Osteoarthritis (OA) sufferers are looking for new ways to ease their pain. And complementary/alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, nutritional supplements and relaxation techniques, are becoming increasingly popular.
"Conventional treatments have side effects so people are looking to acupuncture and other complementary therapies," says Brian Berman, M.D., director of the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine and a professor of family medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Berman says that the use of complementary therapies has increased greatly over the past 10 years.
The University of Maryland School of Medicine's Complementary Medicine Program is involved in patient care, research, and education and training in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). We are a National Institutes of Health-funded specialized center of CAM research.
Our highly trained CAM practitioners and physicians are dual-trained in conventional and complementary medicine. The Complementary Medicine Program's Center for Healing, located at Kernan Hospital, offers comprehensive, integrative care to patients of all ages.
The Center treats a wide variety of patient conditions such as: arthritis, lower back pain, joint pain, fibromyalgia, attention deficit disorder, migraine headaches, sports injuries, and stress related disorders.
We offer full range of complementary medicine services, including:
For more information or to make an appointment, call 410-448-6361
"Fifty percent of people are using some sort of complementary therapy and a lot are using it for pain problems," he said. "People are using complementary therapies for OA and rheumatologists are quite accepting of many of these therapies."
A survey conducted recently by The University of Maryland Complementary Medicine Division seems to confirm this trend. The survey sought to find out which and how often arthritis doctors (rheumatologists) and primary care physicians use or recommend complementary therapies.
"Since we're an NIH-funded special research center and our focus is on complementary medicine and arthritis, it seemed natural to find out what's being done," explained Barker Bausell, study co-author and the director of research at the University of Maryland Complementary Medicine Program in Baltimore. "We surveyed practicing rheumatologists about which sort of alternative therapies they had used, referred a patient to and considered legitimate medicine."
All in all, the survey indicated that many doctors are aware of and are accepting of alternative therapies, and some even practice it themselves. But the survey yielded some unexpected results.
"We were a little surprised that some of the therapies were as high as they were," said Bausell. "What I found very surprising was the use of trigger point therapies (the application of pressure to tender trigger points in the muscle to relieve pain and tension). Over half the doctors used that. Acupuncture, especially for referral, is usually ranked high up there by clinicians and researchers because there is evidence that it works."
Some of the other alternative therapies listed in the survey included nutraceuticals; biofeedback; chiropractic; counseling/psychotherapy; dietary prescription; electromagnetic applications (TENS and PENS); exercise intervention; meditation; and massage/manual healing.
According to Berman, doctors who use complementary therapies tend to focus on acupuncture and nutritional supplements (nutraceuticals) such as glucosamine sulfate, chondroitin sulfate and SAM-e.
Marc C. Hochberg, M.D., M.P.H., head of Rheumatology and Clinical Immunology at the University of Maryland Medical Center and a professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said that some studies seem to support the use of these new approaches. " Several reviews demonstrate the benefit of nutritional supplements and acupuncture for OA pain in the knee," Hochberg said.
Women are twice as likely as men to develop OA of the knee, especially after menopause. "Knee osteoarthritis is a big problem, and it's one of the most common problems causing disability with the elderly," says Berman.
One of the Complementary Medicine Program's primary goals is to find new ways to alleviate arthritis pain and related disorders. To that end, The University of Maryland Complementary Medicine Program, with a grant from NIH, conducted the largest study ever undertaken to determine whether people with OA of the knee would benefit from Chinese acupuncture treatment.
The study involved 570 patients suffering from osteoarthritis of the knee.
Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine found that traditional Chinese acupuncture significantly reduces pain and improves function for patients with osteoarthritis of the knee who have moderate or more severe pain despite taking pain medication. The results of the four-year study were published in the December 2, 2004 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.
"Our study shows that acupuncture can be a safe and effective complementary therapy for people with osteoarthritis of the knee," explained Berman, the principal investigator. "Before taking part in our study, many of the patients were taking anti-inflammatory medicine but they still experienced a lot of pain. When we added acupuncture to their treatment, the majority reported significant improvement."
By Michelle W. Murray