WEDNESDAY, Dec. 31, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- If you struggle with aches and pains that refuse to go away, you just might find relief from a long-practiced but relatively obscure alternative therapy called naprapathy.
Naprapathic medicine treats connective-tissue pain by using hands-on manipulation, nutritional counseling and, sometimes, therapeutic "modalities," such as heat, ultrasound, or cold laser therapy. Connective tissue, which includes ligaments, tendons and muscle, is the material inside the body that supports many of its parts.
"Naprapathy is hands-on connective tissue manipulation therapy, plus nutritional counseling," said Dr. Paul Maguire, president of the National College of Naprapathic Medicine in Chicago.
"It's noninvasive, so there's no downside to it, and it's a feel-good type of treatment that gets results," he said. Plus, it's a treatment that's been around for a long time, he added, noting that his school is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
"Naprapathy is a gentle system of manipulation that can relieve the pinching of areas causing restriction to nerves," Maguire explained.
Conditions that may be helped by naprapathy include carpal tunnel syndrome, back pain, headaches, neck pain, knee strain, sciatica, shoulder pain and tennis elbow, according to Maguire.
A recent study published in The Clinical Journal of Pain that included more than 400 people with back or neck pain found that those treated with naprapathic medicine were more likely to have symptom relief and less disability. Compared to standard medical advice, including recommendations for coping with pain and staying active, treatment with naprapathic medicine was 27 percent more likely to cause a reduction in pain and 18 percent more likely to cause a reduction in the risk of disability, the study found.
Overall, those who underwent naprapathic treatments were 44 percent more likely to perceive that they were recovered than those in the standard group, according to the study.
Naprapathic practitioners are currently licensed in just two states -- Illinois and New Mexico. Maguire said many practitioners become licensed in those states and then practice in others, sometimes obtaining other licenses, such as massage-therapy licenses, in their own states.
"This therapy is on the fringe of medical treatment and seems to be picking up pieces that other modalities have left behind," said Dr. Gerard Varlotta, director of sports rehabilitation at New York University Langone Medical Center's Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine/Hospital for Joint Disease in New York City.
Manual manipulation of connective tissue could be useful for conditions such as fibromyalgia, some rheumatological disorders, and in sports medicine, he said.
But Varlotta offered certain cautions.
"Make sure the practitioner is educated, and that what they say makes sense," he said. "If they promise to cure cancer, that's not what they're going to be doing. But, if you have realistic expectations, that they'll try to free up areas that have become restricted over time, that's reasonable."
Maguire said many preferred provider organizations (PPOs) will pay for naprapathy, although Medicare/Medicaid does not, unless it's specifically prescribed by a doctor.
To learn more about naprapathic medicine, visit the National College of Naprapathic Medicine.