Americans look for alternative medicine

February 28, 2012

Acupuncture, Chiropractic, Health, Herbs, Pain, Yoga

According to a government report, Americans spent $33.9 billion, out-of-pocket, on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in 2007

by Anna Filipski — 

According to a government report, Americans spent $33.9 billion, out-of-pocket, on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in 2007. CAM is a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices and products such as herbal supplements, massage, yoga, chiropractic and acupuncture that are generally not considered to be part of conventional medicine.

Although the above number represents a small percentage of the total dollars spent on health care, it becomes more significant when you consider that these expenses are being paid without any help at all from insurance. It also attests to how much people now value alternative therapies. A quarter of these costs went to alternative practitioners, such as chiropractors and acupuncturists.

The main reason people turn to CAM is for help with chronic pain, as conventional medicine just does not work much of the time. While it may seem ironic that those who are suffering will try the most invasive form of medicine before turning to alternative, less invasive forms, cost is a huge factor. If an individual has insurance that will cover conventional therapies, it is the first place he or she will turn. In spite of the out-of-pocket payments CAM usually requires — which can deter potential patients — many will turn to these therapies when nothing else is working.

One client had been in chronic neck and back pain for years. Last summer, when the pain became unbearable, she turned to conventional medicine and took several different drugs trying to find relief. To her dismay, she developed other symptoms — gut issues and fatigue from the medications — and her pain persisted. Recently, as she again came to the point of unbearable pain, she decided to try an alternative route. After speaking with a naturopathic physician, she began a weekly regimen of acupuncture followed by a 60-minute massage session.

After one month, she reported taking significantly less over-the-counter pain medication and feeling much better. Her body had responded very quickly to the treatments, she relaxed more easily and there were no side effects. After about six weeks, she was able to go every other week. She has since needed treatment only a few times for acute pain, and her quality of life has increased significantly.

The client probably paid more for the acupuncture and massage treatments than she did for the conventional doctor, but the difference was that the alternative therapies actually worked. If she had continued with conventional medicine and pain medications, her costs would have increased, too. Doctor visit co-pays add up, and days off from work due to pain and exhaustion from the side effects of medication and a lower quality of life would have been the ultimate cost.

So, people are switching. Perhaps changes are coming that will allow the average person to receive a therapy that will benefit the body in the long term, instead of treating disease with remedies that produce undesirable effects — in addition to those caused by the disease itself. Rather, it seems more desirable and logical to use therapies that will enhance (and not impede) the body’s natural ability to heal.

Consider seeing an alternative medicine doctor. You may wish you had made the switch sooner.


Anna Filipski is a licensed massage therapist at the Center for True Harmony Wellness and Medicine in Mesa, Ariz. 480-539-6646, or

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 28, Number  5, Oct/Nov 2009.

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