Acupuncture, chiropractic care and massage therapy are hundreds and thousands of years old, and are meeting a need for flexible and non-invasive therapy for chronic pain, stress and more today. We talked with CHPW’s Dr. LuAnn Chen about some common questions and things to know when scheduling an appointment.
How about we start with you just introducing yourself?
Hi, I’m Dr. LuAnn Chen, Senior Medical Director at Community Health Plan of Washington and a family physician. I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of different providers during my career and I’m excited to be able to talk today about some of these alternative treatment care options.
Let’s start with some definitions. What are acupuncture, chiropractic care and massage therapy?
|Acupuncture is an ancient Asian medical practice that is thousands of years old. It involves using very fine needles, finer than a human hair to go through the skin and stimulate the nerves This improves circulation and decreases the sensation of pain. It’s so effective that it in some cases it has even be used during surgery in place of surgical anesthesia.|
|Chiropractic care is also an old practice with the first U.S. college with a chiropractic degree dating back to 1897. It involves manipulating the spine to improve mobility and reduce pressure. It’s very effective at reducing pain in the back and neck, particularly.|
|Massage therapy is thousands of years old and practiced all over the world. It involves massaging or manipulating the muscles to improve circulation, decrease inflammation and stress, and can reduce cramping. It can improve mobility, flexibility, and it can be very effective at managing pain.|
When should someone consider visiting an acupuncturist or a chiropractic care provider, or look at massage therapy?
I think any of these treatments could be very effective for treating conditions like back pain or headaches, chronic pain, or even managing stress. Chiropractic care is particularly good with back pain. Acupuncture can be good for pain anywhere on the body, and massage therapy can be good for any type of muscle discomfort.
Are these treatments effective? After I’ve started seeking care with one of these treatments, how do I know if it’s working?
For many people, these treatments have been valued as part of their culture for thousands of years and they consider these therapies an effective part of their routine well-being. I do recommend talking to your medical provider or your primary care provider if you are already seeing them about a particular condition. They may have some recommendations for you to consider.
I know when I’ve had pain in the past, I’ve noticed how often I will be asked ‘How is your pain?’ Well, it’s still pain. What you can do is start with looking at how you feel overall. Do you feel better or not?
Then you can also look at things like are you sleeping better? Are you able to be more active? Can you walk farther then before the treatment? Or can you do more of the chores at home without getting tired or feeling like you need to stop because of pain? Do you need less medication for pain like ibuprofen or Tylenol? If you’re taking less medication, that can be a sign that you’re improving. If you have been experiencing an intermittent kind of pain like migraine headaches, you can look at how long your headaches are lasting, how frequently they are occurring, and how bad they are. You might still have some headaches, but if the times you experience them has dropped down to half of what it was before, then that’s a sign of improvement.
You may find it helpful to keep some type of journal to track how you are feeling. And it is important that you talk with your acupuncturist, chiropractic, or massage therapist before and after appointments about how you are feeling. They can adjust their service for your next visit, help you decide if it’s something you should continue, or if you should try another treatment option for your symptoms.
If you experience a marked increase of pain or feel worse, then you should talk to your doctor or primary care provider.
I’ve been hearing a lot more people talk about acupuncture, massage therapy or chiropractic care lately. Can you talk about why they’re getting talked about more now since these therapies are all hundreds and thousands of years old?
People in general – as well as doctors and other medical providers – want more choices and options in managing chronic pain and in supporting mental health. Sometimes invasive procedures and medication are necessary, and if that’s the case, your doctor or primary care provider can discuss that with you. But while not for every condition, often there is room for other treatment options that are less invasive or dependent on medication. Acupuncture, chiropractic care and massage therapy are all safe, proven effective treatment options.
This is why health plans like CHPW are starting to cover the costs for these treatments to meet this need. Our members have asked for coverage for these alternative treatments because these therapies are effective, and we want our members to have access to more non-invasive and drug-free treatment options