Benefits of combining alternative therapies with Western medicine

Rather than replacing Western medicine entirely, alternative therapies are increasingly seen to complement traditional medical practices


According to a press release on chronic pain by the American Pain Society (APS), a study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reveals almost 50 million adults suffer from chronic pain in the United States. Nearly half report their pain levels are severe enough to prevent them from performing their regular daily activities and routines.

Prescription opiates among most prescribed medications in western medicine

With statistics like these, it probably should not come as a surprise to anyone that strong painkillers containing opiates such as oxycodone or codeine are commonly found on the list of the Top 100 drugs filled by prescription each year. While this class of drug can provide relief from pain, risk comes with their use. The potential for addiction and a chance of accidental overdose are two of the many side effects users risk when taking painkillers.

Prescription side effects have many turning to alternative medicine

Many painkillers and other medications provide incomplete relief from symptoms and can also cause unwanted and serious side effects. This is one of the main reasons a growing number of sufferers are turning to alternative therapies to gain relief from chronic pain and other symptoms.

According to data in a 2008 NIH report on Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the United States, 38 percent of all American adults used some form of alternative therapy to treat their symptoms from ailments, illnesses, and diseases.

Alternative therapies vs. western medicine – which is better?

When deciding whether to use a traditional treatment or to try an alternative approach, it can be helpful to have a basic understanding of why the treatments found in alternative medicine are so different from those developed by traditional Western medicine.

The body as a machine made of many parts

In Western medicine, medications are commonly prescribed to alleviate pain or treat other symptoms. Prescriptions are just one of the many direct, and often invasive, types of treatment commonly found in Western medicine.

Treatments such as medications and surgery were developed in the West because of the widespread belief that the human body is a complex mechanism that has parts that often wear down, or break, causing illness. It is believed only direct intervention can restore the normal functioning of the various organs and processes in the body and return the sufferer to health and well-being.

Treating the whole person

Unlike Western medicine that looks at the human body as a machine that breaks down and falls ill because it has a faulty, malfunctioning part, alternative medicine tends to be more holistic in nature.

Rather than focusing on just one part of the human body, alternative therapies look at ways that individuals can make changes in lifestyle to gain balance between the emotional, physical, and spiritual aspects of the individual. Alternative therapies focus on calming the spirit and supporting the body to help it heal itself. Rather than focusing on one part of the individual, alternative therapies focus on optimizing the overall health and fitness of the entire person, including their mind and spirit.

Alternative medicine increasingly viewed as complementary to traditional western treatment

While more people are using only alternative medicine to increase their health, an increasing number are using alternative therapies in conjunction with Western medicine.  Rather than replacing Western medicine entirely, alternative therapies are increasingly seen to complement traditional medical practices. Taking a blended approach is seen by many health practitioners as a way for sufferers to reap the benefits offered by both types of treatment and to increase the level of healing the sufferer would have experienced should they have used only alternative therapies or Western medicine.

For example, rather than taking only a prescription opiate to beat back pain, acupuncture, massage, chiropractic manipulation, and exercise are a few alternative therapies that provide relief from low back pain. By using alternative therapies as a complement to Western medicine, sufferers can decrease the amount of medication they need to gain relief from pain. They might also be able to avoid more invasive treatments, such as surgery, or shorten the time it takes to recover from a surgical procedure.


The views, opinions and positions expressed by all Troy Media columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Troy Media.
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