What is Integrative Medicine?
“Integrative health” incorporates the use of alternative approaches as a complement to mainstream health care. Definitions of “integrative” medicine can vary, but all involve bringing conventional and alternative approaches together in a coordinated way. More and more people are taking this approach but as the marriage of the two is still relatively new the terminology is still in flux, the research is still developing so, when considering it, keep an open mind and exercise care.
Alternative health care practices, otherwise known as non-mainstream approaches, often seem new but many are in fact far from it.
In fact, some, like acupuncture and certain herbal remedies, have been around for thousands of years. They include the use of natural products and various mind-body techniques. Natural products are such things as healthy dietary choices and dietary supplements, herbs and minerals, and probiotics. Mind-body techniques include such things as yoga, chiropractic manipulation, meditation, massage therapy, acupuncture and hypnotherapy. And some alternative practices are a mix of both approaches and include traditional healers, Ayurvedic medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, and homeopathy.
An integrative approach to healthcare could look like many things but think of it as a mixture of the old and the new, Western and Eastern, conventional and unconventional. It’s basically the best of both worlds. Integrative therapies offer an array of philosophies and approaches to supplement the care your health care professional gives you, can increase your relief from pain and significantly improve your overall quality of life.
The US Dept of Health even has created a National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health to address this blossoming area of healthcare.
Integrative Medicine and Pain Management
Like other aspects of pain management it all comes down to understanding your own individual condition, listening to your body and finding what works best for you. That may sound simple but, as anyone living with chronic pain knows, it’s far from it, always in a state of flux and can be extraordinarily illusive. We just do the best we can at any given moment.
To take an integrative approach to pain management you need to discover which alternative therapies to use in addition to those that work for you in conventional medicine. Either one or the other can change over time but becoming familiar with choices is an empowering step towards proper pain management. It could look like practicing yoga in addition to taking a prescription analgesic, fortifying your diet with protein and calcium supplements to maintain muscle mass and bone density both before and after surgery, or forming a meditation practice to address chronic pain related depression and anxiety while regularly visiting a psychologist. The possibilities are really limitless.
Research has shown that integrative therapies can be effective in relieving the following conditions:
- Back and neck pain
- Arthritis and joint pain
- Pain resulting from injury or trauma
- Post-surgery pain
- Headache pain
- Pelvic pain and menstrual cramps
Researchers are finding that integrative medicine can provide a broad range of positive outcomes. This is because pain is a whole-body experience. There’s the physical cause of the pain, of course, but pain is compounded by stress, frustration, fatigue, medication side effects and many other factors.
The goal of integrative medicine is to treat the whole person ~mind, body and spirit ~ not just disease.
Integrative Medicine: Addressing the Whole Person
Integrative therapies are unique in that they address the whole person. Conventional medicine usually addresses simply the physical aspects of pain where as alternative approaches often help with the mind and spirit. Instead of just treating the source of the pain, integrative medicine takes a holistic body-mind-&-spirit approach.
And some integrative therapies target all 3 aspects, body, mind and spirit, to help reduce pain and bring healing. Good examples are yoga, tai-chi and meditation all of which quiet and relaxe the mind and center the spirit by using the body in creative and strengthening ways.
Chronic pain is complex and the real joy of integrative medicine is that it “sees” the whole picture.
Integrative Medicine: Things to Do and Think About Before You Begin
Combined with conventional medicine, integrative approaches can help relieve pain and improve the quality your of life. Like any new treatment or procedure you will need to do some homework before you begin and bear in mind that not all integrative therapies have been well researched. Always check with/notify your Doctor if you are receiving regular medical care before you start or add a new component to your treatment.
- Investigate: do your research: talk to others, including your healthcare team, and view reputable websites such as Integrative Approaches to Pain Management from the Mayo Clinic
- Find and use reputable providers: Only use providers who are well known in their field, who have professional credentials, or who come recommended by your health care professional or other reliable sources in the health care industry
- Beware of medication interactions: Be sure to bring up and discuss as well as research how a natural product or therapy treatment might interfere with your prescription medications.
- Understand the costs: Most integrative therapies aren’t covered by health insurance or take a knowledgeable and creative billing dept. to make sure their services get covered by your insurance plan and some can be quite expensive.