woman receiving back massageNearly three out of every four adults over age 50 use some kind of alternative medicine, such as acupuncture and herbal medicine, according to a new study.

There are many different kinds of holistic medicines available today for the elderly. The most unique and ancient of the holistic treatments is cupping for the elderly.

The ancient art of applying suction cups to the body was traditionally performed in China and other countries and is now available from acupuncturists, and some chiropractors and massage therapists.

In the traditional method, called fire cupping, a ball of burning cotton is briefly placed inside a glass cup to heat the air inside, which then creates a partial vacuum as it cools. Newer-style plastic or silicone cups have valves that attach to hand pumps used to create suction. Elderly people have always liked this as a pain relief method even though there is little scientific evidence to back up its validity.

There are a number of theories on how cupping may actually relieve pain of the elderly. It is thought that the suction on the skin of the elderly “increases blood flow to the area and creates a mild immune response,” says Kathleen Lumiere, an assistant professor of acupuncture and oriental medicine at Bastyr University in Kenmore, Wash.

In a 40-person German study published in October, cupping therapy significantly relieved knee arthritis pain compared with patients who received no treatment. Unfortunately this study did not specifically look at results for the elderly and holistic medicine. But the study’s lack of a control group treated with a sham technique “raises questions of whether it is cupping that is really working or if it has a placebo effect,” says David Felson, who directs an arthritis research program at Boston University School of Medicine.

There are other forms of holistic medicine then just cupping. Another source of Eastern medicine for the elderly is the use of herbs and nutritional supplements. For example, we know that as we age our hearts become weaker and often require a boost from some form of medication for high blood pressure, heart disease, etc. An alternative to these prescribed medications for the elderly could be the use of omega 3 capsules (fish oil), known to not only aid in the lowering of blood pressure, but also helping build a strong heart and vascular system.

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