Combining Physical Therapy with Holistic Medicine to Promote Optimal Health

August 6th, 2019
By: Content Staff

Alternative therapies found in holistic medicine, or “integrative medicine,” increasingly are finding a home in traditional health-care settings, underscoring the importance of taking a comprehensive approach to a patient’s overall health.

According to the American Hospital Association, in 2010, 42 percent of hospitals offered some form of alternative therapy, up from 37 percent in 2007. The top outpatient “complementary services” included massage therapy and acupuncture, while the most popular inpatient services were pet therapy, massage therapy, and music therapy, according to PT in Motion, a publication of the American Physical Therapy Association.

Even the U.S. armed forces are open to combining conventional and alternative therapies in an effort to reverse national health trends that eventually could degrade the U.S. military. In 2015, the Department of Defense launched its Move to Health program, which focuses on treating the whole person – body and mind. The program looks at a wide range of factors – including exercise, surroundings, personal development, nutrition, rest, social connections, “spirit and soul” and power of the mind, according to PT in Motion.

“The Army’s surgeon general has determined that this is a matter of national security because if you look at current trends, by the year 2030, we will not have a fit-enough society to serve in our military and all of our community positions such as police officers and firefighters,” physical therapist Dan Rhon, a clinical scientist for the Geneva Foundation, told PT in Motion.

By focusing on preventive and holistic medicine, health-care providers can reduce the rates of preventable diseases that are the biggest causes of death in the United States, Rhon told PT in Motion. The American Holistic Health Association defines holistic medicine as “the art and science of healing that addresses the whole person – body, mind, and spirit,” and promotes optimal health by combining conventional and alternative therapies.

A recent study found that 92.3 percent of children's hospitals offer at least one alternative therapy. At the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, patients have access to 75 different types of complementary treatments, including art, guided imagery, yoga, nutrition, and journaling, PT in Motion reported.

The hospital defines integrative medicine as interventions used with conventional medicine in a personalized, safe way to benefit patients. In oncology, for example, exercise is being used to help patients increase the effectiveness of their treatment and minimize the negative health impact of treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation, PT in Motion said.

For PTs, one model for integrating holistic therapies into PT clinics is to have each provider be knowledgeable about one alternative therapy, or to have at least one provider who is knowledgeable about alternative therapies. At the Integrative Physical Therapy & Wellness clinic in Redondo Beach, Calif., for example, PT and owner Z Altug asks new patients lifestyle-related questions to determine if the patient needs help with matters related to sleep, stress, nutrition or exercise, PT in Motion said.

“During my treatments, I may include holistic techniques such as myofascial cupping; instrument-assisted soft-tissue mobilization using certain gua sha [traditional Chinese medicine] tools such as flat stones; and aromatherapy and essential oils, using a lavender scent for relaxation during soft-tissue techniques,” Altug told PT in Motion. “I also may incorporate some basic yoga, tai chi, or qigong exercises as part of the person’s clinic and home program. Finally, I may provide patient education regarding proper sleep habits, stress-management strategies and meditation, and relaxation strategies.”

Rhon, the clinical scientist for the Geneva Foundation, which supports innovative medical research in the Department of Defense, teaches one- and two-day courses on incorporating holistic therapy into clinical care. He told PT in Motion that there are three levels of assistance a PT can provide that do not require additional professional licensing:

● handouts, educational information, and self-management tools on a specific topic
● screening questionnaires to evaluate the extent of a problem
● referrals

“Then I can either coordinate with their primary care provider or put in the referral and say, ‘Let’s get you to the right place where you can get help,’ ” Rhon told PT in Motion.

Altug said PTs should take continuing education courses and attend workshops in an area of integrative medicine such as yoga, Pilates, Tai chi, qigong, meditation, aromatherapy, cupping or gua sha – whichever interests them most, according to PT in Motion.

Rhon said that alternative therapies and a holistic approach to medicine can help optimize and maintain patients’ health, which in turn can help address health trends that are alarming the U.S. military. “We've got to incorporate prevention and health promotion to get ahead of the problem,” he told PT in Motion. “That's critical. Physical therapists have an opportunity to lead the way – set the example and work toward this holistic paradigm.”

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