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As a therapist, are there ever times where you encourage patients to do some sort of alternative therapies?

Maybe the therapies that you're working on with someone aren't letting them heal as quickly as you would expect? I’ve heard of hyperbaric oxygen therapy or acupuncture, and some of these other things that people have tried. Based on what I've heard, the research isn't quite there for a lot of these. But for some of them, there are a lot of stories saying that they have helped people a lot.

This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


Answer transcribed from the Brightway Answers interview with recreation therapist Holly Auth:

Very cool question.

There are a lot of different alternative therapies out there.  Some are a lot more evidence-based than others.  Some things work great for some people and work terribly for others.

One alternative therapy that I personally really like a lot is aromatherapy, which is the use of essential oils to treat different ailments.  I personally get a lot of headaches.  When I have a headache I diffuse peppermint oil, which is very relaxing and helps my headaches sometimes (though not all the time).  Sometimes lavender or eucalyptus oil can be very relaxing and can help with stress and anxiety.  Disclaimer: before you go out and buy all these oils, talk to your healthcare provider!  Some oils can interact with different medications, so before you try any of these, just make sure that it's safe for you to do so.

Other alternative therapies include chiropractic and massage therapy.  I've heard that these can be very helpful in some situations.  People in car accidents, for example, can get whiplash or spine alignment issues, and these therapies can be helpful.  Massage therapy can help with clenching muscles, tension, and stress.  But again, before you do any type of alternative therapy, it’s super important to receive permission from your doctor / PCP before you start any of these.

I’m less familiar with acupuncture, but I know a few people who said it worked, but I also know a few people who say it did nothing for them.  But if you're open to trying things, I would have a conversation with your doctor.

Physical Therapist

Answer transcribed from Brightway's interview with physical therapist Susan Little:

Regarding alternative therapies, as a therapist, I really try to have evidence and the science guide what I'm going to do with an individual. I think that's only fair to my patients. If there's no evidence that something works, it doesn't mean it doesn't work. It means that somebody hasn't had the time or hasn't figured out yet how to study that and how to do the research for that. I do believe there are many things that will help our survivors from a brain injury that we haven't studied. Maybe I'm not going to use it in the clinic, but if it were my son or my grandma that I'm giving a shot, as long as I knew there wasn't a detrimental effect, I think the best way to look at a lot of those things is to certainly run that information past the physician. I think if you have an open-minded physician and an open-minded therapist, they will say “I don't know about that, maybe it's not the safest thing” and certainly take that information. Or maybe they'll say “I don't know if it's gonna help but if you have the means and the willingness to try it, sure go for it”. 


We don't know everything and I'll never pretend that I do. There's much research out there that's happening about essential oils and recovery from brain injuries. Certainly, a lot of the anti-inflammatory diets are on the cusp of becoming more of mainline interventions for people with brain injury. Keep in mind that none of those things are fully proven and don’t really have strong evidence yet that we can implement them in the hospital or rehab facility. Nonetheless, you can certainly research those yourself and there are definitely safe things to do for yourself. Supplements certainly have been shown to be helpful. Definitely run those past the physician because there can be interactions with your medications that you need to take, and you wouldn't want to put yourself at risk by taking a supplement that alone would be perfectly fine but in combination with medications, might be problematic.