Take an Alternative Approach to Good Health with Complementary Care

March 02, 2020

While many Americans often look to Western medicine as their primary method of health care, an increasing number of people suffering from common ailments such as migraines, back pain, high blood pressure, and anxiety turn to what’s called complementary medicine. Even if you’ve never heard this term before, you probably know someone who’s seen a chiropractor or tried acupuncture, which are both forms of complementary care. Read on to learn more about these treatments and what they can (and can’t) do for you.


What is Complementary Care?

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Complementary care is a type of medicine that is used in addition to mainstream medicine. Unlike Western medicine practices, complementary health practices tend to rely on natural remedies such as herbs and focus on mind and body practices rather than medicinal drugs for treatments. While these practices are still not quite mainstream in America, some complementary treatments have been around for thousands of years. If you come from a traditional Mexican or Latin household and you’ve used herbs, teas, and other natural products from the neighborhood botanica, you’re already practicing complementary care!


Different Types of Complementary Care

A study from 2012 found that chiropractors, natural products, acupuncture, and relaxation techniques are the most popular complementary health services that Americans use.


Chiropractor

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More than 22 million Americans visit a chiropractor each year. Chiropractors provide hands-on body adjustments to help align the spine and other parts of the body. Many people associate chiropractors with “back cracking,” but chiropractic treatment can include massage, heat, ice, and gentle exercises.

Some traditional doctors have raised concerns about the effectiveness of chiropractic treatment, but there are studies that indicate the treatment can be effective for back pain, neck pain, and reducing the frequency of headaches. And many chiropractic offices are reviewed on Yelp and have pages and pages of positive feedback from patients who claimed they received life-changing benefits. 


Natural Remedies

For thousands of years, people all over the world have consumed natural products such as cranberry, ginseng, and garlic in pill, powder, or tea for medicinal reasons. Today, millions of people around the world use these products for high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and cholesterol. Drinking black, green, or oolong teas regularly have also shown health benefits such as reducing blood pressure and increasing energy.


Acupuncture

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You’ve probably seen people on TV with needles sticking out of their body and wondered what benefits it can bring. That’s acupuncture, a traditional Chinese medicine practice in which a specialist inserts very thin needles into a person’s skin to balance the body’s “qi” or life energy. 

Research has shown that people who regularly see acupuncturists have reported fewer instances of low back pain, knee pain, migraines, and tension headaches. In case you’re wondering if it hurts, some patients do report feeling a slight sting, pinch, or tingling feeling when the needles are first inserted, but in most cases, the pain fades quickly.


Relaxation Methods

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Another popular complementary health practice is the use of relaxation techniques like Tai chi, Qigong, and hypnotherapy. 

Tai chi is a Chinese martial arts practice that many people practice to help with their meditation, reduce blood pressure, and lower their stress
Qigong is known as a mind-body-spirit practice that is similar to tai chi. Studies have shown that the practice has great promise in treating osteoporosis, but more research is needed. 
Hypnotherapy is a procedure in which a hypnotherapist guides a patient through a trance-like state to provide treatment for anxiety, phobias, substance abuse, and sleep issues.

 

Why You Should or Shouldn’t Consider This Approach

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There are a variety of reasons why people seek out complementary care. Some patients are simply looking for a wider range of options of treatments, while other patients aren’t completely satisfied with the effectiveness of Western medicine treatments alone. For others, the use of complementary, natural treatments aligns well with their own values and beliefs.

Before turning to complementary care, you should consider the urgency of your health concern and any risks that are involved with the specific treatment you want to try. For example, if you are considering complementary care to treat a matter such as cancer, you should know that delaying cancer treatment or surgery may allow the cancer spread more rapidly. 

With any treatment, there are risks involved. Before receiving complementary care or trying out a treatment, you should always research as much information as you can to make the best possible decision for yourself and your health.


Complement Your Traditional AltaMed Treatment

We offer our patients both traditional and complementary forms of treatment. Discover the list of specialty treatments we offer including acupuncture, chiropractic services, and more.

To get started, use our find a doctor tool to talk with someone about how you can benefit from Complementary Health practices. Or learn more about our Complete Care from AltaMed.

 

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6 Exercises and Stretches That Can Help Prevent Back Pain

December 04, 2019

Back pain is so common it affects almost everyone at some point in their lives. Men and women both get it; it can happen when you’re young or old; and couch potatoes as well as athletes suffer from it occasionally. In most cases, back pain goes away on its own in a few days. 

For many who have back pain, the last thing they want to do is exercise. However, lying in bed for long periods of time can leave you weaker which can make your back hurt worse.

The best way to avoid back pain is by keeping your back, and all the muscles that support it, strong and flexible.  

These gentle but effective exercises can do just that. Those who are overweight are much more likely to have back pain. If you are overweight, you may benefit from a program of vigorous exercise. Talk to your doctor about what kind of exercise is right for you!

 

1. Pelvic Tilt

pelvic tilt gif

This goal of this warmup exercise is to put your back and pelvis in the ideal neutral position, which can relieve pain and help you move the rest of your body better. 

Lay on the ground with your knees bent and your hands on your lower abdomen. Your back probably has a slight arch to it: notice how this feels. 

  1. Pull your abdominal muscles in. Imagine you are trying to suck your navel towards the back of your spine. 
  2. Move your hips up as if you are trying to “tuck” your pelvis underneath you.
  3. Relax your lower back. Your back is now supported by your abdominal muscles, with only a slight curve. This is neutral spine. 
  4. Hold for up to 10 seconds, then return to the original position.

Now that you know what neutral spine feels like, try to recreate it through the rest of the exercises. Concentrate on your breathing: besides the back benefits, this exercise is a great way to cope with stress

How many: Start out with 10 tilts.

How often: You can do these every day.

 

2. Quad Stretch

squad strech gif

If you work at a desk job or sit for long periods of time, the muscles at the front of your legs (the quadriceps or quads, for short) may become tight and short. This can create more stress on your lower back. Loosening up these muscles can relieve this tension.

  1. Reach behind you, grab your right shin with your right hand, and bring it toward your buttocks. Hold onto a piece of furniture with your left-hand for support.
  2. Hold your core in tight and don’t let your back arch. 
  3. Hold for 15 – 30 seconds, then stretch the other leg.

If you’re not very flexible, try this stretch on the floor. You should feel a deep stretch in the front of your leg, from your groin to your knee. Stop if you start feeling it in your back.

How many: 2 or 3 on each leg.

How often: You can do this stretch every day.

 

3. Knee to Chest Stretch

knee to chest stretch gif

This stretch can help loosen the muscles in both the front and back of the hips, the groin, and lower back, and it will help your range of motion. The key to getting the most benefit from this stretch is to keep your back in a neutral position. A gentle arch is ok, but you should hold your abdominal muscles tight.

  1. Lay on your back.
  2. Bring your right leg up and bring your knee to your chest. Hold for 15 – 30 seconds.
  3. Return to original position.
  4. Repeat with left leg.

If you can’t get your knee up very high, don’t force it. You can only go as far as you can go! But if you practice this stretch regularly, you’ll be able to get a deeper stretch that can help to loosen up your back and hips.

How many: 3 to 5 on each leg.

How often: You can do the stretch every day.

 

4. Cat-Cow Stretch

cat cow stretch gif

This exercise can help make your entire spine, from your hips and lower back all the way up to your shoulders and neck, more flexible.

  1. Start by getting down on all fours. Your knees should be about hip distance apart and your hands should be as wide as your shoulders. Your stomach should be firm, as if you’re trying to suck your navel to your spine.
  2. Inhale and tilt your pelvis back so it sticks up. Keep your abs tight but drop your belly down.
  3. Move your head up like you are trying to look up at the ceiling, but don’t strain your neck. 
  4. As you exhale, draw your belly to your spine and round your back. You should look like an angry cat with an arched back
  5. Inhale and move back to the ‘cow’ part of the pose.

How many: 10 complete cycles going from cat to cow.

How often: You can do this stretch every day.

 

5. Bridge

bridge gift

This exercise is excellent at strengthening all of the muscles in your abdomen and hips that support your back.

  1. Lay flat on the ground with your knees bent and your toes facing forward. 
  2. Use the big muscles in your buttocks (the glutes) and the backs of your legs (hamstrings) to lift your hips up off of the ground. 
  3. Push your heels to the floor and squeeze your abdominal muscles tight. Hold for two seconds.
  4. Return to the floor. 

Don’t turn your head while in this position and don’t try to make this a backbend, which will put more pressure on your spine. Keep your back as relaxed as possible. Imagine a straight line going from your chest to your knees.

How many: Repeat 8 to 12 times.

How often: Two or three times a week.

 

6. Quadruped/”Bird Dog” Exercise

bird god exercise gift

This exercise will help you improve your balance and posture. It will also help strengthen your abdominal muscles and the muscles in your back that stabilize your spine. It may not seem like much, but this exercise works many of your body’s major muscle groups. 

  1. Start on all fours, with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Distribute your weight evenly, hold in your core, and keep your back flat. 
  2. Gently extend your right arm forward. Imagine you are trying to grow long, starting from your shoulder blade. Stretch through your fingertips.
  3. Extend your left leg out behind you, turning on the muscles in your buttocks and hamstrings to keep the leg up, and point your toes. 
  4. Steady yourself by holding your stomach muscles tight. Hold for two seconds
  5. Return to center. 
  6. Start on the other side, extending your left arm and right leg.

How many: Repeat 8 to 12 times.

How often: Two or three times a week.

 

Get the Most from Your Efforts

The key to getting the most from these exercises is to keep them within your range of motion and ability to control the movements. Move gently and never force your body to go beyond it’s limits. The more you do these exercises, focusing on correct posture, the easier they will be for you.

If any of these back exercises cause pain or make pain worse, stop doing them immediately and call your doctor.

 

Only Attempt These if You’re Not Suffering Pain

If you have back pain that has gotten worse over a few weeks, pain from a trauma or injury, or back pain that has been joined by numbness or tingling in your arms or legs, see a doctor. Call us at (888) 499-9303, we offer primary care and specialty care to support you and your family. 

 

10 Easy Tips for a Better Night’s Sleep

February 04, 2019

Trouble sleeping? You’re not alone. Thirty-five percent of American adults report getting less than the recommended 7 hours of sleep a night. A lack of sleep can increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes, arthritis, and other serious health problems. Between the demands of a full-time job, raising a family, enjoying social activities, or pursuing hobbies, it’s important to give your body the rest it needs. 

At AltaMed, we know that nothing’s more frustrating than a night of tossing a turning, so we’ve created a list of 10 easy tips to help get a better, longer rest. Read on and sleep tight!


1.    Put the Phone Down


AltaMed person in bed at night on their smartphone
 
It may be tempting to check your phone one more time before going to sleep, but the blue light that our devices emit will trick your body into staying awake. Because this light is similar to the natural daylight we experience while being awake, our bodies stop producing sleeping hormones when we scroll through our phones late at night. Doctors recommend putting your gadgets away at least a half hour before bedtime. 


2.    Wash Your Sheets


AltaMed woman taking fresh sheets out of dryer and smelling them
 
    
Washing your sheets once per week has been proven to increase sleep quality, according the National Sleep Foundation. Over time, our beds collect dead skin, sweat, and other irritants, which can trigger our senses and keep us awake. Be sure to clean other bedding frequently as well. 


3.    Say No to Late Night Snacks


AltaMed two women on the couch eating popcorn watching TV

Eating shortly before going to bed will keep you up and may result in worse sleep quality. It’s best to stop eating at least two hours before you plan to go to hit the hay. If you are hungry, limit portion size and avoid snacks with added sugar. 


4.    Check the Thermostat


AltaMed man adjusting the thermostat

Ever notice that it can be more difficult to sleep during hot, summer months? This is because temperature has a profound impact in our ability to fall asleep, even more so than loud or distracting noises. Doctors recommend keeping your room at a comfortable 70 or so degrees for optimal sleeping conditions. 


5.    Stick to a Schedule


AltaMed woman laying in bed with clock on night stand

Our bodies have a natural circadian rhythm, meaning we tend to wake up around sunrise and get tired after sunset. Studies have shown that people who do not follow consistent bedtimes report poorer sleep quality. Creating and following a set 7 or 8 hour sleep pattern will help you fall asleep faster. 


6.    Relax Your Mind


Altamed woman having breakfast

It can be tougher to fall asleep when our bodies experience stress. Rather than lay awake and worrying, try writing down a “to do” list of everything you need to accomplish the next day. Organizing your thoughts will help your mind and body relax. 


7.    Try Exercising - Just Not at Night


AltaMed couple running outdoors

Exercise is one of the best ways to prepare your body for a good night’s sleep. This is because physical activity can tire the body out, leading to an increase of hormones such as melatonin that helps cause sleepiness. One study showed that older adults who exercised regularly fell asleep 55% faster and slept for about 40 minutes longer. However, exercising too close to bedtime can keep your brain stimulated and overly-alert, so aim for morning or midday activity. 


8.    Cut Back on Caffeine


AltaMed cup of coffee

If you drink coffee every morning for a boost of energy, be sure to limit yourself to one or two cups. Caffeine stimulates the body’s nervous system for up to 12 hours, meaning a 3:00pm coffee break can lead to a restless night. If you need a boost of energy in the afternoon, try a healthy snack such as nuts or fruit instead. 


9.    Stay Out of Bed


AltaMed dad and daughter reading together

That’s right. Sleep experts actually recommend staying out of bed unless the purpose is to go to sleep or have sex. If you spend hours laying down and watching TV, using your phone, or reading, the brain begins to associate the bed with being awake, rather than getting rest. This can make it harder to fall asleep. 


10.    Breathe


AltaMed woman meditating

Even in the ideal sleep setting, it can still take time to settle our brains and fall asleep. Try this exercise, created by the Arizona Center for Integrated Medicine, to help your body relax:

  • Close your eyes and inhale slowly through your nose for 4 seconds.
  • Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
  • Exhale slowly through your mouth for 8 seconds. 

    Continue to do this until you fall asleep. 


Sleep On It


AltaMed woman sleeping in cozy bed

By following these suggestions, you’ll be on the path to a better night’s sleep! Remember, sleep deprivation can sometimes be a symptom of more serious medical conditions. If you or a loved one experiences continued insomnia without relief, talk to a doctor. Visit AltaMed.org to find a location, make an appointment, and learn more.