When you’ve been to 23 doctors to get treated for a chronic illness and all you’ve got is a bunch of MRIs, X-rays, and standard blood tests showing that you’re perfectly healthy, you start to wonder if someone besides a mainstream doctor would be better able to help. However, venturing away from conventional medical advice can be scary, especially if you don’t know what your options are. Just because something is ancient doesn’t mean it’s invalid. Likewise, just because something isn’t proven to be effective doesn’t mean it’s useless.
Massage is an Ancient Art
Therapeutic massage is said to have begun in India, possibly as early as 3000 BCE1. Many forms of massage have been developed since then, including myofascial release therapy, which was invented by John F. Barnes in the 1960’s to cure various causes of pain2. Barnes is renowned for his techniques which have influenced many massage and physical therapists worldwide. There is even a scientific article3 published in March 2018 that begins to prove the existence of myofascial tissue, something modern medicine has not previously embraced.
Unproven But Indisputable
Unproven cures can be as effective as proven ones. You may have received the healing benefits of a comforting bowl of chicken soup when you had a cold or respiratory infection. Although its efficacy is still unproven, recipes for hot chicken broth or chicken soup have been passed down through the ages since the 1100’s, when Jewish physician Moses Maimonides wrote about its medicinal qualities4.
Your Mind Is Already More Open Than You Might Think
If you’ve ever gotten a massage, been to a physical therapist, or had a bowl of chicken soup to cure an ailment, then you’ve already proven that your mind is open to the possibility that medical cures go beyond the boundaries of modern medicine. In fact, modern medicine could not exist without the foundation laid down before it by the healers of the ancient world. So, if your gut feeling is that something is wrong with your body, and you’ve exhausted your resources going to conventional doctors, why not explore the vast field of medical practice outside the norm?
Your Options for Medical Care in the USA
Let’s look at our options for obtaining medical care in the US. Depending on what health insurance plan you have, some of these will be paid for by insurance and some will not. Additionally, you may find that one practitioner of a certain system of medicine works with your insurance plan, while another practitioner in the same field doesn’t. It’s always a good idea to check with your insurance provider before you make that first appointment. You always have the right to know how much a medical appointment is going to cost before you go.
- Allopathic Medicine – A pejorative term coined in the late 1700’s by Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of Homeopathy, to emphasize his opinion that the modern medicine practitioners of his time were ignorant of the causes of chronic disease6. “Allo” means “other”; “pathic” means “to suffer.” Allopathy was said to be the treatment of disease by remedies that produce the opposite effects of the symptoms presented.
- Alternative Medicine – Any therapy typically excluded by a culture’s conventional medicine practitioners, used by patients in lieu of conventional medicine. Some alternative practices are scientifically proven while others are not. There are alternative medicine practices that could be considered whole systems of medicine, while others are single healing techniques or groups of techniques within a larger philosophical system.
- Ayurveda – Meaning “Science of Life,” this ancient Indian system of medicine encompasses the mind-body connection to the environment. It was first recorded during the Gupta empire (320 to 550 CE). However, its origins are said to be much older, having been passed down through the centuries via oral tradition possibly going as far back as 3300 BCE10. Ayurvedic treatments are based on the three body types: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, which are ruled by the five master elements: space, air, fire, water, and earth. Remedies offered may include herbal treatments, dietary advice, meditation, and lifestyle changes. It is a complete medical system that takes into consideration the physical, psychological, philosophical, ethical, and spiritual well-being of mankind11.
- Chiropractic Medicine – Chiropractors have about as many years of education as medical doctors in the US, but their training focuses on spinal manipulation to treat injured tissues that have experienced physical and chemical changes causing inflammation, pain, and reduced function. Oftentimes used in conjunction with conventional medical practice, chiropractic care can support medical treatment by relieving the musculoskeletal aspects of the condition. Chiropractors recommend rehabilitative exercises along with nutritional advice and lifestyle adjustments. Patients often see chiropractors for back pain, neck pain, pain in the joints of the arms or legs, and headaches20.
- Functional Medicine – A term coined by Dr. Jeffrey Bland in the early 1990’s, functional medicine primarily focuses on finding the cause of chronic illness. Functional medicine practitioners believe that chronic illness is at the crossroads between environmental factors, lifestyle choices, and genetics, oftentimes precipitated by key life events15. Multiple types of treatments may be prescribed, including dietary recommendations, lifestyle changes such as improvement of sleep or the practice of meditation, as well as conventional techniques including scientifically proven tests and drugs.
- Homeopathic Medicine – Advocated by Queen Elizabeth II and her son Prince Charles, homeopathy has been the medical practice of choice for European monarchs since the early 1800’s8. Homeopathic medicine is based on the philosophy that “like cures like,” as in small doses of pollen which are used to treat allergy to pollen. Founded by German physician Samuel Hahnemann in the late 1700’s, the aim of homeopathy is to trigger the body to heal itself through the use of fractional amounts of substances thought to be the cause of the disease being treated9.
- Integrative Medicine – Combines conventional medical practice with techniques from alternative medical arts, for which there is scientific evidence of safety and effectiveness14. Integrative physicians understand the balance between mind, body, and spirit, including the impacts of lifestyle on health. Emphasis is placed on less invasive, less damaging treatments in favor of healing the whole person.
- Modern Medicine – Originated by Hippocrates in Greece around 400 BCE5, modern medicine is both an art requiring education and judgment, and a science requiring empirical evidence. Scientifically proven processes are used to diagnose and treat conditions which are viewed as some kind of breakdown in the body. Repairs to the body are typically made via surgery or drugs. Modern medicine is also referred to as allopathic medicine, Western medicine, conventional medicine, and mainstream medicine.
- Naturopathic Medicine – The term “naturopathy” was coined by John Scheel in 1895 and purchased by Benedict Lust a few years later. Lust formed the American Naturopathic Association in 1919 with the belief that the body has a natural ability to heal itself. Naturopathic physicians avoid treatments involving surgery or drugs, relying instead on the use of herbs, homeopathic practices, acupuncture, various forms of detoxification such as colon enemas, physical treatments such as reflexology and rolfing, and traditional Chinese medicine. The philosophy that vaccinations are harmful was originated by naturopathic practitioners12.
- Osteopathic Medicine – Osteopaths are modern medicine practitioners who consider lifestyle and environmental factors in the understanding of symptoms. Like their counterparts in modern medicine, osteopaths use scientifically proven processes and treatments such as surgery and drugs. In addition, they are trained to use hands-on manipulative techniques similar to those used by chiropractors. Osteopaths are fully licensed physicians who practice in every area of modern medicine. Their whole-person approach means that they may be open to working with complementary and alternative medicine practitioners to treat the cause of disease13.
- Personalized Medicine – Also called P4, standing for Predictive, Preventive, Personalized, and Participatory, this will be the implementation of systems medicine that patients will come to recognize in the future. Blood tests will detect proteins, called blood biomarkers, in order to predict when an organ in the body will become diseased. For example, specific proteins found in the blood mark the presence of specific cancers that can be treated at the earliest possible stage. It will be possible to map an individual’s entire genome and determine their susceptibility to disease19. Personalized medicine will revolutionize modern medicine as we know it today.
- Systems Medicine – An emerging field of medicine that leverages the multiple disciplines involved in computational modeling, biomedical science, and data management to look at the human body as a whole. The patient’s genetics, behavior, and environment are taken into consideration to determine origins of disease and map out a treatment plan specific to the individual18 . Pioneers are just now beginning to define what systems medicine is and to lay out a roadmap for implementation throughout Europe and beyond18. Especially for people with chronic illness, this is an important field to watch. In the near future, individual treatment plans will be determined by computer scientists working together with researchers and medical practitioners.
- Traditional Medicine – Defined by the World Health Organization as the “sum total of the knowledge, skill, and practices based on the theories, beliefs, and experiences indigenous to different cultures, whether explicable or not, used in the maintenance of health as well as in the prevention, diagnosis, improvement or treatment of physical and mental illness.7” In the truest sense, the American Indian shaman tradition is our traditional medicine. On the other side of the world, India has six systems of traditional medicine which include Ayurveda. African traditional medicine is known for its herbal and spiritual healing. Every culture going back through ancient times has a traditional medicine practice.
- Traditional Chinese Medicine – A complete system of medicine that originated in China over 2,000 years ago. Herbology, acupuncture, acupressure, qigong, tuina, and cupping are some of the techniques deployed by doctors of Chinese medicine who believe that the key to health is the balancing of the mind, body, and spirit. This balance depends upon the unobstructed flow of qi (pronounced “chee”), also called “life energy,” which flows through the body along pathways known as meridians. Although conventional Western medical practitioners haven’t been able to explain how Chinese medicine works, its techniques are being prescribed more often in recognition of its ability to promote overall wellness. In this capacity, Traditional Chinese Medicine is complementary to Western medicine.
- Yoga Therapy – The International Association of Yoga Therapists was founded in 1989 by Larry Payne, PhD, and Richard Miller, PhD to establish yoga as both an art and a science. Their scientific journal, the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, was accepted into PubMed in 2011. Certified yoga teachers who lead general yoga classes are eligible to extend their training by attending specialized coursework in yoga therapy with concentrations in three areas: 1) body movement similar to physical therapy to address injury, chronic pain, or loss of energy; 2) a combination of psychological and physical techniques similar to psychosomatic therapy to address emotional issues that have a profound impact on the body, and 3) breathing and mindfulness techniques similar to biofeedback to address maladaptive unconscious responses to external stimuli16. The C-IAYT certification for yoga therapists was established in 201617, so look for continued changes in this vast field of knowledge as more practitioners develop their skills.
Systems of Medicine vs Medical Practices
All of the above are systems of medicine. That is, the governing bodies that control who is allowed to practice within the same philosophy, or system, have issued a set of guiding principles. A practice is any one skill within a given system. For example, acupuncture is a practice within the system of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
This List Is Not Complete
As I write this, I can still think of more systems of medicine that are being practiced in the US today. If you’d like to see any added to this list, please comment below. I plan to update this article from time to time as I discover more helpful information.