How effective are alternative therapies?

August 8, 2011 4:52:23 PM PDT
Acupuncture, chiropractic treatments and other alternative therapies can help some people get relief. Every year, 38 million Americans use them, but just how effective are they? Consumer Reports asked its readers to rate them, along with prescription and over-the-counter medications for many different ailments, and we have the results.

Jonathan Goldberg says the adjustments he received from chiropractor Lawrence Stern relieved agonizing back pain he suffered after lifting an air conditioner. He says he avoided back surgery one doctor told him he might need.

"I haven't had even the smallest recurrence of anything other than stiffness for over eight years now," Goldberg said.

Consumer Reports' surveyed its readers and found hands-on treatments, such as chiropractic and deep-tissue massage, helped relieve back pain, neck pain and osteoarthritis. And in the case of back pain, chiropractic care outperformed prescription medicine.

"Sixty-five percent of those surveyed using chiropractic treatments for back pain said they helped a lot," Consumer Reports' Gayle Williams said. "Only 53 percent using prescription medications found them as helpful."

Half of those who used deep-tissue massage or yoga found they helped a lot for osteoarthritis. The survey results indicated that both were almost on par with prescription medication.

But in a Consumer Reports survey, alternative treatments were not found to be as helpful with many other medical conditions. Take depression: yoga or meditation helped about 35 percent. In contrast, 70 percent of those using prescription medication found it to be very helpful.

As for colds, flu and allergies, prescription medications were deemed much more helpful than nutritional supplements like Vitamin C.

So alternative treatment in some cases may help, but experts advise checking with your doctor first. And don't forget to check your insurance. Certain types of alternative treatments might be covered.

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