Alex Vaughn sits down to work on some homework and begins seeing spots, an early sign of a migraine headache. Given the 20 minutes she anticipates before the pain of the migraine kicks in, Vaughn considers two immediate options: take a pain reliever or run to the chiropractor.
“There area lot of things that people don’t recognize can be fixed through a chiropractor, like ea aches or chronic headaches,” said Vaughn, a junior studying graphic design. “A lot of people recognize that something’s wrong with them, but they don’t realize that they can go to a chiropractor for it.”
Chiropractic care falls under an umbrella of non-traditional health care methods that reach out to millions of Americans. Thirty-eight percent of Americans use non-traditional health care as a complement or alternative to traditional health care.
The $34 billion Americans spend out of pocket annually on non-traditional health care pales in comparison to the $2.3 trillion Americans spent overall for health care in 2008. Yet standing in the shadow of looming health care expenses is the reality that more than a third of Americans do use non-traditional health methods.
“There are a lot of people out there who say, ‘You have to just use natural remedies,’ and there are people who say, ‘You have to do just what the doctor says,’ but we work both sides of the fence, because there is a time and a place for both,” said Ben Herring, operations manager at Herbs for Health, a Provo supplements store.
Herring said complementary health care is intended to work alongside traditional health care, not to serve as a replacement.
“We do a lot with integrative medicine,” Herring said. “We work a lot with doctors. We work a lot with health care professionals. We have doctors we refer to on a regular basis. We work on both sides of the fence.”
A National Center for Health Statistics study reports the overwhelming majority of patients who use complementary medicine do not attempt to use the medicine as a sole resolution to their health issues, but rather as a complement.
“There definitely is a role for it, and it’s a very useful role,” said Michael Sanderson, a family medicine physician in West Jordan. “A lot of times it goes hand in hand with what I try to do, and what the patient desires.”
While Sanderson encourages patients to use non-traditional health care as a complement in certain situations, he also advises them to be cautious when looking at alternative medicine options.
“For a lot of pain therapy or pain management, I encourage people to find whatever will help in pain management,” Sanderson said. “If it’s acupuncture, if it’s meditation, if it’s any of the holistic remedies that can adjunct what I offer, then I certainly encourage it. But I always do that with a little bit of caution, because the studies are not as plentiful in complementary medicine. They just don’t have as much data and information to support them.”
The realm of alternative medicine is vast, and so are the opinions. Sanderson said that in the end, patients have to choose for themselves.
“I always encourage them, if they have questions, to talk to me about it,” Sanderson said. “We can discuss if there is any evidence in the particular thing they are looking at, and it’s kind of tough because sometimes there’s just not good information.”
The National Center for Health Statistics study showed that many Americans often seek alternative options when they believe traditional health care to be too expensive.
“It has become such a complex system that people are almost intimidated by it,” Sanderson said. “But if they go to a chiropractor or an acupuncturist, they know the fee. It’s just an up front here’s what you pay and here’s what I’m going to do. But there are so many more unknowns in medicine that it ends up being a little more intimidating.”
Lauren Hatfield, an exercise science major from Seattle, worked as a chiropractic assistant for four years. Her experience taught her that health care such as seeing a chiropractor is more of a lifestyle than a quick fix.
“A lot of people come in thinking that it’s just going to be a quick fix, like when they go to a medical doctor and just get a drug that can take care of something,” Hatfield said. “So they expect one adjustment to take care of everything when their body is going through a natural process of reteaching itself the right ways. When they come in with that expectation, a lot of people get disappointed to know that it’s a continual process. It’s more of a lifestyle thing than just fixing a symptom.”
An added level of credibility for chiropractic work is that many health insurance policies cover chiropractic care.
“I’ve seen a lot really great benefits” Hatfield said. “I’ve seen people who have multiple sclerosis, who have come in with trouble walking leave in a lot better condition. I think the most important thing is that it changes people’s perspective on lifestyle. That’s what I think a lot of alternative medicine does. You’re thinking about what you’re eating, about how active you are, how stressed out you are, if you’re stretching or exercising.”
One challenge with many types of complementary medicine is the lack of scientific research and support. This dissuades many people from considering alternative options in health care.