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Use of natural/CAM therapies in pain

Throughout history there has existed a section of treatments which aren’t conventional and are used in the background, as either an alternative to or to assist the familiar treatments.


Throughout history there has existed a section of treatments which aren’t conventional and are used in the background, as either an alternative to or to assist the familiar treatments. This is what the word “CAM” stands for: complementary, alternative medicine. Some of these have existed since the dawn of recorded behavior, such as acupuncture and Chinese medicine- they’ve found bone needles in ancient tombs which date to 14th century BCE. Naturally, many of these have not always been regarded as fringe treatments and have dipped in and out of the “conventional” category- that is, what is used in clinical settings by those with medical degrees, the techniques which are validated by the general scientific community. That said, we expect “complementary” and “alternative” therapies will be with us for thousands of years to come, especially as medical information is more transparent these days with the Internet. This has been noted as a factor in the widespread adoption of especially natural CAM therapies. With data everywhere, folks seek control of their own medical care and can more easily become skeptics. They may travel halfway around the world to find a fresh cure for cancer, based on a website they have found. It is easier to find commentary to challenge the word of your doctor.

What is the thinking behind complementary medicine? We are talking here about a range of techniques: reflexology, Feldenkrais, Bowen’s technique, naturopathy, herbal remedies… the list goes on. For the definition, these can be used as total replacements of conventional ways- alternative medicine. These various techniques are still united by common traits. There is an emphasis on a balance within the body. For example, Chinese medicine and acupuncture try to restore a balance of “qi” (pronounced “CHEE”), the life force within the body. Also, there is an emphasis on gentleness and on gradually increasing the severity of treatment. This was a basis for the beginnings of complementary, alternative medicine back in the day. Medicine at the time of George Washington was extremely brutal, called “heroic”, and generally involved bloodletting and crazily severe treatments. So natural medicines came as a beautiful contrast to these terrifying methods. Also, the main complaint which motivates CAM therapy is chronic pain- the majority of users suffer chronic pain, especially back pain or musculoskeletal pain.

Natural therapies

Why natural therapies? Natural methods crop up in the media all the time; the human mind has an inherent bias towards natural things and we will discuss this further. The herbal remedies of shamans and witches from times now past come to mind. There is this view that natural therapies are beyond side-effects and negative effects, which is untrue, and we need to bear in mind a bias towards natural substances when reviewing treatments. Also, don’t forget the word “chemical” conjures images of some horrible synthetic quality, even though all herbal and natural medicines are also “chemical” by definition. We can’t be misled by the words and their synonyms here. For example, morphine is derived from a flower. There is no easy distinction between “natural” and “synthetic” therapies; the boundaries seem to collapse. Many are drawn to natural therapies because of cultural or traditional reasons, not least of all in the Australian Indigenous context, and the World Health Organisation respects that these therapies should not be banned, especially if they have been used for many generations.

What are CAM therapies?

A short summary of methods. Feldenkrais- an enhanced system of mindfulness which encourages creative thinking, breaking out of habits, and extreme sensitivity to distinctions in the way your body moves. Aromatherapy engages experts who mix and blend a set of “therapeutic essential oils” and administer these combinations with different methods such as inhalation, water immersion, and massages. Bowen therapy was founded by an Australian and involves gentle rolling motions across the muscles and tendons- this is a kind of offshoot of osteopathy. Reflexology considers the surfaces of the hands and feet to map for areas of the whole body and involves massaging the hands and feet to deliver effects to these areas because of this. Yoga is well known, and homeopathy is a famous method which involves extreme dilution of a substance which causes disease in the healthy and giving it to the sick! This is based on the theory “like cures like”.

The effectiveness of CAM therapies

There is an asymmetry in that the majority of those who try alternative medicine are using conventional medicine- about 90%, that is - whereas a smaller two thirds of those with chronic pain consult both conventional and alternative practitioners. So it seems that the general view is skewed in favor of conventional medicine (Haetzman et al., 2003). As of April 2019, the Australian government has also ceased health insurance cover for 16 alternative treatments, many of which are used for chronic pain, such as aromatherapy, Feldenkrais, and Bowen’s technique. This is the most recent major commentary on the subject and the State reviewed thousands of peer-reviewed scientific articles in their efforts to evaluate the efficacy of each of these CAM therapies. For more information, read the website

What must be said is the view of these treatments has evolved so much historically, and it casts a different view on what we are doing today- scientific rigor and enthusiastic research is a must, if we are to get satisfying answers to the question of chronic pain.


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Book a consultation with one of our doctors

If you are interested to learn more about CAM therapies or if you think CAM therapy may be a treatment for you, please contact Anodyne to book a consultation with one of our doctors.