Alternative Medicine


The other day I heard the head of the alternative medicine foundation or some such on CBC radio describing alternative and traditional medicine in very large words. They are a range of ‘alternative modalities of treatment’ etc. His language was so highfalutin that the host threatened to fine him 25 cents every time he used the word ‘modalities’. She was probably going for better communication but actually she was on to something bigger. When people have little to say they say it with the biggest words possible.

In any case, our expert went on to say that you can’t really define alternative medicine because it encompassed so much from ‘healing touches‘ (oh my god just rattle those chicken bones over me) to things like herbal therapies and physiotherapy.

Now, when you get to a certain age, spending time in the physiotherapist’s office is kind of part of your monthly routine. I wouldn’t say it is as much for your peace of mind as anything else but I do know that once you learn the various exercises for different injuries and aliments, you don’t really need to go back except to be nagged to actually do them. As for chiropractors, yeah, well, whatever.

My problem with all this stuff is that it doesn’t often stand up to scientific explanation or investigation and as soon as people say — and they have said to me — well, of course not, because traditional healing has as much to do with the spirit as the body and not everything can be measured.

Well, as we like to say about various claims of physical prowess — if there are no pictures, it didn’t happen. If you can’t measure an effect, then there was no effect. That’s the way the physical universe works. And of course there is the placebo effect.

So when you tell me about the magical properties of this or that herb or this or that treatment ‘modality’ I point out that the key word is ‘magical’ as in ‘magical thinking‘. You might as well press your ass to the TV screen while an evangelist is preaching — it could well cure your hemorrhoids. Or simply be a political statement as in my case.

I’ve also been told that ‘I studied 4 years to become an x, y or z practitioner’. To which I reply, I could devise a course of study that it would take you four years to learn but it wouldn’t necessarily mean you knew anything more at the end than at the beginning. Made up stuff is made up stuff no matter how long it takes you to learn it.

A lot of these things have, in fact, been studied scientifically using double blind studies. A few of them have been shown to be effective for a limited range of illnesses (though never for the wide range claimed of them). Those are medicine. No modifier required.

All the rest? A lot of hoo-haw.

And that’s ten minutes.

5 thoughts on “Alternative Medicine

  1. Fred Westcott

    Conventional medicine today seems to consist of a 15 minute visit to a clinic (not counting waiting time) where a conventional doctor writes out a prescription to deal directly with whatever symptom you are complaining about. Then sends you on your way.
    I went to a chiropractor the other week who spent some time considering ALL my complaints before checking to see if they could be explained by problems with my spine. We are now dealing with the cause of pain and suffering that I have been treating with pills and physiotherapist prescribed exercises for about 25 years.
    I suggest that “family doctors” should practice conventional medicine but should also refer their patients to specialists to get to and deal with the causes. If I had been referred to a chiropractor 25 years ago not only would I have avoided back and neck pain I suspect internal organs that rely on the nerves that were compromised may have worked better and prevented me from needing surgery. We really have a long way to go.


    • I’ve been to a chiropractor myself — for neck pain. He helped a bit but then started talking to me about how spinal adjustment could do this that and the other thing for my health. All completely unfounded in any kind of science or even logic. After some initial improvement, I plateaued. Then I got T-boned in a car and my neck problem cleared up. The ultimate adjustment I guess.

      I’m also fortunate to have an excellent doctor who does treat me holistically and is extremely reluctant to pass out pills when other approaches — exercise, diet, physio etc — are available. All based on careful scientific assessment.


      • I suffered from back pain for many years, took various painkillers to deal with it, spent time on my back, sometimes for days, until the pain subsided somewhat, and eventually settled in for a regular regimen of visits to a chiropractor. The treatments would make me feel better, but the pain always came back.

        Then, back in 1996, I decided that I was done with all of it. I would no longer go to a chiropractor and I would deal with my back pain on my own. That meant learning what caused me pain, how my body reacted to it, making a mental map of the precise location of the muscles that would contort in agony, and practicing, over the course of months, applying control over those muscles so that when the pain struck, I did the exact opposite of what that part of my body wanted to do. I relaxed. I forced myself to accept the pain, but not give in to it. None of this was easy, but 18 years later, I am in control of my back pain, and as a result, I am rarely affected by it.

        No need to twist my body in weird ways and “adjust” my spine.


  2. “”Alternative Medicine”, I continue
    “Has either not been proved to work,
    Or been proved not to work.
    Do you know what they call “alternative medicine”
    That’s been proved to work?
    Medicine.” ~ Tim Minchin, Storm.

    Liked by 1 person

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