June 8, 2023

holistic medicineExamples of that embrace body, mind, and spirit were presented last week. This week, complementary and integrative medicine therapies will be presented. What is considered holistic, complementary, or integrative is a fluid concept in that many of the same therapies overlap these healthcare concepts. Traditional, well-researched medical treatments should be used regardless of which categories you choose to add to your treatment plan. Additional therapies should be fully discussed with your healthcare professional to ensure the treatment is right for you, will not conflict or counteract treatments, and will not cause harm. These actions are critical to ensuring you get the best healthcare for your unique needs.
Complementary therapies can be added to traditional western medicine to enhance your body’s healing. They are not complementary as in ‘free’ but complementary as they complement or add to traditional medical practices. Complementary therapies are known for helping with symptoms such as pain, sleep, and fatigue.
Integrative medicine is combining complementary therapies into standard medical treatment to improve the entire body. As a result, individuals with complex health issues may find they have a general sense of well-being due to the integration of wellness for their entire body.
Some examples of complementary medicine are acupuncture, art therapy, tai chi, and music therapy. Also included are yoga, mindfulness, and massage therapy discussed last week. There are many more therapies. These are just a start to thinking about complementary therapy.
A complementary therapy based on Chinese medicine is acupuncture. This therapy inserts thin needles into the body at specific points. The needles may be just placed, turned, or have an electrical current applied. The theory is that this releases body chemicals that will stimulate natural healing within the body and mental wellbeing. There is a belief that this may stimulate central nervous system healing, but this has not been scientifically proven. It is used for a large number of conditions ranging from chronic pain from arthritis to digestive issues and mental health. This is an article about how acupuncture works.
Art Therapy
The use of art can be a therapeutic treatment. It can be an effective way to express issues with strong emotions, self-worth, stress, or anxiety. It is psychotherapy with art as the mode of communication. Art therapy is typically done under the direction and supervision of a certified art therapist who will use paint, drawing, collage, or sculping for the expression of thoughts and feelings. In some instances, the work is collaborative with the therapist, but mostly, the art is created by the individual under the supervision of the therapist. Recent research indicates it may raise serotonin levels in the brain. An article about art therapy and depression in elderly women is here.
Tai Chi
Tai Chi is actually a martial art. Since most individuals do not really have a need for martial arts today, the practice has evolved into a stress reduction practice and gentle exercise. Tai Chi is a continuous movement that is done slowly with an emphasis on deep breathing. It carefully moves all parts of the body, which results in decreased stress and anxiety, positive effects on depression, improved balance, muscle strength, and breathing. As with yoga, the instruction of an educated Tai Chi professional will help you move appropriately for maximum benefit. An article about a clinical trial using Tai Chi for individuals with a hemiplegic upper extremity explains how Tai Chi complements traditional imagery therapy. Tai Chi is best learned with an educated instructor, but if you are interested in seeing how it can be adapted for those who use a wheelchair, here is a sample video from Truman, VA.
Music Therapy
Music therapy is a widely used and accepted therapy for reducing stress and improving mood and self-expression. There is abundant research demonstrating music therapy’s effectiveness in aspects of mental well-being, spirituality, cognition, and socialization. Physically, music therapy has been effective in improving communication, social skills, memory, self-regulation, motivation, and even joy. A certified music therapist will provide music for listening, singing, playing instruments, or even composing music. They will understand the type of music you enjoy and how you want to participate. Individuals of all ages can utilize music therapy. It is often used as a distraction in medical treatments to reduce stress and anxiety. Music has been studied in individuals with mobility concerns for improvement of function. Here are some articles about music therapy and how it affects individuals:
Parkinson’s Disease
Neurological Disorders
Integrative medicine is the combination of therapies with traditional medical care. This might include biofeedback. Other treatments that can be included in the holistic and complementary categories include energy healing, yoga, tai chi, and meditation.
One way to heighten your body-mind connection is through biofeedback. A non-invasive, non-stimulating sensor is placed on your body to measure heart rate, breathing, sweating, muscle activity, skin temperature, and, less often, brain activity. These body functions appear on a screen so you can see when the values change, indicating stress if the value rises or increased calmness if the values are lower. You can change your values by relaxing your muscles, regulating your breathing, focusing on calmness, or use of distraction from an issue. Once you have found the key to the regulation of your body functions, you can put these strategies into practice in different situations.
Biofeedback has also been used to capture minuscule movements after paralysis that can be harnessed into larger movements. For instance, you may not recognize a slight movement because it feels different after a neurological disease or injury. However, you may be able to learn how the movement feels now to be able to repeat it. An article about potential recovery from stroke using biofeedback is here.
Spinal cord injury and shoulder pain
Suppose you feel that you would like to expand your medical treatment to include other therapies that may improve your general well-being. Be sure to discuss options with your healthcare provider up front and throughout your process. This cannot be stressed enough. Your healthcare provider needs to know what you think so they can provide proper direction for your care. More than likely, they will be able to direct you to ethical and educated providers.
Pediatric Consideration:
As a parent, we want to do everything possible for our children. This may include holistic, complementary, and integrated healthcare concepts. Because children are still developing, ensuring the developmental process occurs is paramount. However, it can be stressful when it appears that things are not progressing as a parent would wish. You can use some of these therapies to make your child more comfortable. Music therapy is one that is integrated into routine care. It is well studied with demonstrated effectiveness.
If you choose other alternatives, be sure to include your child’s healthcare professional. Never create two pathways that may not work together. For the best information about working within your child’s medical situation, the American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a paper about the use of alternative medicine. It is a rational, reasonable, and realistic plan. You can read it here. This will assist your decision-making.
Linda Schultz is a leader, teacher, and provider of rehabilitation nursing for over 30 years. In fact, Nurse Linda worked closely with Christopher Reeve on his recovery and has been advocating for the Reeve Foundation ever since.

In our community, Nurse Linda is a blogger where she focuses on contributing functional advice, providing the “how-to” on integrating various healthcare improvements into daily life, and answering your specific questions. Read her blogs here.

And if you want more Nurse Linda, sign up for her monthly webinars here. Don’t worry, we archive her answers so you can refer back and sift through her advice. Consider it Nurse Linda on-demand!
The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.
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