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July 2006 Issue

Michael Bertram, MD, performs acupuncture on a patient.
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'Non-Traditional' Therapies Worth Exploring

Published July 2006

If you’re finding no relief for that shoulder pain or “tennis elbow” or that “out-of-whack” back keeps you from finishing your weeding, some non-traditional therapies might help.


Such therapies are based on the notion that the body has the ability to heal itself with just a little prompting, says Michael Bertram, MD, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation.

Prolotherapy, an injection treatment, is an example.


“Prolotherapy is based on the assumption that injuries we normally attribute to inflammation—injuries ending in “itis”—may really be caused by degraded tissue,” says Bertram. “By ‘redamaging’ that tissue, we force the body to respond to the point of injury by stimulating an inflammatory or healing response.”


During prolotherapy, solutions of sugar water are injected into painful joints and soft tissues. The injections cause damage to weakened or degraded tissue, prompting the body to respond.


Acupuncture is another “non-traditional” chronic pain therapy. This ancient practice uses the body’s own electrical charges to “rechannel” energy.


“Our cells are made up of positive and negative charges—like minibatteries,” says Bertram. “It is believed that through acupuncture, we can affect the body’s central nervous system which is also electrically based.”


Modern acupuncture techniques involve placing tiny stainless steel needles into points on the body. These needles are then manipulated to prompt the central nervous system to release pain-killing chemicals in the brain and spinal cord regions to block pain.


This therapy has been used to treat chronic pain ranging from migraine and lower back pain to fibromyalgia. It has also been used to treat sinusitis and gastrointestinal problems.


The National Institutes of Health estimates that 8.2 million U.S. adults have used acupuncture.

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