So we’ve come to the end of our Alternative Medicine series and for this last piece, we look into the area of body manipulation – yes, you read that right, but it’s not what you think!
There are three main body manipulation techniques: spinal manipulation, massage therapy and cupping – all of which provide localized treatment for soft tissue, circulation, muscles, bones and lymphatic systems.
Spinal manipulation is usually performed by chiropractors and trained professionals such as physical therapists and osteopathic doctors, and involves practitioners applying controlled pressure (using their hands) to a joint of the spine and moving it beyond its usual range of motion. The idea is to work with the natural anatomical set up of the body and not against it. According to the Mayo Clinic, applied pressure relieves localized pain in that area and it is normal for patients to experience a “pop” or “crack” during chiropractic adjustment as the joint is manipulated.
Did you know that one in four Americans suffer from lower-back pain? Well, spinal manipulation is commonly used to treat such concerns, including neck pain. Make sure you see a licensed professional who knows how to manipulate the body in a safe way though – always check someone’s credentials before you allow them to “crack” your back into place!
Next up is our favorite form of therapy – massaging or massage therapy – officially a form of alternative medicine! Most of us have appreciated the power of a good, firm rub and kneading of tight muscles and soft tissues and how it can do wonders for the body and mind.
Apart from the general pampering aspect though, most individuals seek massage treatment for a variety of health concerns including stress (think head, neck, shoulders), muscular pain, sports injuries and anxiety. Massage therapy is easily accessible and the best part is that you get to dictate the strength and level of pressure depending on what you’re comfortable with, and whether you are focusing on a particular health woe or just need time out to relax.
Finally, we introduce you to Cupping, which in 2004 hit the tabloids in a big way afteractress Gwyneth Paltrow was seen at a movie premiere with six large, purple circular bruises on her back – not the usual red carpet accessory.
While many grimaced at the sight, little knew that cupping has actually enjoyed a long history of use – being traced far back into Ancient Egypt (recorded in 3500-year-old hieroglyphic scripts), by famous Taoist alchemists (going back 281 to 341 A.D.) and by Hippocrates. Previously used to “draw out evil spirits”, cupping is used these days to draw energy, blood and oxygen to a specific treatment area to improve its function.
Nowadays, cupping is practiced with the use of small glass or plastic cups but in the past, ancient cultures would have used animal horns, bones, bamboo, earthenware and metal to get similar effects.
After placing the cups on the skin, a partial vacuum is created either through heat or suction, which in turn manipulates the underlying tissues and nerves. This suction causes circular bruising and can take up to one week to disappear and may feel warm, but no pain should be felt in the bruised area during the healing process. Mike O’Farrell, CEO of the British Acupuncture Council assures that “[a]lthough cupping does leave noticeable marks that can look alarming, it is not painful during or after treatment”. He recommends though that treatment should only be sought from a registered practitioner.
Cupping can massage tissues as deep as four inches below the skin level and is particularly effective for drawing out toxins, triggering the lymphatic system into action, and improving circulation and blood flow in the localized area. Cupping is known as the best deep tissue massage available but like all good things, it can be quite intense during the treatment so a good breathing technique can help!
Aside from physical attributes, cupping is also used by traditional Chinese practitioners as a way to open the energy paths (the flow of Qi through the meridians) of the body. To open these meridians, the cups are often suctioned in place and then firmly pushed across the body in certain movements.
Cupping is increasingly popular and is known to be a safe alternative treatment for the family (although be prepared for questions if you are spotted with the trademark circular bruises!)