Acupuncture, bodywork and chiropractic — A, B, C. Okay, those aren’t the only alternative therapies and they don’t by definition deserve more attention than dozens of others. But a column has to start somewhere.

It was reported May 9 that for the first time in 58 years (since records have been kept, that is) money spent on pharmaceutical drugs declined in calendar year 2012. The Big Pharma folks have their list of excuses but could it be that Americans are spending less on drugs because we are embracing alternative medicine more?

Labeling therapies that have been around for thousands of years as “alternative” rankles my sensibilities. Yet it’s true that traditional therapies like acupuncture, ayurveda, herbal remedies and others are indeed accurately described as “alternatives” to conventional Western medical methods of drugs, surgery and often-unnecessary high-tech intervention. Make no mistake about it, Americans are turning to alternatives in increasing numbers. Reasons include lower cost, relatively non-existent dangerous side effects and the key: effectiveness. Alternatives are increasingly available. Below are my ABCs. If I were going to look into alternative therapies to address a health concern, I might first turn to these.

Acupuncture is only the most attention-getting segment of a traditional Chinese medical system that has successfully treated conditions for thousands of years. Western science struggles to understand how acupuncture and other therapies work, even though they obviously do. I’ve always been drawn to acupuncture as a therapy. Intuition tells me that a modality that honors and works with the energy pathways in the body has the potential to heal many illnesses or imbalances. Acupuncture is easily explained by the Chinese medical paradigm but the Western model has no analog. Traditional Chinese medicine calls the life force “chi” and acupuncture works with meridians, the channels of energy in the body. The inexact Western comparison might be considered the nervous system. Acupuncture encompasses far more than needles. It is part of a broader system that may include other related techniques. I first experienced acupuncture in 1979 on a trip to Japan. I also saw results in 1989 when a holistic veterinarian in North Hollywood cured my Scottish terrier of a persistent, chronic skin allergy when high-priced doggie dermatologists from Beverly Hills had failed for years. Traditional Chinese medicine has been effective for me in many cases. Though Nebraska law permits any physician to practice acupuncture without it, the designation Licensed Acupuncturist (L.Ac.) can be used only by graduates of a four-year college of Chinese Medicine. Western science has been studying acupuncture for only 30 years or so yet has found ample evidence that it is valid and works.

Bodywork, primarily therapeutic massage, is a staple of alternative therapy in my opinion. The stress-reduction factor alone makes massage a worthwhile addition to any health regimen. The proven benefits of regular massage are well established and include enhanced immune system response, lower blood pressure, improved circulation as well as relief from insomnia, pain, digestive disorders and more. The field of massage therapy has expanded to include many adjunctive techniques that can fall under the heading of bodywork. Practitioners with advanced training and talent can address acute conditions like lymphadema after cancer treatment, adhesions and rehabilitative work as well as other complex issues. Skills including reiki, craniosacral method, zero balancing, reflexology, aromatherapy and more can be combined to expand the scope. When it comes down to a maintenance and preventative modality, regular massage is like health insurance.

Chiropractic is technically rather new compared to Chinese medicine or ayurveda. Those two date to at least 3000 B.C. Chiropractic has its official beginning in 1895 with healer D.D. Palmer of Davenport, Iowa. He went on to found Palmer College of Chiropractic. Even so, chiropractic theory honors the innate healing ability of the body, as traditional alternative therapies do. Today, chiropractic physicians are found in over 100 countries worldwide. A chiropractic physician attends a four-year postgraduate university and must pass national boards much like a medical doctor. In its simplest sense, chiropractic maintains that when impediments to the body’s natural flow of energy are removed, the process of healing is effected. By physical manipulation of the spinal vertebrae, called an adjustment, any compromise in the nervous system is alleviated. As with many so-called alternative therapies, chiropractic has been studied and found to be effective for many complaints, not the least of which is back pain. Chiropractic adjustment rebalances the body’s healing energy and thus allows healthier function of all the systems and organs. In the past decade especially, chiropractors have often incorporated other therapies into practice. However, the basic technique of spinal adjustment remains the most powerful tool.

From apitherapy to zero balancing, with Gerson therapy, energy medicine, hippotherapy, crystal healing, sounding and more, there are more options than letters in the alphabet. These ABCs are only three readily available alternative therapies anyone may investigate. Along with herbal remedies, meditation, ayurveda, proper nutrition and dozens of other alternatives, the path to healing and health need not always go down the road of conventional Western medicine.

Be well.

Heartland Healing is a New Age polemic describing alternatives to conventional methods of healing the body, mind and planet. It is provided as information and entertainment, certainly not medical advice. It is not an endorsement of any particular therapy, either by the writer or The Reader. Visit for more information.

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