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Osteoporosis

Use of complementary therapies by patients with osteoporosis

Complementary therapies can be used alongside conventional drug treatments for osteoporosis. They may help people feel better and cope better but they will not cure osteoporosis. The Institute for Complementary and Natural Medicine has a register of practitioners who have provided evidence of their competence to practise. It is always advisable to also discuss with your GP what complementary therapies you would like to use as they can often recommend a local qualified practitioner. Some complementary therapies such as osteopathy or chiropractic, which involves manipulation, are not usually recommended for people with osteoporosis.
Some of the people we interviewed had tried different therapies to help them relax, to reduce their pain and to help with sleeping problems. These included acupuncture, reflexology, herbal medicine, massage, hypnotherapy, Indian head massage, homeopathy and osteopathy.
 

Joan uses relaxation techniques taught to her by a hypnotherapist, to cope with pain.

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Age at interview: 73
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 69
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Have I used acupuncture or reflexology? No. I tried acupuncture a very long time ago. I tried hypnotherapy which really whilst a development I’ve decided of what I did before my first daughter was born in learning deep relaxation and that is something that in fact has been a great help to me.
 
I’ve just recently been having some dental problems and I can really put myself into deep relaxation to overcome the pain, most pain. And that is very helpful to be able to do, to really learn how to override the pain.
 
So that’s useful?
 
Yes it is. I in fact for the hypnotherapist that taught you how to walk down steps. I can still see it and be very careful haven’t I? Walked down steps to a garden and I sit and I have this view and I, and I really am just completely. She could really hypnotise me very easily. And it, I can’t remember. Oh I remember why I was going. It was a friend who suggested it. It was after my husband had died. I miss my husband very much. I still do. I can’t help that. And it was very helpful to me to learn how to relax really, to relax and that has stood me in very good stead since.
 

Diana has tried reflexology and Indian head massage. She benefited from the reflexology but found...

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Age at interview: 77
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 72
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But now there’s occasions well, my daughter pays, that I go to reflexology and, which is great.
 
Yeah, you go to reflexology?
 
[laugh] Get spoiled. Yes, well, my daughter, for Christmas she, and she’s done it before, paid for me to go to reflexology out at, at [village], near [town]. And she comes and picks me up and takes me over there. And an Indian, and then, because my birthday is just after that, I have h-, Indian head massage as well. And, you know, you go in there and absolutely pampered, you know. And, oh, it is nice [laugh] I sort of lay there...
 
What do they do?
 
Well, when you go in, there, there’s soft music playing, there’s soft lights anyway. And then she says, “Oh, you know, oh, we’ll go into this room, you know.” And you go into the room and there’s the couch and then there’s a chair and a bowl of water, warm water. And I don’t know if there was rose petals in this time, but it doesn’t really matter. The time before there was rose petals in the water. Anyway you put your feet in and, and she, she leaves them in a minute or so and then she dries them. Then you get, and there’s low lights, you know, and very soft music, and then you lay on the couch. And, well, there again you see, I say to her, “No, I don’t want to lay flat.” So this time, that’s right, because she said, “Some people like to talk and some don’t, you know.” And so I was sat up quite a bit this time. Which was great, you know. And we were talking, you know, nattering away, and she was telling me different things about your feet, you know. And, and funnily enough she said, “Oh, have you had some sinus [um]?” I said, “Well, not a lot, not really.” But she’ll say things, you know, which would…. And I think it’s, well, so [daughter] said that she’s the owner of, I had the senior, no, not the se-, the, I had one above that, oh, I’ve forgotten now what, what she was called. But anyway I think she owns the place anyway. But she’s really, really nice. And her voice is so nice as well [laugh] and it’s so relaxing. But it really is a treat there. Actually I, I could, there is one advertised in our local that, reflexology and that. And I think that is quite nice, you know, to have something like that, relax with that. Because the Indian head massage, they really sort of m-, I’m not that particularly struck on the Indian head massage. That, it’s all right, but I think it, you know, it can get the muscles of your neck a bit, you know, when they’re sort of massaging. But then really I shouldn’t complain because it’s all been paid for me [laugh].
 

Using a home massager helps to ease Emma’s pain and she can use at any time of the day.

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Age at interview: 61
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 47
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You mentioned massage, do you use any type of oils that you think might help or...?
 
My aunt gave me that oil, yes, I used to use it. I don't know what it is called…, because she used to suffer from all this things. So sometimes I used to put it for her, so once when I had a problem, she gave me that. It's a special oil, and you put it, in, on, around the, like a if I have a knee problem, then I can put around there and do the massage.
 
But at the moment I've got this massager, I bought it recently. It's the best one. And I can do it myself. You know, when I get my pain in the back, and I always have to rely on my son, but then it’s, I, it doesn't feel good that you have such young boy and you tell him to do this. But, and this is good massage. And there are different things, even I can do it easy. She said to me not to do in the front a lot because this affects your heart beatings as well, but there is a, I can change it.
 
Where did you get it from?
 
Ideal home exhibition. And they were selling the, it says professional pounding massager and it really helps. It pounds the bone as well and it helps, this is very good.
 
Have you talked to your doctor about it, that you are using it, or...?
 
You know I forgot to tell him this time, that I, but I haven't told him that, that I've got, but rather than, I used to have another massager, but it wasn't so good as this one. But this is one of the best. I can put it even on my feet here and do it. This is something I can do it myself. You don't have to rely, if I leave it like this and do it myself as well. So, because if I'm in a pain during the daytime and nobody is here I can do it myself.
A few people had tried acupuncture which they said had helped them to relax or to feel better. James had used acupuncture several years ago when he was very unwell and it had managed to restore his energy levels. He now continues to go monthly.
 
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Betty uses many complementary therapies. Acupuncture helps her the most because it helps her to...

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Age at interview: 81
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 77
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But I use various herbs for relaxing. I’ve got a calminite tablet which helps you to relax to go to, to have a good night’s sleep. Laxatives I tend to use herbal if I can.
 
Say supplements I tend to, I’ve got another very good company in [city] which gives you they’ve got a very, very good catalogue and I was recommended to them by dietician, a natural dietician, not the health service. When I first came here she used them and they’re excellent. They have a wonderful, you can always ring up their service department and they’ll give you any advice as to what things go together and what things not what affect things have. And for things like specialised acidophilus and things like that. They they’re excellent because they have extremely high standards of production and everything so I tend to research rather than go and buy at the local multiple store.
 
So you phone them to place orders?
 
I phone them and oh yes, I mean the herbal place you phone before
one of a day and the thing’s here on your doorstep the next day. You have to pay postage but what’s two pounds for postage when it costs me eight pounds for a taxi.
 
And you have been using complementary medicines for quite a while now?
 
Oh, for many, many years now yes, yes, yes. I got, oh, must be I suppose around the time when [daughter] was ill which was when she was eighteen so that’s over forty years, thirty, forty years ago when I first started being interested in complementary medicines and yoga. And things like that.

 

What helps with the pain and discomfort? Have you found anything that helps? Resting?
 
The acupuncture in the best help. Because it makes you relax and again, you have to be very, very careful on the acupuncturist. I’ve got an extremely good lady. She was trained in the East many years ago. She’s a fully qualified doctor in it and she’s been practising over here for twenty years so she’s a very, very qualified person. But I have tried some here locally. One, I was absolutely horrified with. He had to consult his book as to where to put the needles in and yes, he was on the official register because I wouldn’t have gone to one without looking up the official register. And I also tried the centre [name]. They were excellent but they were all young doctors from China recently qualified and for me, the treatment was too strong. It didn’t seem to be adjusted for the Western metabolism. I imagine they trained in the East and they were used to their diet and treating with the diet of the people over there. It might have been better for a younger person but I found it was too strong for me, made me very tense. And the people themselves were lovely. Some of the therapists were absolutely gorgeous. But it just, as I say, it was too strong, a treatment for me.
A few people had used herbal medicine. Susan took Valerian to help her sleep. Susannah tried taking St. John’s Wort to help with depression and although she felt less anxious and she slept better, it made her feel ‘very heavy’ so she stopped taking it. A few people had explored herbal medicine in more detail and had spent a lot of time researching the various types. Betty had used complementary therapies for forty years and so she naturally tried them to see if they would help her osteoporosis. She researched herbal medicine carefully and she is careful what she takes. She finds herbs help her to relax.
Some complementary therapies are not advisable for people with osteoporosis, especially therapies which involve manipulation. Osteopathy uses manipulation to restore normal action to the body and to reduce pain. Osteopathy or Chiropractic are not usually recommended for people with osteoporosis, but if they are used they should always be used in discussion with the GP and carried out by a qualified practitioner.
 

Alice has been seeing an osteopath recommended by her GP, which she finds helpful.

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Age at interview: 75
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 75
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Ah Osteopath. And he did some manipulations.
 
Yes, well, yes he, he massages mostly and. And it seemed to help for a while and then it just came something came back. I don’t know what, what happened. Why I was in pain but it did and they just discovered there were one or two of my discs were a bit suspect and then I was sent for the bone density scan.
 
Have you been seeing the osteopath at the moment?

 

Not for a while, no, no. As I say about once every four years my back goes into spasm and then he seems to cure it.
 
How did they your GP explain your, your back going?
 
Well, when I first went which was some time ago, I went to the doctor and he said to me, “You go straight back to bed.” He said, “And you don’t get out until its better.” Because my back was, you know, a bit curved with my muscle spasm so I did for a while and then, and what happened? I it was really bad one night and my husband phoned the doctor and he came to see me and I went in to have traction at hospital. And, and then I was in there for a week. I wasn’t in any pain. It was quite nice really. It was a rest and then nothing again, as I say, for a few years and then sometimes it will go. But then I’ve been going to the osteopath now because you wait such a long time for physio but two, three sessions with him maybe, two a week or something and, and it’s gone.

 

Who recommended you to go to the osteopath?

 

I don’t know. I think I asked the GP whether, you know, they would, would help and she said, “Fine, yes.”
 
And apart from going to the osteopath do you use any other complementary therapy or medicine or?
 
No, she did give me for over my shoulders some ibruprofen cream but other than that, no.
 
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Before she was diagnosed with osteoporosis Betty's acupuncturist who was also a trainee osteopath...

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Age at interview: 81
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 77
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Yes, I think the first signs I had of back problems were about seven years ago when I bent down to a cupboard under the sink and my back went. I felt it click and I had bad, very sore back. The next day I had to go shopping with the shopping trolley and that aggravated it and made things very much worse, definitely. That was the start of all the problems. I then sought private treatment with an acupuncturist who I was already attending but who also did some manipulation, minor manipulation, and he tried to relieve the pain in my back. And one day after the treatment I felt completely weak and my back the strength had gone and I knew something serious had happened.
 
To be quite honest, I felt too ill to go to my old doctor and make, loathed very loathed to visit here, you can’t get them to visit for love nor money. And so I just stuck it out myself and thought, “Oh, it will get better in time.” I still had terrific weakness. I couldn’t fill, pour water from the kettle without difficulty. I couldn’t lift up a kettle because of the weakness. I had difficulty opening doors and things like that.
 
As I say I didn’t go back to the acupuncturist again but I went to physiotherapy at the same place and they knew what had happened. But he was a youngish man and I didn’t want to make any problems for him because he’d obviously been trying his best. He was training as an osteopath I know but I don’t think he’d completed all his exams at that time. So it was really my own fault for employing an unqualified osteopath as I know now but we managed reasonably well.
And I say I’m very lucky, my doctor I consult him about everything I do. I tell him what I’m proposing to do and say, “Is it all right with you?”  
The cost prevented some people from using complementary therapies more often than they would like. Complementary therapies are not always available on the NHS and people often need to pay for them. However in some areas certain complementary therapies, such as acupuncture, are becoming increasingly available in GP practices. Betty was concerned about the provision of acupuncture when she moved to a new area. Previously it had been available in the GP practice on the NHS but where she moved to she had to pay for it herself. Betty has acupuncture once a fortnight but when she has a bad spell she would like to go every week but the cost prevents her.
Some people had not used complementary therapies because they thought they would not help their osteoporosis and they preferred to use conventional medicine.

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Last reviewed June 2017.

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