In my pursuit of pain relief, I have tried a great variety of "regular" and "alternative" medicines. I have had both help and discouragement from both kinds of treatment. I think that the idea of "complementary" medicine (both alternative and western working together) is the best chance at health and wellness. (A side note: I had determined that I didn't want to see any "alternative" therapists without a substantial, personal reference. Later in April, I'll discuss Q=Quacks.)
I have seen a chiropractor (Dr. Dean Meylor) for more than 10 years, and he has been able to keep me upright and functioning. Even in the worst of the pain, he told me that he couldn't "fix" what was wrong (since none of us knew what it was), but he could help keep me going. And he did. He also offered accupuncture as a different kind of relief, and I accepted it from him. I would not have trusted many people to stick needles in me, and it did give me some relief for a short time. We tried it for a few months, but gave up after no significant change.
Two orthopedic surgeons confirmed that my problem was NOT surgical (whew)! I am so glad that they both had the integrity to turn away "my business" and refer me to other therapies.
The physical therapists I have worked with seem to be mostly personal fitness trainers. I couldn't understand why I would need to do exercise for my arms, etc. to make my back feel better. And that kind of exercise actually made my pain worse. I was referred to water therapists in the children's hospital in Durham, and they showed me wonderful water exercises that helped me gain strength without hurting. This led to my water exercise group at the local YMCA; this class, designed for folks with Fibromyalgia (one of my diagnoses), has helped keep me sane, laughing, and moving (even just a little), with other folks who are also dealing with chronic pain (bless you, ladies, I'll talk about you more during F=Fibromyalgia and S=Swimming). Finally, I met Lorraine Kingham, a manual physical therapist who combines soft tissue massage with scientific physical therapy, and she gets GREAT results. She and I have often discussed the problem with "mass production" of medicine, especially physical therapy. This kind of exercise-based therapy helps many people (especially coming from surgery or acute issues), but when it doesn't work (as for chronic pain), then they have no alternatives to provide or suggest.
My pain management doctor is primarily interested in pharmaceuticals, and has never given me an indication that she can help me actually get better. The painkillers do help me cope with the pain, but don't help cure me. Cortisone shots given "blindly" have very little chance of working. When my "alternative" physical therapist found inflamed bursas, she showed my pain management doctor the right place to "shoot." The combination of those two therapies worked beautifully!
I don't believe I would have seen my holistic doctor without some excellent referrals. Dr. Watkins gives the best of both worlds: an M.D. who understands the need to treat the whole patient, and not just the symptoms. His methods to improve the chemical systems in the body (blood, glandular, hormonal, etc) really worked for me. Again, he said that the supplements he provides couldn't cure my back problem, but he could make the rest of me feel better - and it worked!
I have come to this conclusion: don't give up in your pursuit to relieve pain. Western medicine is finally recognizing that chronic pain is a problem to be reckoned with, not just "all in my head." Where regular doctors cannot help, try alternatives. Be careful to research before you try (again, see Q=Quacks later in April), but there are lots of folks dealing with chronic pain, and some who have successfully overcome it (like me - yay). What worked for me may not work for you, but don't give up your search until you are well!