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How helpful are alternative treatments?

August 2, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Every year 38 million Americans try alternative therapies such as acupuncture and chiropractic treatments. How helpful are those and other alternative treatments?

Consumer Reports asked its readers to rate them along with prescription and over-the-counter medications for a dozen different ailments.

Jonathan Goldberg says the adjustments he received from chiropractor Lawrence Stern relieved agonizing back pain he suffered after lifting an air conditioner. He said he avoided back surgery that one doctor told him he might need.

"I haven't had even the smallest recurrence of anything other than stiffness for over eight years now," Goldberg said.

Consumer Reports' survey of its readers found hands-on treatments like chiropractic and deep-tissue massage helped relieve back pain, neck pain and osteoarthritis.

And in the case of back pain, chiropractic care outperformed prescription medicine.

"Sixty-five percent of those surveyed using chiropractic treatments for back pain said they helped a lot. Only 53 percent using prescription medications found them as helpful," said Gayle Williams of Consumer Reports.

Half of those who used deep-tissue massage or yoga found they helped a lot for osteoarthritis.

The survey results indicated that both were almost on par with prescription medication.

But in the Consumer Reports National Research Center survey, alternative treatments were not found to be as helpful with many other medical conditions.

Take depression: Yoga or meditation helped about 35 percent. In contrast, 70 percent of those using prescription medication found it to be very helpful.

As for colds, flu and allergies? Prescription meds were deemed much more helpful than nutritional supplements like Vitamin C.

So alternative treatment in some cases may help, but Consumer Reports advises checking with your doctor first.

Consumer Reports says don't forget to check your insurance. Certain types of alternative treatments might be covered.


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