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`ALTERNATIVE’ TREATMENTS HAVE USES, PANEL DECIDES

SHARE `ALTERNATIVE’ TREATMENTS HAVE USES, PANEL DECIDES

Meditation, hypnosis and biofeedback - once scoffed at as New Age shamanism by traditional medicine - can be effective treatments for people who suffer from insomnia or persistent pain, according to a panel of medical experts.

"Available data support the effectiveness of these interventions in relieving chronic pain and in achieving some reduction in insomnia," a 12-member panel of the National Institutes of Health said Wednesday.While the panel - comprising experts in behavior, pain and sleep medicines, nursing, psychology and neurology - urged wider use and acceptance of these alternative treatments, it could not say that any one method worked better than another. Effectiveness varies from patient to patient.

Dr. Julius Richmond, professor of health policy analysis at Harvard Medical School, said the alternatives should be more widely used because many patients have had little success with current drug and surgery treatments.

One technique, called relaxation therapy, requires individuals to focus repeatedly on a word, sound, prayer, phrase, body sensation or muscular activity until they become calm. The panel said it found the techniques most effective in treating chronic pain such as lower back pain, arthritis and headaches.

It found hypnosis effective for treating cancer-related pain, irritable bowel syndrome, mouth swelling and tension headaches.

The panel determined that biofeedback also relieved chronic pain but worked best on tension headaches. In biofeedback, individuals are trained to control involuntary body functions such as blood pressure and heartbeat.

Cognitive-behavioral techniques alter patterns of negative thinking, and worked best on lower back pain and arthritis, the panel said.

Relaxation techniques including meditation and biofeedback can relieve insomnia. But the panel said it found behavioral approaches more effective.

In addition to its emphasis on dealing with chronic pain and insomnia as medical conditions, the panel identified other barriers to broader use and acceptance of alternative means of treating them.

They include the time-consuming nature of the treatments, reluctance of insurers to pay for them and the question of who should administer the therapies.

The panel said doctors should consider a patient's social experiences when plotting treatment and recommended educating patients about the health benefits and importance of the therapies.