It all began when I got back from a two-and-a-half week vacation in the United States a few years back. As I resumed my normal routine of running in the mornings before going to work, 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 that I began popping painkillers on a regular basis, I booked in to see an osteopath at a nearby facility.

The pain didn’t go away. Instead, it migrated to different parts of my back over the next few months. There was one point when I could hardly walk. Meanwhile, my migraines – which had grown in intensity over the previous decade – were getting progressively more frequent.

Enter Pilates. At the advice of a friend who’d also suffered from severe back pain, I began doing intensive Pilates and massage with a physiotherapist in my neighborhood three to four times a week. This woman also performed acupuncture on my back and my neck and gave me this weird magnetic patch to wear on the airplane and when I sat at my desk for long intervals.

The upshot? I felt fantastic and have – (more or less) – ever since. Sure, I still spend 40 minutes a day doing back exercises (because eventually, we all turn into our mothers.) But other than the occasional twitch to remind me that I still have something called a Lattisimus Dorsi muscle (and it isn’t necessarily my friend), my pain has become manageable. 

I wouldn’t say that I’m anything close to being an evangelist for alternative medicine. But that experience certainly moved me much further in that direction. I’ve never had any 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. Roughly one third of adults and nearly 12% of children in the United States now rely on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), according to the National Institute of Health. 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, meditationmassage therapy and yoga. What all of this suggests is that CAM is becoming normalized within our public healthcare system, even though coverage for alternative medicine still varies enormously by health insurance plan. 

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?

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