Alternative therapies get high marks for some ailments
Published: September 04, 2011
Done anything alternative lately? If so, you have a lot of company.
CR readers rated prescription drugs as helping the most for the majority of 12 health problems, butchiropractic, deep-tissue massage and yoga dominated the lists of helpful alternative treatments for discomfort from conditions such as back pain, neck pain and osteoarthritis.
Some highlights from the report:
- Prescription drugs helped the most for nine of the 12 conditions Consumer Reports Health asked about:allergies, anxiety, cold and flu, depression, digestive problems, headaches and migraines, insomnia,irritable bowel syndrome and osteoarthritis.
- Meditation and yoga proved equally effective for treating anxiety (42 percent and 46 percent respectively said these therapies “helped a lot”) and depression (36 percent and 35 percent respectively).
- Yoga did about as well as meditation for insomnia (21 percent and 24 percent) but it significantly outperformed meditation for headaches and migraines and especially for back pain.
For back pain, yoga, deep-tissue massage and Pilates all rated about the same as prescription medication.Chiropractic therapy outperformed all other treatments. Meditation was helpful to almost a third (29 percent) of those few who tried it (5 percent).
- For respiratory problems such as cold, flu and allergies, the survey found that very small numbers of readers tried deep-breathing exercises or chiropractic care.
Those who did reported promising results. Although only 2 percent of cold, flu or allergy sufferers soughtchiropractic care, more than 40 percent said it helped a lot. Similarly, 3 percent tried deep breathing forallergies and 32 percent said it helped a lot. Three percent also tried deep breathing for cold and flu and 35 percent said it helped a lot.
- Of alternative treatments used for general health, mainstream vitamins and minerals were the most widely used, with 73 percent of respondents taking them. About one in five reported using mind-body therapies such as yoga or hands-on therapies such as massage.
- Readers are keeping their doctors in the loop to varying degrees about their use of alternative therapies.
Sixty-five percent of those who practiced progressive relaxation said their medical caregivers knew about it, as did 68 percent of readers who meditated.
- Smaller numbers of readers said their doctors had pointed them to an alternative therapy in the first place.
Twenty-eight percent of readers who used deep-tissue massage, usually for back or neck pain, said their doctors had recommended it. So did 26 percent of people who used deep-breathing exercises and 21 percent who saw a chiropractor.
- People who decide to try alternative treatments should talk to their physician first to set realistic expectations for improvement.
Consumer Reports Surveys Readers on Alternative Health Care Use
Chiropractic use, satisfaction high for back, neck pain; medication still the choice for other common health issues.
By Peter W. Crownfield, Executive Editor
If you’re wondering what consumers – your patients and potential patients – think about chiropractic care, particularly as it relates to its effectiveness managing common health conditions, consider findings from a Consumer Reports online survey of more than 45,000 of its subscribers.
Survey results suggest that with the exception of back and neck pain, consumers – and Consumer Reports itself – continue to buy into the pharmaceutical model Big Pharma and others spend billions annually to promote.
And the Survey Says…
Back pain: Thirty-six percent of survey respondents utilized chiropractic for back pain; 65 percent said it “helped a lot.” Prescription medication use was slightly higher (38 percent), but only a little over half (53 percent) of those who used it said it helped a lot. Over-the counter medication use was much higher (58 percent), but only 28 percent of users said it helped substantially. Other therapies with high utilization and/or perceived benefit: deep-tissue massage (24 percent use, 51 percent said it “helps a lot”).
Some of the other therapies used: glucosamine / chondroitin (14 percent use / 12 percent said it “helps a lot”), fish-oil supplements (10 percent / 7 percent), yoga (9 percent / 49 percent), acupuncture (8 percent / 41 percent), multivitamins (11 percent / 5 percent).
Other therapies used: yoga (10 percent reported use / 45 percent perceived substantial benefit), acupuncture (10 percent / 44 percent), calcium supplements (11 percent / 6 percent) and multivitamins (13 percent / 4 percent).
Other conditions: For conditions from osteoarthritis to headache/migraine to fibromyalgia, chiropractic utilization was nonexistent or significantly lower than prescription and/or over-the-counter medication use. In fact, with the exception of fibromyalgia, for all remaining conditions surveyed (irritable bowel syndrome, osteoarthritis, digestive problems, depression, anxiety, headache/migraine, insomnia, cold/flu, and allergy), prescription medication was the most utilized and perceived as most beneficial (“helped a lot”). (For fibromyalgia, deep-tissue massage was utilized by 41 percent of those surveyed, compared to 71 percent using prescription meds and 49 percent who used OTC meds; but was perceived as effective by 54 percent, compared to 52 percent of prescription users and only 22 percent of OTC users).
For headache and migraine, chiropractic was utilized by only 11 percent, 46 percent of whom said it helped a lot. For fibromyalgia, 27 percent reported use; 35 percent said it helped. Eleven percent used chiropractic for osteoarthritis; 46 percent said it helped. And 2 percent of survey respondents said they used chiropractic for cold, flu and allergy symptoms, 47 percent of whom said it helped with cold/flu, while 41 percent said it helped with allergies.
CR‘s Consumer Warnings
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention a few of the intriguing (read: typical) editorial notes from the survey article, which appears in the September 2011 issue of Consumer Reports along with comprehensive findings. For example, CR cautions readers: “Chiropractic procedures on the neck have been linked with severe side effects, including stroke, which appears to be very rare.” And in a sidebar titled “Hand-on and Mind-Body Therapies: A User’s Guide,” the chiropractic section states: “Chiropractic is possibly effective for back pain. But there’s insufficient evidence to rate its effectiveness for neck pain and many other conditions. Our medical experts warn that it might be risky for neck pain.” No cautions are given for acupuncture, massage, medication or yoga.
It’s also important to note that while CR tells readers chiropractic and many other therapies, including acupuncture and massage, are only “possibly” effective for limited conditions, no such qualifications are made regarding prescription and over-the-counter medication, nor are any warnings given regarding their potential side effects.
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