Chinese, Greek, Roman and Indian: For thousands of years, cultures around the world have practiced holistic medicine focusing on the whole body through emotional and spiritual well-being.
Today, “alternative medicine” describes holistic, integrative or “complementary” treatments used instead of or in conjunction with traditional therapies.
The practice of holistic medicine integrates conventional and alternative therapies to prevent and treat disease, and most importantly, to promote optimal health. The use of such therapies is on the rise, according to recent studies; here are some of the most popular alternative treatments available.
Nurturing the mind and body through rituals and healthy products has been fashionable for several decades. However, spas have long been associated with nature’s healing hot springs and mineral waters, dating back to ancient Greek and Roman times.
“Spas are places devoted to overall well-being through a variety of professional services that encourage the renewal of mind, body and spirit,” according to the International SPA Association. Today, there are more than 21,000 traditional spas in the U.S.
Spa services often include massages for muscle relaxation and relief from tension; facial and body treatments for contouring, detoxifying, toning and exfoliating; manicures; pedicures; and hair services. Pools, steam rooms, saunas, whirlpools and relaxing lounges provide total sensory wellness and calm in a soothing environment. Therapists and estheticians also conduct a variety of specialty services.
This niche health care/cosmetic industry has emerged over the past decade; today, there are more than 2,100 such facilities nationwide. Minimally or non-invasive aesthetic procedures led by advances in laser machine technological have pushed this hybrid industry fast-forward into our culture.
Aging baby boomers, the majority of them women, are lining up for laser hair removal, chemical peels, microdermabrasion, skin rejuvenation, Botox injections, dermal fillers, body contouring, facials, waxing and other anti-aging treatments.
Most medical spas have a physician on-site, although state regulations vary.
Western medicine often focuses on treating the symptoms of pain and discomfort, rather than the causes. Acupuncture has been in the Chinese medicine cabinet for thousands of years, effectively unblocking the flow of internal energy through the body’s pathways by inserting thin metal needles into the skin at specific trouble spots. The procedure redirects energy to help alleviate pain.
Practitioners also use acupuncture to stimulate connective tissue, nerves and muscles, as well as to increase blood flow to release the body’s natural pain relievers. It’s often used when standard therapies, medications and treatments have been ineffective.
Common ailments like neck pain, lower back pain, knee pain, allergies, insomnia, headaches, nerve injuries, chronic fatigue, stress, anxiety, inflammation and arthritis can be improved with acupuncture. During a typical acupuncture session, five to 20 needles are inserted painlessly at targeted distress points and left for 10 to 20 minutes.
All acupuncturists must be licensed by the state of South Carolina.
Herbalists nurture good health and help prevent and treat illnesses using natural remedies.
Although the use of herbs — any plant consumed for its therapeutic value — has been on the upswing for years in the West, modern synthetic, single-chemical medications have long been the go-to source for curative powers and health maintenance among alternative healers. Specific herbs and ingredients treat different complaints, and healers say herbal treatments rarely are accompanied by the side effects of modern pharmaceuticals.
Turmeric, cinnamon, rosemary, ginger, basil, garlic and St. John’s wort are among the most popular and therapeutic herbs.
Many people who have never seen a chiropractor imagine stretching out face down on a table as a doctor pushes and pulls — accompanied by pain and scary cracking or popping noises.
But never fear: That sound you might here is only the stretching of spinal joint tissue — a simple, painless readjustment of structural alignment in the musculoskeletal system.
Spinal manipulation can help increase joint movement and muscle relaxation and can be done by hand or with a special device. Controlled force on the affected joint can be gentle or strong, slow or fast. Heat, electrical stimulation or ultrasound might be used prior to hands-on treatment.
Back and neck pain are the most common reasons people seek out chiropractors, but headaches and arm or leg pain also might prompt treatment.
HYPERBARIC OXYGEN THERAPY
To experience the full benefits of hyperbaric oxygen therapy, make sure you breathe deeply. As part of the treatment, patients enter a total body chamber in which atmospheric pressure is increased and controlled to produce 100 percent pure oxygen. The technique enhances the body’s natural healing process by stimulating damaged tissue. As the blood transports all this oxygen throughout the body, bacteria are attacked and growth factors and stem cells are released.
Oxygen therapy can help treat severe anemia, blood pressure problems, burns, decompression sickness, carbon monoxide poisoning, gangrene, vision loss, diabetic foot ulcers, skin or bone infections, and skin grafts, among other conditions.
When you find you’re suffering from limited range of movement or aches and pains, make an appointment for physiotherapy. The treatment will help to relieve pain and restore normal movement, whether you’re healing from a minor injury or recovering from joint surgery.
A physical therapist will examine and diagnose your physical symptoms of pain, explore your lifestyle and daily activities, and determine a game plan for treatment. The end goal is to restore and enhance flexibility, strength, endurance, coordination and balance.
A therapist’s first duty will be to reduce pain and swelling, sometimes with manual therapy and techniques such as heat or cold or electrical stimulation.
Exercise does wonders for sustained physical health and wellness. It makes us feel good. Repetitive cognitive training can do the same thing to maintain or improve brain function, especially for reducing the risk of age-advanced dementia.
For those who have been diagnosed with memory impairments, social interaction and cognitive stimulation through digital and hands-on technology can boost spatial, memory, language and visual skills. Art and music therapies, games, storytelling and physical exercise can assist in promoting better brain health — as can restful sleep, good nutrition and social interaction.
Brain plasticity, or the brain’s ability to change both physically and chemically at any age, can positively affect the brain as we age. Targeted exercises that are repetitious and challenging can help retrain and reinvigorate the brain’s functionality.
YOGA AND PILATES
In with the old and in with the new: yoga and Pilates.
Indian yoga postures date back to 3,000 B.C., and were founded on the unity of the mind, body and spirit through breathing exercises, movement and meditation. Yoga is believed to have reached the U.S. in the 1800s; it saw a surge in popularity in the 1960s and has been popular ever since.
A progression of holistic seated and standing poses stimulates blood flow to all the organs, glands and tissues for proper body alignment.
Although there are many similarities between yoga and Pilates, the century-old younger technique focuses on strengthening the core muscles, which in turn strikes a balance between muscle groups and forms a stronger, more flexible physique.
One difference between the two practices is that yoga moves at a slower pace and holds each pose for a longer period of time than Pilates.
Other alternative medicine practices include sound therapy, transcendental meditation, magnetic energy therapy, reiki, tai chi, gi gong breathing exercises, healing touch, pet-partner therapy, acupressure, aromatherapy, hydrotherapy, biofeedback, naturopathy and reflexology.
Hilton Head Monthly salutes the following practitioners of alternative medicine:
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