When I first started Scrubs2Sweats, it was content like the one I am sharing here that I envisioned and was most excited about – articles (as opposed to “blogs”) that provided some evidence-based research to support the subject.
This article on complimentary/ alternative therapies has been one I have been wanting to put together for over a year. Traditionally, CAM (complimentary and alternative medicine) is the term for medical practices that are not part of standard of care. While there is some overlap in what is included here, most of the therapies are not officially under CAM. As such, I am terming the practices here as “complimentary lifestyle practices”. What I mean by this grouping is any practice that one can incorporate in the quest of living a healthier lifestyle. It doesn’t necessarily mean that one has an injury or illness when using these practices, but it also does not exclude it.
I am sharing with you some therapies I have tried and /or use as part of my lifestyle. I am providing relevant scientific background, where applicable, to support the practice. Please note I am not a physician, and although I am trained in medical research, this is simply providing information. If you have any medical concerns, please consult your physician or those specialized in the field.
In simple terms, naturopathic medicine is using modern science with natural forms of medicine. It’s main philosophy is to prevent disease and seek optimal health in patients 1.
The Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors references the history of naturopathic medicine to Hippocrates, a Greek physician, who first presented the notion nature’s healing power 2. In fact the term naturopathy is a combination of Latin and Greek literally translating to “nature disease” 1.
The main modalities used in naturopathic medicine include diet modification and nutritional supplementation; herbal medicine, homeopathic medicine, acupuncture and Chinese medicine; hydrotherapy and lifestyle counselling.
While there is still some controversy over naturopathic doctors being real doctors, since some of their practices are mostly refuted evidence based, they are slowly becoming more recognized in the medical world due to licensing and accreditation by certified boards.
Naturopathic Medicine should compliment modern medicine, and should not replace it in serious/ emergency situations e.g. if one bursts an appendix, surgery (modern medicine) versus homeopathy (naturopathic medicine) is widely accepted as the treatment choice. For overall maintenance of health, however, naturopathic medicine is a great choice. There are several benefits to using naturopathic medicine including disease prevention and the promotion of good overall health.
In addition, there is evidence-based studies that support the use of naturopathic medicine. For example, a randomized trial was conducted looking at naturopathic care for chronic back pain 3. The study looked at dietary modifications, deep breathing relaxation techniques and acupuncture in the naturopathic care arm versus the arm that received physiotherapy as treatment. The results indicated that the naturopathic arm had significantly reduced their pain and improved their quality of life.
*Note to readers- I am not implying that you should choose naturopathy over physiotherapy for chronic pain. I am sharing published studies that support a role for naturopathy. Each person has different needs and the decision on optimal treatment choice should be made with your respective health care practitioner.
In addition, there is some published data supporting its use in preventative medicine. For example, a randomized clinical trial investigated the use of naturopathic medicine for prevention of cardiovascular disease 4. The study looked at standard of care versus standard of care plus naturopathic medicine in over 200 participants across various Canadian cities that were at risk for cardiovascular disease. Those in the naturopathic group received individualized care in health promotion counselling, nutrition medicine or supplementation. At one year follow-up, the naturopathic group showed a reduced risk for cardiovascular disease than when they enrolled on the study. The findings are preliminary as the participants are still being followed.
I met up with my Naturopathic Doctor, Dr. Erica Grenci, for an overall health assessment and cupping with acupuncture (see further down for more on these therapies).
Here is some of the remedies Dr.Grenci recommended specific for me and why:
I am also adding some more useful information. My friend Claudia interviewed her Naturopathic Doctor and wrote a blog on some commonly asked questions. Please see this link below for more:
Acupuncture is a form of treatment whereby thin needles are inserted through a person’s skin at certain points in the body. According to the belief behind Chinese Medicine, inserting these needles at certain points can bring the energy flow (called “qi”) back into a balance. As such, acupuncture is used to relieve pain, infertility and a plethora of other uses.
For a more extensive list of uses, please refer to the link below:
There are extensive published studies that support the use of acupuncture for multiple uses. Of particular interest to me is its application for low back pain management. Many of us have back pain due to sedentary behaviours (desk job), injuries especially from weight lifting/ sports etc. I like to implement acupuncture into my health care regime as an upkeep to ensure all the tension is released and to keep my back pain at bay.
While there are many studies that research the effectiveness of acupuncture for lower back pain, a systematic review specifically for randomized controlled studies by accredited journals indicates that there are some studies that show evidence for it versus no treatment, but no conclusions can be drawn for it being the best 5.
For myself, I find acupuncture pretty effective in combination with cupping (see next section). I have had the pleasure of Dr. Grenci providing these treatments for me.
In addition, I go to registered acupuncturist Anne Matthews of “Energy Tree Anne” to zen out in her green room while receiving acupuncture (literally her patients lay under blankets and nap) followed by cupping. I highly recommend her as well, especially if you are looking for help with fertility!
Instagram for Anne: @energytreeanne
Cupping is a form of healing therapy that is done by applying cups to certain points on the body and creating a subatomic pressure, either by heat or suction 6,7. The mechanism involves using subatmospheric pressure suction, promoting peripheral blood circulation and improving immunity.
There are many types of cupping techniques. The first category (technical types) include dry, wet, massage and flash cupping. The second category (power of suction) includes light, medium and strong. The third category (method of suction) includes fire, manual vacuum and electrical vacuum. There are more categories but for the purposes of this article, I am only listing the first few.
It is important to note that while there are many benefits and uses of cupping, there are also contraindications, including veins, arteries, inflammation, wounds, fractures, body offices, eyes, lymph nodes and sites of deep vein thrombosis 6.
As mentioned above, I get acupuncture in combination with cupping. Dr.Grenci has done it for me as well as Anne Matthews. In addition, I get cupping in combination with massage therapy (see next section).
Massage therapy is one of my most practiced forms of relaxation and pain relief therapies. There are endless reasons for implementing massage therapy including more common ones such stress, anxiety, lower back pain, better sleep, to more unique uses such as nausea after chemotherapy, increase range of motion, decrease pain from fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis.
There are multiples published studies for the benefits and uses of massage therapy so I won’t hone in on any specifics.
As mentioned, I get massage therapy sometimes in combination with cupping. Please see link below for my massage therapist Katie White’s practice (note the clinic offers other aspects of wellness services, so be sure to check it out).
Float therapy is also known as floating, sensory deprivation or REST (restricted environmental stimulation therapy). It entails lying in salt water in a spacious tank. The reason one is able to float is because the tank is filled with 900 lbs of epson salts in approximately 10 inches of water (at least this is the case for Float Toronto- where I go to float).
There are many benefits for the mind and body including pain management, increased blood circulation, heightened senses, useful in athletic training (speeding up recovery time) and stress reduction.
Unfortunately there are not many research studies specifically on the use of sensory deprivation tanks but as their use gains momentum, so may it’s interest amongst researches.
There is one study in particular that conducted a randomized controlled trial for sensory isolation in floatation tanks with respect to preventative health 8. 65 participants were randomized either to the wait list control group or to receive 12 float sessions in 7 weeks. Validated quality of life questionnaires were given to both groups. The float group showed a significant decrease in pain, anxiety, and depression while sleep and optimism were significantly increased. The authors concluded that floatation has a benefit on healthy participants.
Personally I do not enjoy float therapy. I found the time took forever to pass so I have yet to get beyond 20 minutes of floating, let alone an hour. Additionally I had a couple freak outs where I floated to the other side of the tank where it was pitch black and I couldn’t find the door handle. However, many around me swear by this as a form of relaxation so based on their anecdotal reviews and research on these float pods, I don’t doubt there is benefit to them.
Cryotherapy (also known as cold therapy) is a technique where the body is exposed to extremely cold temperatures (-110 to – 140C) for several minutes. Cryotherapy can be targeted to just one area or to the whole body 9.
Localized cryotherapy used for cancer treatment is referred to as cryosurgery. Whole body cryotherapy, the focus of this article, entails the use of a chamber like the one pictured here.
There are several benefits to cryotherapy including reduction in migraines, reduces arthritic pain, exercise recovery and to help mood disorders. While there is lots of research to support the health benefits of cryosurgery or localized cryotherapy, whole body cryotherapy is still being researched. The published randomized studies are not strongly supportive or conclusive 10.
Personally I did not feel any significant benefit from cryotherapy after one session. I am, however, a believer that there can be significant benefits to it. Cold plunges have often done well for my circulation, energy levels and overall performance. But for the price of cryotherapy, I would opt for an extremely cold shower for a minute or two.
**** Disclaimer- while I have provided some evidence-based research to support these practices, I strongly recommend consulting with your health care practitioner or physician before engaging in these practices. Furthermore, as each individual has different needs and medical history, the content of this article should not be taken as a medical recommendation to participate.
1. Smith et al. Naturopathy. Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2002; 86 (1): 173-184.
3. Szczurko et al. Naturopathathic Care for Chronic Low Back Pain: A Randomized Trial. PLos One 2(9) 2007: e919. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0000919.
4. Seely et al. Naturopathic Medicine for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease: A Randomized Clinical Trial. CAMJ 2013; 185 (9): 409- 416.
5. Hutchinson et al. The Effectiveness of Acupuncture in Treating Chronic Non-Specific Low Back Pain: A Systematic Review of The Literature. Journal of Orthopeadic Journal & Surgery 2012. DOI: 10.1186/1749-799X-7-36.
6. Aboushanab et al. Cupping Therapy: An Overview from a Modern Medicine Perspective. Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies 2018; 11 (3) 83-87.
7. Jadhav , D. Cupping Therapy:An Ancient Alternative Medicine. Journal of Physical Fitness, Medicine and Treatment in Sports 2018;3(1).
8. Kjellgren et al. Beneficial Effects of Treatment with Sensory Isolation in Floatation-Tank as a Preventative Health-Care Intervention- A Randomized Controlled Pilot Trial. BCM Complement Alt Med 2014; 14: 417 DOI: 10.1186/1472-6882-14-417.
9. Banfi et al. Whole-body Cryotherapy in Athletes. Sports Medicine 2010; 40 (6): 509-517.
10. Bleakley et al. Whole-Body Cryotherapy: Empirical Evidence and Theoretical Perspectives. Journal of Sports Medicine 2014; 5: 25-36.