Alternative and complementary medicine has steadily risen in popularity worldwide, despite aggressive denials by some orthodox medical practitioners. Australia has not been immune as well. The practice of alternative medicine in Australia is higher now more than ever. The percentage of Australians seeking numerous alternative therapies has more than doubled since 1983, when less than two per cent of people reported resorting to non-orthodox medical treatments. More Australians now, compared to a decade ago, are likely to search online for keywords such as “chiropractor Melbourne” or “Ayurvedic masseuse Perth.” Consequently, the number of alternative practitioners has also risen almost everywhere in the country, often setting up shop next to regular doctors.
This may seem shocking to some, as orthodox Australian physicians have for decades resisted recommending herbal medicine and natural therapies for certain ailments, unlike their counterparts in other countries of the developed world. Many physicians, in Australia and elsewhere, are still reluctant to recommend alternative medical therapies for patients who might potentially benefit from them. However, the doubts are not keeping the average Australian from seeking out alternative therapies. Here are some alternative therapy trends that are currently dominating the consumer base Down South:
Perhaps the most established of alternative medical practices, chiropractic treatments exclusively focus on the musculoskeletal system, particularly the spine. Treatment involves applying pressure or another kind of force into the body to stimulate muscle movement. Chiropractors follow a rigorous diagnosis procedure to determine if a patient’s body can bear such pressure (for example when a patient has endured severe spinal injury). The therapy is painless, but some have reported discomfort and mild soreness afterwards.
This therapy is so popular it’s often offered in hotel spa packages for free. Despite common belief, acupuncture is not at all about sticking needles into a person’s muscles. It’s actually a “family of procedures” that involves a practitioner inserting several thin needles into certain points in the body to relieve pain. The insertion of needles supposedly doesn’t hurt, unlike getting a flu shot. Acupuncture has been practised for thousands of years in China and other parts of Asia, and is considered an important component of traditional Chinese medicine. People have reported acupuncture relieving migraines, chronic pain and even depression.
For people not satisfied with acupuncture, there’s acupressure, which is characterised by applying physical pressure to acupunctured areas. It may sound similar to acupuncture, but it’s not exactly the same. Practitioners believe that by applying the extra pressure, usually using hand or elbow, clears the blockages of energy that flows through the body. Patients say acupressure helps them relieve nausea, motion sickness, stomach-aches and temporary pain. Certain kinds of East Asian martial arts use the same acupressure techniques to incapacitate or temporarily paralyse opponents.
In other words, Ayurvedic oil massages. Ayurveda is one of the oldest medical practises in the world that originated in India possibly as far back as 5,000 years ago. It encompasses a series of treatments—like yoga, meditation, and healthy eating—to cure a variety of ailments. Massages are the best known of these treatments. Unlike regular massages, which are meant to relax, Abhyanga massages are meant to heal. The herbal oils used in these treatments, targeting the whole body or just a part, are said to “penetrate the cells” and heal a staggering number of medical issues including stress, fatigue, sleep disorders, muscle stiffness and bad skin tone.
Healing by using fragrances of essential oils derived from plants have been a longstanding traditional medical practice that can be traced back to 19th century Europe. Aromatherapy is mainly known to cause relaxation and provide stress relief. However, aromatherapy is also said to relieve insomnia, depression, high blood pressure and severe burns. Practitioners claim that the essential oils cause the body to release enzymes or hormones to fight off ill-health. Different types of oils are used for different kinds of ailments. The oils are only applied onto the skin, and are not swallowed as they could contain certain chemicals that can be dangerous if consumed.
Alternative medical treatments may be popular, but consumers should be aware that these therapies have limited scientific backing or review. Even though many complementary caregivers often give a long list of potential benefits from a treatment, do not assume these are actually tried and tested statements. Alternative medicine is a largely unregulated industry where any therapist can declare magical cures without basis or consequence.
Complementary medicine can also be extremely risky if the practitioners are not adequately trained and licensed for the treatment. Australian health regulatory agencies strongly encourage patients to seek alternative therapies only after consulting a regular physician who can determine if the therapy is suitable under the patient’s current medical condition. Average Australians who are interested in trying out an Ayurveda massage or an acupressure session should only seek such therapies from reputed practitioners. Be aware of consumer protection warnings regarding alternative medicine.