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Alternative Medicine Checks in to the Hospital

WebMD Feature

As alternative medicine becomes more and more mainstream, patients including Jan Alcott and Carroll Clark are now being offered massages, acupuncture, and other complementary therapy along with their standard medical treatment. And the results are excellent, according to preliminary studies now underway at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Alcott and Clark recently participated in studies that allowed them to receive massage therapy, acupuncture, or guided imagery after undergoing open-heart surgery.

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"Our patients have gone through a very dramatic event and they're often in a great deal of discomfort," states study leader Gregory P. Fontana, MD, a heart surgeon at Cedars-Sinai in a written press release. "I've always believed that massage and other therapies can be very powerful in helping patients relax. If they can allow themselves to relax, accept what has happened, and realize a state of well-being, pain becomes a less important part of their consciousness."

Fontana's studies on the benefits of massage and acupuncture (the insertion of tiny needles at specific points on the body) are now in their final stages, while the study using guided imagery is just beginning. Guided imagery aims to make beneficial physical changes in the body by repeatedly visualizing them. These experiments, Fontana says, will pave the way toward larger studies.

Alcott, 62, a resident of Englewood, Calif., received a daily massage for the week and a half after he underwent heart surgery. "It was wonderful," he tells WebMD. "I found that it relieved a lot of my tension and discomfort."

Within 15 minutes of the therapy, Alcott says he was so relaxed that he actually fell asleep.

Carroll Clark, 53, a salesperson in Ridgecrest, Calif., had a similar experience when she received acupuncture for 20 minutes a day while in the hospital after undergoing bypass surgery on four clogged heart arteries in April.

"I had no pain when I was in the hospital," she tells WebMD. "I actually thought I was on pain medication when I wasn't."

Mitchell Gaynor, MD, has been on the front lines of such complementary care for several years. He is director of medical oncology and integrative medicine at Strang-Cornell Cancer Prevention Center in New York City.

"Our major focus is in cancer treatment and cancer prevention, and we hold weekly meditation groups for cancer patients and their families," says Gaynor, the author of several books including "Sounds of Healing: A Physician Reveals the Therapeutic Power of Sound, Voice, and Music."

Meditation using sound and music helps patients feel better, he says. "Sound and music are two of the most overlooked healing modalities ever," Gaynor tells WebMD. "All systems in the body are profoundly affected."

For example, music and sound can lower heart rate, blood pressure levels, and levels of stress hormones.

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