being hypnotized by a professional. This form of therapy has been used for several conditions: weight reduction, smoking cessation, pain reduction and a number of other problems. The way it works is through different techniques that alter your consciousness and help you focus your attention. This is another form of therapy that you have to believe in or it will not work for you.

Other forms of mind-body therapy used are visualization, guided imagery, relaxation, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, tai chi and yoga to name a few. In addition to the mind-body aspect of treating symptoms there are other specific forms of therapy that I want to mention.

Massage in its many different forms has shown to be beneficial in treating symptoms. When looking for a massage therapist you might want to educate yourself on the different techniques used in massage. These are a few of the more common types: reflexology, craniosacral, deep tissue, trigger point, myofascial release and acupressure. Each one of these techniques concentrates on a specific area of the body or amount of pressure used. This is one form of therapy that people either get good results or no results and it usually only takes one or two session to find out if it will benefit you. Educate yourself and find out what kind of training your therapist has before you schedule an appointment. The information you collect can mean the difference between helping you and causing more damage to your joints.

Other segments of alternative therapy are diet, supplements, herbs, teas and things like bee venom, magnets and copper bracelets. I am not going to elaborate on these forms of therapy because the benefits derived from them are controversial and lack scientific explanation. There are articles written about these forms of therapy if you have an interest and want to investigate them.

In closing one thing I would like to emphasize is that each person with arthritis needs to find his/her own unique remedies. Even though some 22 million people have osteoarthritis, each one of them needs to find the right treatment program for themselves. That program may include several different treatment modes, combining conventional with alternative. Just as each person is an individual, his or her approach to treating illness should also be tailored specifically for that individual.

Over the last 47 years of battling with rheumatoid arthritis I have used many different forms of therapy in my treatment program. One treatment plan will not last forever so we all must constantly be educating ourselves about new therapies whether they are conventional or alternative.

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