Complementary and alternative medicine

Here’s something completely different for low back pain

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

With recently revised guidelines recommending that people with low back pain not take medication, it’s natural to wonder: what should I do, then? There are many options, among them heat, massage, yoga, and acupuncture.

You can do yoga: A simple 15-minute morning routine

Marlynn Wei, MD, JD
Marlynn Wei, MD, JD, Contributing Editor

The benefits of yoga for the body and mind are well documented. If you have been thinking about trying yoga, this simple routine includes breathing techniques, movement, and beginners meditation and will help you start your day.

Acupuncture: A point in the right direction, or a stab in the dark?

Paul G. Mathew, MD, FAAN, FAHS

Though some people surely benefit from acupuncture for the treatment of pain, its drawbacks (cost, length of treatment sessions, short duration of relief) mean that it may be a less effective choice than physical therapy or a medication.

Home remedies that may be worth a try

Beverly Merz
Beverly Merz, Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch

Sometimes a home remedy (one making use of inexpensive items already on hand or easy to obtain) can be as effective as a medical treatment, and far less costly. Because seemingly benign home remedies can have dangerous side effects you may want to check with your doctor to see if there are any risks involved.

What’s the evidence for evidence-based medicine?

Monique Tello, MD, MPH
Monique Tello, MD, MPH, Contributing Editor

The history of medicine is filled with remedies that were relied upon for hundreds of years until they were eventually proven ineffective or possibly even dangerous, while legitimate practices and treatments were disregarded or ridiculed until evidence outweighed skepticism. The bottom line is that medical interventions — from tests to treatments — should neither be recommended nor condemned without considering and weighing the evidence. A future post will discuss what physicians look for when evaluating “the evidence.”

Talk to the animals: Animal-assisted therapy offers emotional support

Matthew Solan
Matthew Solan, Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

Interacting with animals can be helpful to people dealing with issues like anxiety and depression. Animal-assisted therapy is used in settings such as retirement communities and hospitals, and can be helpful for those affected by traumatic events.

Regular meditation more beneficial than vacation

Monique Tello, MD, MPH
Monique Tello, MD, MPH, Contributing Editor

A study of participants in a mindfulness workshop found that the benefits of meditation and yoga are as significant as the relaxation benefit of taking a vacation, and are more persistent. In addition, regularly practicing meditation and yoga can boost immunity, and seems to promote healthier aging.

The latest on glucosamine/chondroitin supplements

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Despite a lack of conclusive evidence, millions of Americans take glucosamine, chondroitin, or both for joint protection or relief from arthritis pain. While these supplements are considered safe, they are not regulated the way prescription drugs are and can cause side effects.

What exactly is cupping?

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

The ancient practice of cupping received attention during the summer’s Olympic games. This application of suction to the skin is supposed to promote healing of sore muscles, but precisely how it helps remains unclear. Most experts agree that cupping is safe. As long as those treated don’t mind the circular discolorations, side effects tend to be limited to the pinch experienced during skin suction.

A placebo can work even when you know it’s a placebo

Mallika Marshall, MD
Mallika Marshall, MD, Contributing Editor

You may have heard of the “placebo effect,” in which people taking an inactive drug as part of a study actually experience an improvement in their symptoms. As it turns out, the placebo effect still exists if you tell people they’re taking a placebo. This “open-label placebo” strategy doesn’t work for every condition, of course, but it’s a promising way to relieve many common symptoms without medication.