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Explainer: Introduction to Integrative Health

Lebanon, PA- Welcome to this new column on Integrative Health Care. You may also have heard of it by other names, such as Complementary and Integrative Medicine (CAM) or Holistic Health. This has been my passion for many years, even though I worked in the nursing field in traditional medicine all my life. Let me start by explaining what Complementary and Alternative Medicine is. Complementary Health Techniques (not the alternative ones) are used along with your traditional medical care, which is often medication, surgery, or physical therapy.

Ellen Gecker, Orion Wellness

Lebanon, PA- Welcome to this new column on Integrative Health Care. You may also have heard of it by other names, such as Complementary and Integrative Medicine (CAM) or Holistic Health. This has been my passion for many years, even though I worked in the nursing field in traditional medicine all my life. Let me start by explaining what Complementary and Alternative Medicine is. Complementary Health Techniques (not the alternative ones) are used along with your traditional medical care, which is often medication, surgery, or physical therapy. The purposes of Complementary Techniques are to help the medical care be effective, to relieve or reduce symptoms, and to help you feel calm and have a more positive outlook.

You probably already know of or have had some Complementary Health Techniques yourself. Some of the more well-known techniques are massage, chiropractic, aromatherapy which uses essential oils, meditation, hypnosis, yoga, tai chi, acupuncture, and music or art therapy. The list can go on and on, but those are fairly well-known ones. In this column, I will not be addressing things that are taken by mouth, such as herbs and supplements, because I am not an expert and also because I don’t wish to be responsible for what people take into their bodies.

Next to explain are Alternative Health Techniques. People would do these instead of traditional medical care. For example, my cousin, who had Stage 4 breast cancer and wasn’t given any hope by her doctors, chose not to do chemotherapy and instead went to Mexico for a lengthy stay at an expensive center. There they did things like coffee enemas, oxygen therapy, and injections of a medication that one of their staff brought back on a plane from a small country in western Europe. Unfortunately, none of it worked and, when she came home, her oncologist was not very cooperative in helping her with pain and symptom relief because she had refused chemotherapy. I helped her get connected with a palliative care/hospice agency and they gave her the help she needed during the dying stage. So my personal opinion is that Alternative Health Techniques should only be used when traditional modern healthcare has nothing left to offer the person for healing.

Let’s take an example of someone we’ll call Jose. He has migraine headaches almost every day and they are ruining his quality of life. He has some level of pain most of the time. Some days it is so bad that he can’t get out of bed and he has to call in sick to work, which is getting him in trouble with his supervisor. It’s hurting his relationship with his wife and children because much of the time he can’t give them the attention he knows they deserve. They also are beginning to resent that he can’t do much to help himself or them and they end up waiting on him.

Jose has gone to the doctor and gotten a prescription medication for migraines, but it doesn’t help that much and it has side effects. What else could he do to help himself? Lots of things, actually. Here are just a few. It’s very likely that muscles are tight in his neck, scalp, face, and jaw, and just those being tense can cause headaches. So a massage that focuses primarily on those areas could loosen them up, as well as relax him, giving him some relief from pain. A chiropractor or acupuncturist might be able to do this as well. I’m saving the best for last on this list of techniques…and that’s meditation, which is free, easy, and feels good. Research shows that meditation has decreased the frequency of migraines, the intensity of the pain, and the length of time that they last. In another column I will discuss how to do meditation on your own.

Need another example of how Complementary Health Techniques can help? Okay, let’s look at Carmella, who has Parkinson’s Disease. If Carmella got involved with doing art therapy, or art on her own, she probably would find that it helped her relax and express her feelings in a positive way. Having massages or Reiki sessions could help reduce her pain and anxiety, and even feelings of depression. Some people with Parkinson’s find that listening to music with a strong rhythm helps improve their walking and movements. Doing tai chi has been shown by research to help people with Parkinson’s to have improved balance and stability, which is often a big problem for them. Yoga is another technique that has been shown in research to help with flexibility, balance, and mobility. If Carmella did some of these things, she probably would feel better, mentally and physically.

So that’s Integrative Health in a nutshell. In other columns I’ll explain some of the techniques in more detail.

For more information on Ellen Gecker and Orion Wellness, please see www.OrionWellnessLLC.com.

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