Looking back over the years I cannot help but be reminded of some of my most interesting cases as a chiropractor. While each one unique in different ways, one common thread runs deep – the state of the human body is intricate and almost fragile. It has a miraculous way of telling us if something isn’t right. For example, right shoulder pain can signify gallbladder disease. Back pain can sometimes indicate a diseased pancreas. Or, left shoulder, arm, and jaw pain can indicate cardiac compromise. Sometimes symptoms can be apparent, while other times subtle changes may only be recognized. At any rate, each system of the body needs to function sufficiently together in order to achieve total wellness. This idea of treating the body as one is not a trend that recently started in light of high insurance premiums or poor medical coverage, it’s a belief that has been around for thousands of years spanning across many cultures. The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified over 300 alternative therapies originating from around the world. These are medical systems that consists of several alternative therapies, typically culturally based, and focused on treating the entire body. Are you ready to travel and take closer look at some of these? Then let the tour begin!
Our first stop – China
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
This healing system is estimated to be thousands of years old. One principle of TCM focuses on the interaction between the environment and people. Health is achieved when there is a balance between the two. Another principle unique to TCM commonly used is Qi or Chi (energy). Several invisible energy pathways or meridians travel within the body, plants, animals and earth. Qi is further broken down into more commonly used terms yin and yang. These two are opposites and complementary of one another. Health is achieved when there is balance between the body and its environment. Illness is caused by the imbalance of yin and yang. Diagnosis in TCM is made by observing the tongue and pulses; believing that the condition of the organs will be manifested here.
Some of the following treatments are utilized in TCM when there is disharmony within the body:
Acupuncture– Surprisingly some documentation for the use of acupuncture in China dates back over 4,000 years ago. Although there are several different types of acupuncture, TCM is the most commonly used and has been around for several thousands of years. Its notoriety was born in the 1970’s when in Beijing, a patient by the name of James Reston had an appendectomy using acupuncture instead routine anesthesia. Energy flows vertically through 72 meridians that support and nourish the body. Small acupuncture needles are methodically placed within the vascular tissue, along various meridians to increase or decrease energy within that pathway. As a result, balance is restored and healing takes place.
Applications– Acupuncture has best been known to help with nausea/vomiting and pain, however more and more studies have shown beneficial in treating things such as anxiety, sleep disturbances, asthma and digestive issues.
QiGong– (life energy) dates back more than 3,000 years. It was developed within the Chinese culture. Different uses have been established since its conception, ranging from preventative to enhancing martial arts techniques. Qi Gong is seen as a way to keep the mind, body and spirit healthy. This consists of stilling the mind, bringing mental clarity and balance into the body. The energy from our surroundings (air, food, sunlight, water) and from within interact together and must be in balance to achieve total health. This alternative therapy is based on a system of positions and postures combined with visualization and breathing techniques that are used to restore the body’s qi or energy. Usually slow, deep, rhythmic style breathing is utilized with simple and dynamic exercises to awaken the inner body, thus allowing restoration to take place.
Applications– combing specific postures and breathing techniques together allows systemic health to be enhanced. Improvement of the cardiovascular system, reduction in anxiety and stress, increased bone density, promotion of coordination and balance have all been documented. Today, this technique is even used in conjunction with physical therapy to help in the recovery of stroke patients.
Next stop- United States: Davenport, Iowa
Chiropractic- founded in 1895, by D.D. Palmer, this complementary alternative medicine examines the relationship between the spine and nervous system. The body is controlled by 31 pairs of spinal nerves that branch off from the spinal cord and innervates the organs and body. The spinal column is protected by vertebrae (bones), which makes up the spine. A distortion or irregularity within these bones/joints or surrounding muscles impedes the function of the nervous system, resulting in pain and dysfunction. Through correcting the subluxation or misalignment within the spine with chiropractic adjustments, pressure on the nerve is released. By restoring the body’s function, healing takes place, allowing health to be achieved. Chiropractic care is one of the largest complementary alternative treatments with popularity spanning across the world.
Applications- defined by Palmer as “a science of healing without drugs” most commonly sought after for low back pain, chiropractic care has also been linked to treating (to name a few) neck pain, headaches, ear infections, several extremity problems such as frozen shoulder syndrome, carpal tunnel syndrome, scoliosis, and muscle spasms. Other non-musculoskeletal conditions that can be treated are: high blood pressure, menstrual irregularities, digestive issues, colic, fibromyalgia and dizziness.
Last stop of the day- Germany
Homeopathy- Some claim that Hippocrates in 400 BC was the first to practice homeopathy when he used a mandrake root to treat mania, knowing that in large doses, it may induce the very thing he was trying to cure. In the early 1800’s a German physician by the name of Samuel Hahnemann coined the term. He later came to the theories of, “The Law of Similars”, meaning in a healthy person, naturally occurring substances within the body produce symptoms, that same substance can “cure” the aliments in a sick person (like cures like). “The law of Infinitesimals” states that the smallest dose possible can have the most desirable of effects. Interestingly enough, this is the concept used in most vaccinations seen today. Homeopathy believes when sickness or illness is present, let the illness run its course. Believing, that if symptoms are masked, such as when some medications are used, the problem is not corrected and causes the illness to penetrate deeper making it difficult to heal the body. This alternative medicine believes that when the body is exposed to certain illnesses or agents, the immune system is allowed to strengthen, resulting in adequate healing.
Applications– homeopathy uses thousands of remedies consisting of minerals, herbs, plants, animals and synthetic products to treat an array of symptoms. Some of theses are, eczema, allergies, headache, fertility, respiratory illnesses, pain, and anxiety.
All of these practice treat the whole person and aims to correct the underlying cause of disease or illness rather than what’s seen on the surface. They look at the mind, body, and spirit and treat them as one rather than each separately.
The old saying, “knowledge is power” goes a long way. While there is always going to be controversy and risks involved in everything we do, knowing what types of medicine are out there can better equip us to be an active participant in our own wellbeing. Across so many cultures and continents, imagine the lives that have been helped using these therapies. Some dating back for thousands of years, what stories, traditions and healing took place!
If you’ve experienced positive and effective results with alternative therapies, please share! We would love to hear from you!
DEFINE’s senior instructor and anatomy specialist, Lori Hudson Bertrand D.C., R.N. is a doctor in chiropractic and registered nurse. Her love for helping people through education about anatomy and physiology drives her to continue to share her experiences and knowledge with others as they pursue their journey towards health and restoration!
Information about Complementary Alternative Medicine used in this post is found in Giordano, PH.D., Introduction To Complementary and Alternative Medicine, (Ann Arbor, MI: ProQuest, 2005), 20-23; Taylor, Lillis, LeMone, Lynn, Fundamentals of Nursing, (Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer, 2008), 747-763.