Alternative therapies

For every failure, there’s an alternative course of action. You just have to find it. When you come to a roadblock, take a detour.
–Mary Kay Ash

I won’t deny that I’m a believer in modern medicine.  If there’s a drug out there that might make my pain lessen or stop the course of my disease, I’m going to give it a try, or at least ask my doctor why I haven’t had it yet.  I do a lot of research on things that might help before my appointments and I’ve learned to bring my sources with me when I go in (I’m currently seeing the PA, not the doctor, as I’m considered medically stable.  The PA is…sweet, but not as well-read as I’d like him to be.  He’s constantly amazed at my sources.  I’m glad to know that the doctor is usually out in the hallway & that the PA will run out and check on things with him frequently.)

That being said, I don’t think that modern Western medicine is the end-all-be-all of my arsenal.  I’ve wandered the gamut, trying all sorts of different things, some of which I no longer remember. Here are my experiences with them:

Massage:

By this point, with the exception of anyone that has gotten their massage license in the last year or so, I’ve had a massage with just about everyone in town that advertises in the phone book (and many that don’t).  I’ve had Swedish massage (light, circular motions, with scented oil which was terrific), which was nice, but not particularly helpful.  The Shiatsu massage (light finger pulses on certain meridians of the body) I tried was quite nice, but didn’t do as much as I’d hoped for.   I also had pregnancy massages (until I and my therapist were pregnant at the same time) and they were lovely in that “wow, a table with a cutout for my belly!” sort of way.  🙂 I had one session with a reflexologist (parts of your feet align with parts of your body), but other than my feet being happy at the end, I saw no improvement elsewhere.  I’ve had deep tissue massage (just what it sounds like), which was really quite painful during and for a couple days after, but after the pain wore off, seemed to have been more effective that the others. I’ve also had some sports type massage therapy that focused on certain areas, like helping with my knees or hands.  That was actually the best.  I had to get a prescription and see an occupational therapist for that series, but oh, it was helpful.  I’m not sure where yoga falls into my categories, but I do a little bit of that daily, some days regular and some days more modified, depending on the day and the pain and the poses.

Occupational therapy:

I am accident prone.  Really, really accident prone.  I like to blame it on the RA, but the truth is that I have always been the type to fall off stationary objects, tear a ligament just by walking,  and to sprain my thumb carrying in the groceries.  I’ve had a lot of occupational therapy.  I’ve done all the stretching, weird repetitive motions, bizarre things involving me, a giant ball, and a wall, things where I’m strapped into weird machines, electric stimulation, heated wheat kernals flowing around me.  All sorts of things.  Over and over.  I have a cupboard full of weird braces for very specific injuries.  (I recently had to move them all to a bigger cupboard.  My husband seemed amused.)

Chiropractors:

I saw a chiropractor/naturopath for about a year and he would recommend things.  He had these weird ways of telling me if my drugs were working for me, involving tapping me various places while holding my medicine in his other hand.  I have a pamphlet that tells me how each vertebrae that is out of alignment affects other random parts of the body, like my cheeks and gallbladder.  It’s interesting.  He put me on a sugar control diet, where I couldn’t eat any complex carbohydrates and certain vegetables were out as well.  That was interesting.  He also put me on barley grass (yech), something to boost my adrenal glands, acidopholous, and a plant based enzyme to aid in the digestion of protein (I have notes, can you tell?).  Anyway, I stopped going after a year because I had to go in 2-3 times a week and at $30 each treatment, plus supplements, it was too expensive to maintain.  (My insurance wouldn’t cover it then, but says they would now, but I’m no longer interested in frequent doctor visits.)

Supplements & teas & ointments:

There are a thousand and one kinds of supplements and teas and ointments out there.  I haven’t tried them all.  In fact, I tend to go into my health food store about once a month and just ask what’s new and what they’d recommend.  (They know me there; they all seem to go to my church, oddly enough) I don’t have notes on all I’ve tried, but here’s a sample of what didn’t work for me: glucosomine/chondroitin, green tea extract, ginger extract, colloidal silver, arnica, probiotics, borage oil, capsaicin cream (it burns, precious!), evening primrose oil, various essential oils blowing through a diffuser or heated over a tealight or rubbed on parts of me, and “arthritis” teas.

Things that I’ve kept in my daily plan: Omega -3 with DHA, honey lemon ginseng (green) tea, a chunk of crystalized ginger,  a daily multivitamin high in B12 & iron, at least 15 minutes outside every day (even when it’s  rainy) for Vitamin D, calcium, and folic acid.

Diet:

I got the book Eat Right For Your Type: Rheumatoid Arthritis and intended to implement that, but the foods I like best and are most likely to eat were all out (kidney beans and potatoes and bread all come to mind) and things I will not eat seemed to be best recommended (tomatoes, all kinds of peppers).  We also took a look at The Makers Diet, but it also went out the window as being too restrictive.  So I’ve been paying attention to the foods I eat and what makes me feel good and what doesn’t.  I kept a food diary for a while (I like sparkpeople.com for an online tracker of food, calories/fat/nutrition, and exercise) and noticed that I don’t do well with a lot of red meat in my diet (also, we don’t eat pork or shellfish, but that’s a religious consideration) or a lot of milk.  Cheese doesn’t bother me the same way that regular milk does, oddly, but I can’t drink a lot of milk or eat a lot of yogurt or my tummy will not love me.  We don’t actually, as it turns out, eat a whole lot of potatoes or kidney beans or bread.  When we eat bread or pasta, it’s the whole grain kind.  I put flaxseed in whatever I’m baking to replace some oil/butter & eggs. I love salad, so I eat a lot of that with walnuts (those were recommended in ERFYT:RA) and homemade whole wheat croutons and fat free Italian dressing (where I don’t mind the peppers).  We eat pretty healthy most days, with lots of fruit and veggies.

Things I’ll Try Next:

  • Biofeedback (I’m anxious a lot and I think it would be good to learn to relax at will)
  • acupressure (everyone says acupuncture is better, but I’m not happy about needles)



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One thought on “Alternative therapies

  1. I have been checking a lot of the RA blogs after being diagnosed a couple of weeks ago and I have really enjoyed reading yours.

    I just wanted to mention that hypnotherapy is another alternative therapy people can consider. I have had three sessions so far and believe me, if I did not see some sort of improvement, I would not be handing over the amount of money I have (which also took a while to save). I began seeing the hypnotherapist because I have anxiety issues and a problem with being able to “just relax”, which can create horrible back pain. It has not been a miracle treatment, but I definitely feel better after I go and seem to relax easier when I try to. We have not approached the pain issues I have yet, but just being able to rest my constantly tight muscles even a little does help.

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