Thursday, November 6, 2008

complementary vs alternative medicine

Therapies like acupuncture, massage therapy, biofeedback and many others are often referred to as "alternative" therapies, and have been for years. Recently, there's been a movement toward referring to them instead as "complementary" therapies. This choice of words may not seem like a big deal, but there is, indeed, a big difference.

"Alternative" therapy implies a complete replacement of more traditional approaches, such as medication or surgery. "Complementary" therapy implies an addition to these more traditional approaches.

A perfect example of this is the difference between the two acupuncturists I've seen. With the first, Dr W, I was pushed toward accepting acupuncture as an alternative therapy, as the only treatment. Instead of preventive medication to treat my Migraines, I would use acupuncture. I saw Dr W for two months, and by the end when I saw a decrease in effectiveness, she insisted it was the fault of the medication. "I can't treat the side effects," she would tell me, "so I can't help you if you stay on these drugs." This disagreement eventually became a big part of why I chose to quit acupuncture.

I quit acupuncture in January of this year, and since then, trialed a number of preventive meds, as well as Botox, and I still wasn't achieving the success in treatment I wanted. This led to me once again seeking a more holistic approach when I saw Dr P last month.

The acupuncturist Dr P referred me to, P, sees acupuncture as a complementary therapy. She has no problem with me taking medications. (Ironic, since the only daily drug I take is Zyrtec for my allergies. Everything else is either daily supplements or as-needed medication.) P also understands that for me, Migraine is a very genetic condition - my mother and sister both are Migraineurs, and we suspect my mom's sisters and mother also suffered from Migraine. With that kind of genetic history, a "cure" from just acupuncture is not feasible. Dr W didn't understand this, or didn't agree with it. P understands that acupuncture alone will not work, and adding supplements, massage therapy, Nia dance and medication is much more likely to be successful.

I am a big proponent of complementary therapies. I think they can and do help treat difficult chronic conditions. However, for most people - especially those with complicated cases - complementary therapy will not be enough on its own (as alternative therapy), but will work as part of a larger, holistic treatment regimen. The same way one medication intervention is also unlikely to work for the difficult cases, one complementary therapy is unlikely to work. Holistic - complementary - is key.


In case you haven't noticed from my increased posting, I am already starting to feel better. My head pain hasn't necessarily changed much, though I have had a few low-pain days where I had none before. I do have more energy. Not a huge amount, but enough that I've noticed and it makes a difference. I feel like my body is absorbing the new supplements better than the ones I took before, which is good, because I'm swallowing upward of 20 pills a day. I'm having some mild side effects from both the Petadolex and CoQ10, but they seem to be dissipating (only reappearing when I've increased the dosage). I've yet to start the Nia dance, but I have a few options for classes that I will be trying the next week or so.

While I am hoping for continued success with my new treatment regimen, I also realize it's likely I will have to add another preventive medication (specifically, a prescription drug) to my regimen in the future. I'm okay with that. Hopefully, the treatment I'm trying now will mean I need less prescription medication intervention in the future.

Be well,


Debbie said...

It looks like you are on the road to success. Be AWAP today.

Migraine Chick said...

Maybe I will try this accupuncture thing!!

Parin Stormlaughter said...

Hon, I'm with you.

I'd rather call them completing therapies. To me, they 'complete' the work of the Western physician.

I'm getting both chiropractics and acupuncture right now. The chiro I see is under no illusions that either is 'the only way to go'. I've discovered that I have severe spine problems that seem to keep the nerves from my collarbone upward in a state of constant inflammation.

I'm pleased so far, quite frankly.

We'll make it!

rain gem said...

Good Point....

Too bad I have already tagged all those things as "Alternative Migraine Treatment" on my site. Kinda hard to re-tag 300+ articles.

Still, a nicely worded distinction.

Megan Oltman said...

MJ you have hit the nail on the head. Had a big argument with a cranio-sacral therapist just last week to whom I described the neurological mechanism of a Migraine attack and he said "I'm not familiar with that model." It's not a model any more than a description of the force of gravity is a model of what happens when you fall off the roof. Well, I'd better save my rant for another place and time but the point is - complementary or completing recognizes that there are many approaches to wellness and it may take several to get the job done. Anyway, I'm so glad your new regimen is helping. Hoping that it calms your system enough that you can cope with the next preventive medication better as well.

Barbara K. said...

Pain doesn't wait for treatment trials to conclude. I too double dipped and used both traditional and complementary approaches at the same time. I didn't have the time to be a purist. I just wanted something to help.

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Diana Lee said...

I'm so glad to hear you're doing well. I hope it continues!

Dr. Bogash's Rantings said...

Great post. There is always a time and place for mainstream medicine (just not every time and every place). The best providers of complementary medicine should guide you to choices to remove the need for medications that you are on (weight loss, quitting smoking, higher phytonutrient / plant based diet, etc..). It's great for us providers to sit on a high horse and tell a patient in pain to NOT take meds (out of the scope of practice by most, actually), but the reality is that the patient has a life to live and meds can help them manage it.

Aisha Ajaz said...

I'm so happy that i read through all the testimonial and feel encouraged
that there are other options open so don't just feel its the end of this world where people like you are sharing to improve others quality of life. Hands up to you thanks for sharing. Regards n Love