It all began when I got back from a two-and-a-half week vacation in the U.S. last January. As I resumed my normal routine of running, yoga and the daily schlep to both kids' schools, something didn't feel quite right. Specifically, there was a throbbing pain on the left side of my bum.
I'd had recurring trouble with my piriformis muscle before, so I began doing some stretches that I'd learned during my last round of physiotherapy. But after things got so excruciating I had to give up yoga and started popping painkillers on a regular basis, I booked in to see an osteopath at a nearby facility. (I'd seen an osteopath successfully for a different injury a few years back.)
Osteopathy didn't work this time around. The pain didn't go away. Instead, over the next few months, it migrated to other parts of my back -- upper and lower. There was one point when I could hardly walk. Meanwhile, my migraines -- which have grown in intensity over the past decade or so -- were getting progressively more frequent, despite changing -- and upping -- my meds.
Enter pilates. At the advice of a friend who'd also had severe back pain, I began doing intensive pilates and massage with a physio-therapist in my neighborhood three to four times a week throughout July and August. She also did acupuncture on my back and neck and gave me this weird magnetic patch to wear on my back on the airplane and when I sat at my desk for long intervals.
The upshot? I feel fantastic. Sure, I spend 40 minutes every morning doing back exercises (because eventually we all turn into our mothers). But other than the occasional twitch to remind me I still have something called a Lattisimus Dorsi muscle, and it isn't necessarily my friend, I feel really great. I've resumed running three times a week. And, most importantly of all, I haven't had a headache in 16 days ... which must be a record since moving to England five years ago.
I wouldn't say that the cumulative effect of this experience has been to make me an evangelist for alternative medicine, but it has certainly moved me closer in that direction. I've never had an issue with taking pills to address aches, pains and all manner of illness, and I still don't. But I now feel that alternative medicine -- whether used alone or in conjunction with traditional medicinal cures -- can be hugely helpful.
And apparently, I'm not alone. More than one-third of adults and nearly 12 percent of children in the U.S. now rely on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), according to a large federal survey released in 2008. Non-vitamin, non-mineral natural products are the most commonly used CAM therapy among adults. But use has also increased for things like deep breathing exercises, meditation, massage therapy and yoga. What all of this suggests is that CAM is becoming normalized within our health care system, as reflected in the fact that several CAM provisions were included in President Obama's health care reform bill.
So the next time that back gives you some trouble and you reach for the Vicodin, give it a second thought and call a physical therapist instead. You might find yourself pleasantly surprised.
How about you? Have you ever tried alternative medicine and found it useful ... or not?