The doctor is inside. The yogi too.

A sea change in health care is occurring as more than a third of American adults now supplement or replace traditional medical care with acupuncture, meditation, yoga and other therapies long considered alternatives .

In 2022, 37 percent of adult pain patients sought non-traditional medical care, a marked increase from 19 percent in 2002, according to research published this week in JAMA. The shift has been propelled by growing insurance reimbursement for clinical alternatives, more scientific evidence of their effectiveness, and growing patient acceptance.

“It’s become part of the culture of the United States,” said Richard Nahin, lead author of the paper and an epidemiologist at the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, a division of the National Institutes of Health. “We talk about using it for general wellness, stress management, sleep, energy and immune health.”

And for pain management. The use of yoga to manage pain has increased from 11 percent in 2002 to 29 percent in 2022, an increase that Dr. Nahin said partly reflects patients’ efforts to find alternatives to opioids and the influence media and social networks.

“It’s so much in the public domain,” he said. “People hear about acupuncture, meditation, yoga. “They’re starting to learn.”

This change also affects doctors. Dr. Sean Mackey, chief of the division of pain medicine at Stanford Medicine, said a growing number of studies have validated alternative therapies, providing even traditional clinics like Stanford’s with more mind-body therapies and other non-pharmaceutical tools. He said acceptance of these ideas has increased among younger people in particular, while patients from previous generations may have seen these options as also being available.

Our parents and grandparents would look at them and say, What, are you kidding me??”

At the same time, Dr. Mackey said, the growing importance of therapies can be a “double-edged sword” because they don’t always provide the relief that is marketed.

“My advice to people who are going into this is to give these things a try,” he said. “But if it doesn’t provide lasting, long-term benefits, don’t continue doing it.”

The JAMA article drew its data from the 2002, 2012 and 2022 National Health Interview Survey, which was conducted in person and by telephone. Researchers used the data to evaluate the use of seven complementary health care approaches: acupuncture, chiropractic care, guided imagery, massage therapy, meditation, naturopathy and yoga.

Meditation as a health therapy has increased sharply, reaching about 17% of U.S. adults in 2022, up from about 7.5% two decades earlier. Dr. Nihan explained that low cost was a factor: “How much does meditation and yoga cost? The cost of these activities varies considerably depending on whether they are done at home or in the classroom.

For some people, the alternatives seem to be superior. Jee Kim began following the traditional medicine path in 2022, when he was struggling with insomnia and separation anxiety. His primary care doctor in Boulder, Colorado, prescribed medications that Mr. Kim initially used, but which turned out to have intolerable side effects.

“I got serious about yoga and meditation,” he said, eventually finding a better solution for them. “I tried the pharmaceutical route, but I wanted tools I could come back to. “I knew this wouldn’t be my last difficult transition in my life.”

Mr. Kim, 49, a political consultant and former college tennis player who still plays with passion, also credits yoga with helping to avoid injuries, so much so that he himself has become an occasional yoga teacher. “It’s a pill for my physical and mental health, at work too,” he said.

Dr. Jennifer Rhodes, a psychiatrist in Boulder who specializes in treating women experiencing hormonal changes, said that a “majority of my patients use additional interventions like those for stress management,” referring to health therapies. investigation.

She said she embraced the concept, but cautioned that medications can also be crucial.

“Do acupuncture and massage,” she says. “But it’s not fair to ask someone who is severely depressed or anxious and not functioning to use it until they have calmed their nervous system.”

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