These days it seems like you can’t turn on the TV (or watch a YouTube video) without seeing an ad for the latest prescription drug treatment—complete with a speed reading version of contraindications and side effects. While modern medicine has helped us make healthy strides in many ways, the trends are now swinging back in time to incorporate holistic healing practices that have been around for centuries.
Holistic healing is loosely described as a system of wellness that treats all factors that might be causing sickness, rather than simply focusing on alleviating symptoms. Holistic healing therapies are often minimally invasive, can have far fewer side effects than pharmaceutical or surgical methods, and treat more than just physical ailments. Holistic therapies take into account the whole human—not just their diagnosis—and often addresses the emotional, psychological, and spiritual issues that might be contributing to pain or illness. By treating the whole person and not just the symptom, healing interventions may stand a greater chance of providing more effective and long-term relief.
The good news is that recent research on certain holistic healing methods is bringing alternative medicine out of the shadows of “quackery” and into the forefront of modern day healing. In 2007, people in the U.S. spent 33.9 billion in out-of-pocket holistic healing expenses. Many holistic healing methods are now partially covered by health insurance plans—though benefits and coverage varies widely from plan to plan. And even if a therapy isn’t covered by insurance, visiting a practitioner can help keep you healthy before pain or illness strikes—possibly reducing recovery time and cost. Below you’ll find 5 ways holistic therapy can help keep you—and your pocketbook—healthy.
One of the most widely accepted forms of holistic treatment is massage therapy. A recent meta-analysis indicates massage therapy can alleviate a host of symptoms related to depression, fatigue, autoimmune disorders, chronic pain, and inflammatory conditions, as well as provide emotional wellness for those with long-term diseases such as cancer, HIV, and Alzheimer’s. While the evidence can’t point out a direct cause as to why massage therapy seems to be so effective, some researchers posit that therapeutic touch designed to increase vagus nerve activity—linked with parasympathetic responses that help one “rest & digest”—can help decrease cortisol levels. However, many low premium health insurance plans won’t cover massage therapy and plans that do cover massage often require a doctor’s prescription or note. For those with high-deductible plans, some FSAs and HSAs allow you to use pre-tax dollars to cover massage therapy expenses.
Although current scientific evidence is inconclusive about the efficacy of acupuncture, its role in managing chronic pain and alleviating depression has been documented by practitioners and patients alike for centuries. Acupuncture originated in China and uses fine needles inserted into strategic areas of the body to increase “energy flow.” Modern medicine goes on to say that perhaps the pain relief felt by many acupuncture patients is due to the endorphin release that comes from stimulating certain nerves, muscles, and connective tissue. Similar to massage therapy, acupuncture might not be covered by high-deductible health plans, but HSAs and FSAs might help offset cost. However researching your options might help you discover that spending a little bit more on premiums per month can help offset costs in the long-term if you are a frequent acupuncture enthusiast. Even Medicare Advantage is now jumping on the acupuncture bandwagon, though you might need to pay up front and then submit a receipt for reimbursement. For those on serious budgets, some cities have community acupuncture centers where you can receive treatment within a group of other people a reduced cost.
Chiropractic care—which involves spinal manipulation in an effort to release pain and create joint alignment—is purported to help alleviate pain in the most problematic areas, namely low back and neck. Though the effects seem to be short-term—requiring a series of visits to provide consistent relief—evidence does suggest that chiropractic care can aid in improving overall quality of life over time, especially for those in chronic pain. And chiropractic care—along with acupuncture—carries no risk of addictive side effects, unlike prescription painkillers. Chiropractic care seems to be more likely to be covered by insurance than acupuncture or massage, but is still not as commonly covered as traditional medical methods of pain relief. And those who do have coverage might find their options limited as they must choose providers that are in-network. Similar to acupuncture, there are chiropractic practitioners who work with patients in a group setting—reducing the cost of treatment.
Studies indicate yoga is an effective, low-cost tool that is linked with helping reduce blood pressure, alleviate lower back pain, and improving psychological well-being in cancer patients. While yoga is commonly thought of as a system of exercise poses intended to stretch and lengthen muscles, yoga itself is a complex spiritual philosophy dating back thousands of years with the overall intention of increasing inner and outer awareness. The movement or “asana” aspect of yoga is one small branch that has continued to grow in popularity in recent years. Despite evidence indicating that yoga is effective for physical, emotional, and mental well-being, it is still largely not covered by health insurance. However, some insurance plans provide discounts on yoga and fitness classes through strategic partnerships. Group classes can range from $10-$25 per hour, which is relatively cheap compared to the cost of a session of massage, acupuncture, or chiropractic care—though people tend to frequent yoga classes a few times a week vs. a few times a month for the therapies mentioned above. However, several apps and online services now offer monthly subscriptions full of guided yoga sequences—some of them costing less than a single group yoga class. And with yoga’s growing popularity, many gyms offer weekly yoga classes—so if you are a member of a gym, check to see if the group fitness schedule includes yoga.
Of all the holistic therapies listed, meditation is usually the most cost effective as no special guidance, equipment, or expertise is needed. The simplest form of meditation is to simply bring awareness to the body or breath for a few minutes. Overall research indicates meditation can be an effective tool for reducing anxiety and helping with focus—which might help improve biomarkers linked to cardiovascular disease, stroke, and diabetes. Of course, more research is needed to corroborate preliminary findings and test for potential placebo effects. But overall, meditation is a promising and affordable holistic health therapy that is accessible to anyone who can set aside 10 minutes a day. At this time, there is no insurance coverage for meditation—however online tutorials can be easy to find via any Google search. For those wanting a little more guidance, apps such as HeadSpace provide guided meditations for only a few dollars a month. For those willing to invest a little more money, group sessions are often offered at local yoga studios—sometimes at a lower price than traditional yoga classes or for donation.
While modern medicine is a necessary and powerful tool for diagnosing conditions, holistic therapies provide an a more mind-body-heart approach to healing that can treat the whole person, rather than just the symptom. And if practiced early, many of these therapies could potentially help reduce the risk of chronic pain or stress—lowering the cost of medical treatment in the long-term.
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