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What is Integrative Medicine?

Black senior man doing exercise lifting arms with physical therapist outside.

According to a recent survey, three of the top five New Year’s resolutions for 2024 relate to health. Whether exercising more, eating healthier, or losing weight, most Americans want to improve their overall wellbeing. But over 40% of those committed on New Year’s Day will have given up by February 1.

Sustaining long-term lifestyle changes is hard, and the key to achieving lasting health is not in temporary fixes. Instead, success is built on a holistic approach that addresses the interconnected aspects of our wellbeing. January is Integrative Health Month, an ideal time to reflect on how physical, occupational, and speech therapies are essential to comprehensive wellness.

What is integrative medicine?

Integrative medicine’s core principle is that physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs all affect your health. Based on evidence and research, integrative health uses both conventional methods as well as complementary therapies to treat the symptoms as well as underlying causes. For example, in addition to medication, lifestyle changes may be prescribed.

This healthcare approach relies on a close partnership between the patient and provider, as well as collaboration and coordination among different health specialists. Integrative health professionals include a wide range of providers, from physicians to culinary medicine chefs. They are experts in preventing and managing chronic disease. They do not, however, treat acute or emergency medical conditions.

Are physical, occupational, and speech therapies integrative?

Physical (PT), occupational (OT), and speech (ST) therapies aren’t traditionally thought of as holistic treatments; after all, the focus in each is to improve some physical aspect, without necessarily diving into the patient’s mental, emotional, or spiritual needs. Still, these therapies can impact all three aspects – and are part of an inclusive wellness plan. And, like integrative medicine, PT, OT, and ST help people with long-lasting or complex conditions.

PT aids in injury recovery, improves mobility, and enables an active lifestyle. It helps manage chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or arthritis and is used for rehabilitation after a stroke. PT also eases pain and can prevent disability or the need for surgery. PT often helps individuals understand how their body reacts to movement or sensations, connecting the mind and body. Improving physical activity can improve overall wellness, including brain and bone health.

OT can improve daily functioning and quality of life. From daily living (like bathing and dressing) to techniques for memory and prioritizing, it helps people accomplish meaningful activities. With OT, individuals can overcome challenges related to work, self-care, and other activities. Based on the individual’s unique history, experiences, and interests, OT helps people remain independent. In the U.S., research has shown that independence – or personal control – is positively associated with health and wellbeing.

Obviously, ST is geared towards improving speech, voice, and language disorders, but it also addresses swallowing issues. Some disorders (such as a child’s inability to name objects) may be present from birth, while others develop after trauma (like a brain injury) or disease (for example, Parkinson’s). As social beings, most people find great happiness and satisfaction in relationships; verbal communication supports relationships and, in turn, quality of life.

Good health resolutions – whether created for a new year or at any other time –  embrace the connection of physical, mental, and emotional. By including physical, occupational, and speech therapies with integrative medicine, individuals can forge a path that not only addresses immediate health goals but nurtures a sustained commitment to wellbeing.

Find out more about CPT’s physical, occupational, and speech therapy services.