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04/13/2017 12:00 AM

Turning to Ancient Practices for New Ways to Approach Wellness

Whether from injury, illness, or the basic wear and tear of life, we can all feel a little unaligned and out of sync sometimes, and there are many different avenues toward mitigating pain and irritation, and finding overall wellness. Acupuncture and chiropractic are just two forms of traditional medicine that can provide an alternative form of treatment and relief for a variety of ailments, symptoms of illness, and mental and physical stress and fatigue.

A Balanced Approach

Chiropractic is a musculoskeletal manipulation practice that was originated by DD Palmer in the late 1800s. The general idea behind it is that the alignment of the musculoskeletal system can affect general health. By examining the spine, it's joints, and the effect on the nervous system, most chiropractors look to treat or alleviate the symptoms of complaints including back, neck and joint pain, and even headaches. Chiropractors can also treat conditions such as plantar faciitis, and sciatica, overuse injuries in hips and knees, and even can help alleviate the symptoms of reflux, depression, and anxiety. Many also see patients who just want general maintenance done.

Dr. Rachel Cavanna of Achieve Wellness Chiropractic in Old Saybrook considers keeping the spine healthy an overall wellness approach: "We look at the spine and joints of the spine to look for misalignment, which can cause pain and disrupt the mind/body balance.

"There are a lot of different approaches, it doesn't have to be a forceful adjustment," continued Cavanna. "It's a low impact, non-invasive, natural way to start addressing pain. Most people notice a positive change after a few adjustments."

"The main benefit of chiropractic is feeling better," said Dr. Amy Terray of A&P Chiropractic and Massage Therapy in Old Saybrook. "It betters alignment, lessens stress and anxiety, and promotes better communication between the mind and the body."

The Finer Points of Acupuncture

The exact length of time acupuncture has been practiced as a part of traditional Chinese medicine is debated by experts and historians, but there is a clearly recorded history of the practice dating back to little over 2,000 years ago in China. In acupuncture, different points on the body are stimulated by the insertion of acupuncture needles. The insertion of the needles is meant to activate the natural healing potential of the body.

Unlike a medical needle, which is stiff and with a jagged edge, acupuncture needles are very thin and flexible—Dr. Cynthia Frantz of River Valley Acupuncture in Essex describes them as a similar size to cats' whiskers. According to Frantz, people use acupuncture to address a variety of musculoskeletal conditions, as well as conditions that are not at the time well addressed by modern medicine, such as IBS.

While it is a good option for a variety of functional physical concerns, Frantz does caution that, like chiropractic, acupuncture can help manage and treat symptoms of pathological illnesses, but cannot definitively cure them.

Dr. Tim Trahant is an acupuncturist in Clinton, with previous experience as a physical therapist and athletic trainer. Looking for a unified approach to better address his patients' and clients' stresses led him to traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture. He sees patients for ailments ranging from back pain, to helping manage the symptoms of degenerative or chronic diseases, to depression, anxiety, and migraines.

"It's about balance," said Trahant. "It's healing through lifestyle. The Chinese idea is that 'running water doesn't get stale,' but it is based on a genuine medical theory of keeping the body, mind, and spirit in balance."

Asked why he thinks more people are looking to try acupuncture and other alternative therapies, Trahant said, "the biggest driver seems to be that we have an aging population where people want to be healthier longer. Prevention is at the core of that."

What to Expect

For first-timers at either practice, it is recommended to wear comfortable clothing to appointments. Before the actual treatment begins, the practitioner will conduct a physical exam and collect a health history. After this evaluation they will begin the treatment itself.

When it comes to choosing a chiropractor or acupuncturists, experts recommend a couple of things to make an educated choice in care:

• First, find out how much hands-on time the practitioner will spend with you during a session.

• Second, ask around to ensure your prospective doctor builds a good rapport with patients. A good practitioner will spend time to talk about why you are trying the treatment, collect a medical history from you, and have an open dialogue about treatment schedules and continuing care.

• Third, trust your gut. As with selecting any other care professional, make sure you are comfortable with the person who is going to be treating you, whether considering acupuncture or chiropractic to promote overall wellness or address an acute issue.

An open conversation with a potential practitioner can help you decide if these alternative medical practices might be a useful tool for living well.