By Marni Jameson
Kim Ricci is lying on her back on a table with hair-thin needles stuck in the hollows of her ears, five on each side. Several more puncture her wrists.
Ricci, 50, says she was surprised when her doctor suggested she get acupuncture to relieve the pain and discomfort she was experiencing after her breast-cancer surgery.
She was even more surprised when the therapy worked.
“While I can’t say I thought of it as voodoo, I never thought it was a solution for me,” the Orlando woman said.
Though acupuncture, meditation, massage and yoga are not typically what the doctor orders, that’s changing as more mainstream medical practitioners incorporate therapies once considered alternative into their conventional practices.
UF Health Cancer Center at Orlando Health started an integrative-medicine program last year, and at the University of Florida’s medical school, a course in alternative medicine is about to become part of the curriculum.
At the University of Central Florida’s College of Medicine, students are learning how to make unconventional therapies part of conventional treatment plans.
“It heartens me to see more doctors starting to treat the whole person rather than just cutting them and giving them medicine,” said Diane Robinson, a neuropsychologist and the program director of integrative medicine at the cancer center.
Applications for alternative medicine reach far beyond cancer treatment.
Physicians from many fields who just a few years ago would have balked at the idea of incorporating therapies once considered “mystic” into their treatment plans are now recommending them to treat a range of ailments, including headaches, pain, arthritis, stress and depression, said Dr. Irene Estores, an integrative-medicine physician who started UF Health’s Integrative Medicine Program a year ago.
When Paula Duffy of Groveland, Fla., developed low thyroid, and her doctor put her on prescription thyroid medication, “the side effects were violent,” she said.