Alternative therapies like meditation and acupuncture are on the rise

The doctor is here. Also the yogi.

A sharp shift in health care is underway, as more than a third of American adults now supplement or replace conventional health care with acupuncture, meditation, yoga and other therapies long considered alternatives.

In 2022, 37 percent of adult pain patients used nontraditional medical care, a sharp increase from 19 percent in 2002, according to research published this week in JAMA. The shift has been driven by increasing insurance reimbursement for clinical alternatives, more scientific evidence of their effectiveness, and growing acceptance among patients.

“It’s become part of American culture,” said Richard Nahin, the paper’s lead author and an epidemiologist at the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, a division of the National Institutes of Health. “We’re talking about use for general well-being, stress management, sleep, energy and immune health.”

And for pain management. The use of yoga for pain management increased to 29 percent in 2022 from 11 percent in 2002, an increase that Dr. Nahin said partly reflects patients’ efforts to find alternatives to opioids and the influence of the media and social networks.

“It’s largely in the public domain,” he said. “People listen to acupuncture, meditation, yoga. “They start to learn.”

The change is also affecting doctors. Dr. Sean Mackey, chief of Stanford Medicine’s division of pain medicine, said a growing number of studies have validated alternative therapies, providing even traditional clinics like Stanford’s with more mind-body therapies and other non-pharmaceutical tools. He said acceptance of those ideas has increased among younger people in particular, while patients from older generations may have seen these options as too available.

Our parents and our grandparents looked at them and said: What? Are you kidding??”

At the same time, Dr. Mackey said, the growing importance of therapies can be a “double-edged sword” because they don’t always provide the relief that is marketed.

“My advice to people looking into this is to do these things on a trial basis,” he said. “But if it doesn’t provide lasting long-term benefits, don’t keep doing it.”

The JAMA article drew its data from the 2002, 2012, and 2022 National Health Interview Surveys, which were conducted in person and by telephone. The researchers used the data to evaluate the use of seven complementary health care approaches: acupuncture, chiropractic care, guided imagery, massage therapy, meditation, naturopathy and yoga.

Meditation as a health therapy has increased dramatically, to about 17 percent of American adults in 2022, from about 7.5 percent two decades earlier. Dr. Nihan said low cost was a factor: “How much does it cost to do meditation and yoga?” These types of activities vary greatly in price, depending on whether they are done at home or in classes.

For some people, the alternatives seem superior. Jee Kim started down the path of traditional medicine in 2022, when she was struggling with insomnia and separation anxiety. His primary care doctor in Boulder, Colorado, prescribed medications that Mr. Kim initially used but found had intolerable side effects.

“I got serious about yoga and meditation,” he said, and eventually found a better solution in them. “I tried the pharmaceutical route, but I wanted tools I could come back to. “I knew it wouldn’t be the last difficult transition of my life.”

Mr. Kim, 49, a political consultant and former college tennis player who still plays avidly, also credits yoga with helping to avoid injuries, so much so that he has become an occasional yoga instructor himself. . “He is a pillar of my physical and mental health, also at work,” he stated.

Dr. Jennifer Rhodes, a Boulder psychiatrist who specializes in treating women going through hormonal changes, said that “most of my patients use complementary interventions such as those for stress management,” referring to the therapies in the survey.

He said he accepted the concept, but cautioned that medications can also be crucial.

“Do acupuncture and massage,” he said. “But it’s not fair to ask someone who is severely depressed or anxious and not functioning to use them until they calm their nervous system.”