My Experience with Integrative Medicine

Last updated: August 2022

My next acupuncture appointment is coming up soon and I'm looking forward to it, as always. It feels great to get back into having acupuncture regularly again after quite a long absence (I last went at least sometime before COVID-19 struck, I think).

A rise in popularity of integrative medicine

However, this time around it's become a lot harder to actually get in for appointments. I go to clinics that are part of a large health system in Minnesota that has a significant focus on integrative health and medicine. And apparently, according to my acupuncturist, integrative treatments and care are becoming more and more popular with patients.

In a way that's great, because hopefully, that means the field will finally begin to expand and be more accessible to patients. In the meantime, though, now I'm finding it harder to get squeezed into appointments. I'm also disappointed to find out that a TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) clinic I used to go to a lot over the years doesn't accept my new health insurance.

Unfortunately, I can't afford to pay out-of-pocket for acupuncture, so I can't go back to this wonderful clinic unless my insurance changes. These accessibility issues are frustrating and challenging when I have found integrative medicine to greatly help with the management of my RA, chronic pain, and overall health.

What is integrative medicine and health?

Integrative medicine places a focus on treating the whole person rather than one organ system or problem. Well-coordinated and balanced care is also a big part of the integrative approach and combines conventional treatments like medicine and rehab with complementary treatments like yoga and acupuncture.1

My first experience with integrative care

I feel very fortunate that I've been able to try and experience integrative care and that there are some clinics and providers in the Twin Cities, Minnesota area. Several years ago, my primary care physician recommended I see a new medical doctor in the clinic who also practiced integrative medicine. This doctor is one of the best and most compassionate doctors I've ever had in my life--and I've seen a lot of doctors during my 25 years of living with RA.

Sadly, my integrative doctor at the primary care clinic left the clinic due to mostly bureaucratic reasons and frustrations from not being able to provide the kind of care she wanted for her patients. I was so disappointed because I had found someone who was passionate about health and healthcare and truly wanted to heal her patients.

I learned so much from this experience

The work I did with her was eye-opening and made perfect sense to focus on treating the whole person: physically, mentally, and spiritually. The majority of doctors only focus on pushing medications and surgeries onto a patient and don't really focus on the health and well-being of the whole person. I think this is finally beginning to change, however, and I'm so glad that it is.

I found my first doctor again!

A few years after my integrative doctor left, I lucked out and heard another provider mention her name and where she would continue practicing medicine. I couldn't believe it. What?! Where is she? Oh my God, she's working in an integrative pain management clinic? I was beyond happy to hear this news and I tracked her down right away and set up an appointment with her.

I already went to a pain management clinic that I liked well enough, but I missed this doctor so much and I really wanted to continue with integrative care. There have been some small lapses due to Covid-19, my schedule, and other life things, but I've continued seeing her since "rediscovering" her at the pain management clinic in a different healthcare system.

Recently, I've been seeing her more regularly and participating in more integrative care. I'm back to going to acupuncture, which I love. My doctor is also very much into healthy nutrition and a whole-food diet and she recently did a free online cooking demonstration which I attended.

Connecting with other chronic pain sufferers

For a few years at least, I've also participated in an ongoing group project she and another provider created with the help of a grant from the Minnesota Department of Health. It's called, "Growing Resilience in Chronic Pain," and it brings a small group of her pain patients together to learn, work, and heal using non-opioid or medicinal treatments. Some examples include meditation, movement/exercise/stretching, nutrition, mindfulness, breathing techniques, yoga, and integrative physical therapy.

This group project has been amazing, honestly. I intensely dislike the word "amazing," because I feel like it's so overused and trite now, but this group class really has been amazing and very helpful for my pain and overall health. It's also been nice to connect with other chronic pain patients and to chat and share with each other. Living with RA and chronic pain is often very isolating and lonely.

Over the years I've found that it's invaluable to connect with others, especially in real life, who really "get" what you're going through and what it's like living and struggling with pain every day. I've become a big supporter of integrative medicine and am quite passionate about it myself. I highly recommend for anyone and everyone to try it--especially if you struggle with RA or other chronic illnesses and chronic pain.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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