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An apple a day doesn’t always keep the doctor away and sometimes the doctor doesn’t know best. The option of alternative medicine for anything from a broken bone to stress and fatigue is rising in popularity.
When Erika Nyhus, a CU psychology graduate student, fractured a vertebra in a snowboarding accident in December 2005, she was disappointed by her doctor’s prognosis.
“I had muscle damage and scar tissue build-up in my back. I was having a lot of trouble hiking and biking, and my doctor said it would take 10 years for the scar tissue to heal on its own,” Nyhus said.
Nyhus was impatient and wanted to get back on her feet to do what she loves.
“I was on pain medication, and physical therapy helped temporarily, but I was still having trouble doing the things I wanted to do,” Nyhus said.
Eventually, Nyhus’ doctor recommended she see the acupuncturist at Wardenburg Health Center.
“I’ve had seven or eight sessions so far, and the scar tissue is almost gone. I might have to come back every few months to keep up with it, but I’m almost done with the regular sessions,” Nyhus said.
Acupuncture and massage are the most popular forms of alternative medicine offered at Wardenburg. The health center began offering massage therapy about eight years ago and acupuncture three years ago, according to Robin Kolble, a staff member from the Student Wellness Program.
“It’s truly a student-driven phenomenon,” Kolble said. “Our traditional practitioners have been pretty open about it; they’re comfortable using both ends of the spectrum.”
Kolble notes that there have been several medical studies pointing to the effectiveness of alternative medicine.
According to the Sports Medicine department, health care is multi-faceted: It is both a science and an art.
So far, demand for alternative medicine at Wardenburg has been steady.
“We see a lot of people recovering from sports injuries,” said Jennifer McLemore, a licensed acupuncturist who is currently treating Nyhus. “We never started off slow. We started with a 3-week waiting list. I would say that we’re just at the right flow currently.”
In acupuncture, needles are used to stimulate points along the body’s energy flow channels to help balance the body’s natural health. Stress, women’s health issues, pain and digestive and immune system issues are the most common reasons patients seek acupuncture, according to McLemore.
“The stress of being in a university environment is big for a lot of my patients,” McLemore said.
The acupuncture clinic is open Mondays and Wednesdays and sees six to eight patients each day, according to McLemore.
“I’m always booked, but I do wish more people knew about it,” said Gerald Munir, a certified massage therapist at Wardenburg. He sees four patients each Tuesday and Friday.
Munir agrees the university environment can be very stressful, and he helps a lot of patients with stress-related problems.
“Stress is bigger than anything for my patients,” Munir said. “People’s bodies just don’t function well when they’re under a lot of stress.”
Sometimes this alternative medicine has proved better than other major options.
“I’ve seen people who think that they have to get surgery for something, (and then they) get better with a massage. If you try it, you see that, yeah, it does work. It’s good medicine,” Munir said.
McLemore and Munir both say they see an almost equal number of students versus faculty and staff.
Janet Denny, an administrator in the Sports Medicine department, receives acupuncture once a week and massage therapy once a month for stress and fatigue.
“It’s excellent, it’s a balance thing for your body,” Denny said. “It’s about taking care of yourself.”
Self-care is one of the signature characteristics of alternative medicine, according to Kolble.
“There’s a dichotomy. Some people like to care for themselves, and some people like going to the doctor in a more traditional way. We have to cater to both types of people,” Kolble said.
Carly Everitt, a staff member in the Women’s Clinic at Wardenburg, began receiving acupuncture for issues with allergies, stress and appetite. She tried anti-inflammatory medication for neck pain, but said it wasn’t effective in the long run.
“Since I’ve been doing it I haven’t had any problems,” Everitt said. “It’s wonderful, I recommend it highly.”
The Sports Medicine department employs acupuncturists, massage therapists, chiropractors, orthopedists and physical therapists. Massage therapy costs $40 per session and acupuncture costs $35, a discounted rate, according to McLemore. The costs of the other treatments vary depending on a patient’s needs.
The Student Wellness Program, which has an office in the UMC, hosts events like the Holistic Health Fair each semester, and offers cold-care advice, chair massages, relaxation and stress management tools throughout the academic year.