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Edited by R A Charman. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2000, £32.99, pp 301, softcover. ISBN 0 7506 4079 0
Public interest in complementary therapies has increased dramatically in the last few decades, with many of the new treatment methods of potential interest to physical therapists and their patients. This is therefore a timely volume.
It comprises some 23 chapters complemented by 11 extra chapters available via the internet. The authors are not well known to me, but they clearly each have a special interest in their chosen topic.
After an initial and intellectually challenging chapter on “Energy medicine”, which a physicist would have difficulty accepting, the authors present a primarily theoretical approach to a wide range of alternative therapies. Some, such as acupuncture, Feldenkrais, and myofascial release, have gained some acceptance among physiotherapists, whereas others, including therapies involving the Chakra system, reflexology, flower essences, and electro-crystal therapy, remain firmly on the fringe of modern practice.
In the foreword, we are asked to read critically and consider the evidence for the various approaches presented. An excellent suggestion but very difficult to do from the material presented! The authors cover the theory behind the techniques in some detail, but there is little to support their assertions. Those looking for an evidence based text will be disappointed. While reading each chapter, I spent much of my time peering at the reference lists. Most of the references were to books, unpublished reports, or publications in obscure journals. This was disappointing. In fact in chapter 4, “Healing by intention: a research-based overview”, any references to trials of this form of healing were in other than mainstream medical journals. This form of referencing makes a fair assessment of the evidence frustratingly difficult.
This book is useful mainly as an introduction to the very theoretical but generally very poorly researched field of complementary therapies in physical therapy. The basic problem is that it is heavy on theory, mainly unsubstantiated, and light on evidence of efficacy. It did not convince me to recommend the majority of the therapies to my patients.
More positively, this book is well written and easy to read. I clearly learned much about the subject matter, the validity of much of which I found questionable. However, it would be useful in educating physical therapists about treatments that they may be asked about or choose to trial. As it appears to be the only book of its kind, it should be held as a reference text at institutions involved in the teaching of physical therapies.