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What's the alternative?

Acupuncture is an alternative way to relieve pain in different areas of the human body.This photo demonstrates where a practitioner would place the needles on the hand and arm of a person who suffers from carpal tunnel syndrome.1 / 5
Dr. Sara Skadsem of Weum Chirpractic relieves Amanda Malvick's pain at her weekly session.2 / 5
The ear is a micro system. Placing acupuncture needles in the ear, as shown in the above chart, may help relieve pain in other areas of the body, including the body's internal organs.3 / 5
An electric shock system accompanies acupuncture needles to treat various pain levels.4 / 5
Naturopaths and chiropractors often prescribe supplements as alternative treatments.5 / 5

When Amanda Malvick, of Lake Park, got into a car accident in 1999, she began suffering from back, neck and shoulder pain.

Her fibromyalgia didn't help either, and she began taking multiple narcotics and muscle relaxants.

"I was on medication for a year and a half and gradually got off," she said.

Malvick decided to go the alternative medical route, to be more natural. As a nurse, she understands the side effects drugs can have on a person's body.

"Medication can have awful side effects," she said.

Which is why many people choose to try alternative medicine as opposed to conventional methods, said Dr. Sara Skadsem, of Weum Chiropratic in Detroit Lakes.

Many of her patients are looking to find the cause of any one problem as opposed to covering up the symptoms.

"If you get rid of the cause of the symptom, the symptom goes away," Skadsem said.

As she worked to adjust Malvick's back, neck and shoulders, she explained that alternative medicine seekers have to be a little more patient than those looking for the magic pill.

"The process seems longer because it continues to be more on the preventative (side)," Skadsem said.

How often a patient needs readjustment varies; some need help more than others, especially if they have a history behind their symptoms.

In Malvick's case, she needs treatment at least once a week.

"It's tolerable up to a week and then after that I get in trouble," she said.

With alternative healing methods, naturopaths and chiropractors are looking at the body as a whole. Skadsem looks at anything tied in with the nervous system. That means for adults, as well as children, the problems aren't all necessarily limited to just the joints and muscles.

For kids, sleep deprivation can be treated by relieving pressure on the spine, Skadsem said. Bed-wetting and headaches are some of the other common problems.

Alternative vs. complementary medicine

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine reports that in 2007, a National Health Interview Survey showed that approximately 38 percent of adults use complementary and alternative medicine, known as CAM.

Dr. Jay Johnson of Johnson Chiropractic Clinic said some problems are much simpler than others where alternative medicine -- the use of unconventional methods -- can be used alone to treat a problem.

Other not so simple illnesses, like cancer for example, often times require surgery in addition to alternative ways of relieving pain like acupuncture -- all of which can be defined as complementary medicine.

Acupuncture is one of the popular ways to treat carpal tunnel syndrome, elbow and shoulder pain, headaches and migraines.

But every patient is different, Johnson said. Some people may show improvement right away, others take time.

A patient who is suffering from low back pain, but also has an irritable bowl or constipation, can experience additional stress. In that case, probiotic supplements and a diet with more fiber, as well as acupuncture to help with the pain and constipation, would be prescribed.

"So that might be an example of using several different approaches to get the best results for a patient," Johnson said.

Acupuncture is the stimulation of specific points on the body by a variety of techniques, including the insertion of thin metal needles through the skin.

Acupuncture can be used on various areas of the body's connective tissue. Additionally, ear acupuncture, also known as auricular therapy, is used to help addiction, mood disorders and obesity.

Because the ear is considered a "micro system," it emphasizes a holistic approach to medicine, according


"The acupuncture points found on the ear help to regulate the body's internal organs, structures and functions," the website states.

Like western medicine, acupuncture, alternative and complementary medicines are still developing.

"Just like traditional medicine is always evolving, so is acupuncture, so is chiropractic," Johnson said.

The key when seeking any type of medicine is to not do it yourself, or get information from unreliable sources, he added.

"I don't think you should ignore western medicine," he said, adding that blood work, CT scans, X-rays and orthopedic exams play a vital role in complementary medicine.

"You don't wanna be treating a shoulder pain that's really a lung tumor," Johnson said. ­­­­­­­­