Part 2: Alternative Treatments and Disability
In Part 1 of this series, we explored the concepts of alternative medicine and disability. In this part of this 3-part series, we explore alternative treatments. Some of the more well-known of these treatments include the following:
- Acupuncture – Traditional Chinese Medicine believes that a life-force energy permeates our bodies through meridians punctuated by acupuncture points. As a visualization, view the meridians as a pipeline through which life-force energy flows and the points as periodically placed, flow-controlling valves. With this analogy, acupuncture needles represent the socket wrenches that open the valves, promoting health-enhancing energy flow.
- Prolotherapy – also called proliferation therapy or regenerative injection therapy is an alternative medicine treatment that uses injection of an irritant solution into a joint space, ligaments or tendon insertion in an effort to relieve pain or address ligament laxity. It is based on the fact that when ligaments or tendons (connective tissue) are stretched or torn, the joint they are holding destabilizes and can become painful. Prolotherapy, with its unique ability to directly address the cause of the instability, can repair the weakened sites and produce new collagen tissue, resulting in permanent stabilization of the joint. Once the joint is stabilized, pain usually resolves.
- Laser therapy – Basically, lasers amplify light by producing coherent light beams. Because low-energy lasers represent a non-invasive, non-heat-producing, painless mechanism to stimulate regenerative processes, they are finding numerous therapeutic applications. Laser energy affects many physiological processes, including cellular respiration and gene expression.
- Craniosacral therapy – Craniosacral therapyis a gentle hands-on alternative medicine procedure for evaluating and enhancing the functioning of the craniosacral system, a physiological system surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Therapy advocates believe that this system influences the whole body by affecting the brain and spinal cord, as well as the brain’s pituitary and pineal gland. As such, the craniosacral system serves as a core function in that the entire body’s health depends on its well being. As a core function, the therapy has the ability to treat a wide-range of disorders and physical disability, including spinal cord injury (SCI). Craniosacral therapy evolved from osteopathic medicine with its musculoskeletal emphasis. In the early 1900s, osteopathic physician William Sutherland concluded that skull bones are not firmly fixed but can move relative to each other. With these observations, he developed a treatment called cranial osteo. In recent years, Dr. John Uple further developed Sutherland’s observations and incorporated them into a treatment now called craniosacral therapy.
- Aromatherapy – This technique uses scents from essential plant oils that are either applied directly onto the skin or inhaled. For example, some oils that are used in the treatment of pain are:
- Lavender Oil
- Chamomile Oil
- African Marigold Oil
- Peppermint Oil
There is absolutely no guarantee that any of these treatments will work. However, one thing can be said about them. For example, acupuncture has been used for approximately 4,000 years. Its efficacy during that time has been proven by both anecdotal and scientific studies. Still, while some people greatly benefit from acupuncture, others do not benefit at all. The same goes for treatments such as aromatherapy or laser therapy. Some people will benefit but to others it becomes a waste of time and money.
The key to using alternative treatments is to know beforehand exactly what you are getting into. That means doing your homework – investigate different practitioners. Get some referrals from friends, family or colleagues. Find out who the “best” people are so that you can at least know you are seeing a credible practitioner. Ask a lot of questions. Find out about their background and training. Just as you would with any medical or treatment practitioner, you absolutely need to know what you can expect to get from the treatments. Another caveat is to find out the risks. A lot of people seem to believe that if the treatment is ‘natural’ then it can’t be harmful. Nothing could be further from the truth. Natural treatments can also harm a person especially if the treatment just is not a good fit for them.
The fact is, that none of the treatments on this list are particularly controversial but neither are they part of the mainstream of medicine (except perhaps acupuncture). They are not covered under Canada’s healthcare system even though it is possible people could benefit from using them. Some additional treatments that people have been accessing through the alternative ‘medical’ system are:
- Energy medicine including a treatment known as Reiki – Reiki practitioners use a technique calledpalm healing or hands-on healing through which a “universal energy” is allegedly transferred through the palms of the practitioner to the patient in order to encourage emotional or physical healing.
- Vitamin therapy – the premise is that certain vitamins in specific doses may be able to help with certain conditions. Some vitamin therapy does have a scientific basis. For example, the lack of Vitamin D and sunlight in the winter months can be a factor leading to SAD – Seasonal Affected Disorder, a form of depression.
- Hyperbaric Oxygen Chamber – placing people in a chamber and exposing them to pure oxygen. It has been used successfully for decompression sickness, a hazard of scuba diving.
This is by no means an all-inclusive list. People with disabilities often arrive at a point in life where, unfortunately, traditional or conventional medicine is no longer helpful. Therefore, they seek out complementary or alternative medicine and treatments. There is nothing wrong with that, but one should be careful. In the world of alternative medicine and treatments there are some people who would take advantage of someone who is vulnerable and willing to pay for anything that could help. Do the research. Talk to people. Make sure you know who you’re going to and what you’re getting into before putting money down. If you feel skeptical then perhaps that is a sign to pull back and take more time before making a decision.
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