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.
"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.
In one study, heart patients who listened to 15 minutes of classical music had lower complication rates than those who didn't listen to classical music, he says.
Gaynor was recently appointed medical director of the Cornell Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine -- which is slated to open on September 1, 2000. "The goal of this new center is to incorporate guided imagery, nutrition, music, acupuncture, acupressure, and massage into traditional care and to examine how this works on a basic science level," he says.
Gaynor's advice to patients who are interested in complementary medicine is to "find a physician who really practices alternative medicine. He or she can help you identify the core issues and traumas that affect illness and make a recommendation as to what type of alternative therapy may best help you."
- Alternative therapies that help patients to relax are becoming common additions to traditional cancer treatment. Initial studies suggest massage therapy, acupuncture, or guided imagery helped patients relax and deal with pain after receiving standard open-heart surgery as well.
- A therapist says that sound and music also may help patients relax.
- The researcher says patients interested in incorporating these complementary therapies into their treatment should find a physician who practices alternative medicine and ask for advice about which treatments might be helpful to them.
Originally published May 31, 2000.
Updated on Feb. 27, 2002.