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Eastern Medicine vs. Western Medicine

Eastern Medicine vs. Western Medicine: What’s the Difference?

It’s easy to directly compare Eastern and Western medicine together— but is it fully accurate?

We spoke with Dr. Rey Ximenes, Consulting Physician at APC, Medical Director of Driftwood Recovery, and rated the Top Doctor 2023 in Austin Monthly, about the differences between Eastern and Western Medicine.

“It’s a little bit unfair to just narrow it down to Eastern and Western Medicine,” he explained. “Because it doesn’t really tell the whole story.”

Instead, he better refers to what we’d consider Eastern medicine as Traditional Medicine and Western medicine being Allopathic Medicine, explaining that while we’d assume that healing herbs like echinacea and mullein come from Eastern medicine, they were actually done in Traditional Medicine in other parts of the world— so it’s difficult to focus them on just geographical areas.

Of course, it’s easier to compartmentalize to better understand these two modalities, but if we are going to, it’s better to use more accurate terminology as he mentioned.

Understanding Allopathic Medicine

Western Medicine, also known as Allopathic Medicine, represents the dominant medical approach in Western societies, relying heavily relies on pharmaceutical interventions, surgical procedures, and evidence-based practices.

While Western Medicine has revolutionized healthcare with its technological advancements, it is just one facet of the broader spectrum of traditional medicine.

Understanding Traditional Medicine

Traditional Medicine, often referred to as Eastern Medicine or even sometimes Alternative Medicine, encompasses a broad spectrum of practices from various cultures.

For instance, while Chinese traditional medicine is often associated with Eastern medicine, it’s important to note that traditional Native American medicine also contributes to this rich tapestry— not particularly “Eastern,” but definitely a traditional part of the medicinal tapestry.

Traditional medicine utilizes different herbal remedies and wellness protocols that have their roots in diverse cultural practices, like using plants, roots, dry needling, cupping, and other more holistic routes to address pain or disease.

Related: How Can I Manage My Pain with Eastern Medicine?

Traditional Medicine and Pain Management at APC

In the field of pain management, traditional medicine principles can complement conventional treatments. While Western medicine offers interventions such as nerve blocks and medications, traditional medicine emphasizes a holistic approach, considering the impact of diet, exercise, and mental well-being on pain levels.

By combining traditional and Western approaches, patients may experience enhanced pain relief and improved overall well-being.

“It’s important to know that Allopathic medicine is a couple of hundred years old, while traditional medicine is thousands of years old,” Dr. Ximenes tells us. “There’s a lot of wisdom there, and while some of it is common sense, your body has evolved alongside many of these different herbs, substances, and nutrients; we didn’t really have a chance to evolve alongside medications.”

Examples of Traditional Medicine Treatments

One of the fundamental principles of traditional medicine and the ones he works with at APC is how individuals eat, move, and think and how these factors influence their health and pain care journey.

He’s found it fascinating to observe how our cultural norms often lead individuals to seek pharmaceutical solutions as a primary option, and how our society has ingrained the notion that medications are the only thing holding the key to healing, often overlooking the importance of addressing other aspects of well-being!

While allopathic medicine is incredible and necessary, the essence of holistic medicine lies in utilizing the simplest interventions first to get to the root of the problem, encompassing nutrition, exercise, mindset, and overall lifestyle choices into the equation so symptoms aren’t just alleviated for the time being, but for good.

But primarily, he finds himself seeing patients who have exhausted Western medicine options first, supporting them in integrating traditional medicine practices for a more comprehensive approach to managing their pain.

Related: Mental Health, Chronic Pain, and the Power of Hope in Pain Management

Here’s an example of some traditional, medicinal tools Dr. Ximenes mentioned…

Mullein: a plant that supports pulmonary issues like asthma

Turmeric: plants that suppress inflammation

Auricular Acupuncture + Dry Needling/Myofascial Release: used for overall pain management

Cupping: for loosening the muscles

“For the most part, [when patients come to see me], I’m simply making recommendations to them. It’s very interesting, our culture. Many times, people don’t think about what they’re eating or how they’re moving, or how they’re thinking, and then they wonder why the medications don’t work.

If you’re being truly holistic, that would include the usage of medications, because medications are part of the whole.”

Dr. Ximenes’ Career Path: Why Pain Management?

“When I went to med school, I did my residency in internal medicine and anesthesiology and then worked in the operating room for a while. After a while, I got tired of the hospital politics, so I moved to more of an outpatient setting.

When I was in that outpatient setting, I had a lot of physicians, who complained that there weren’t many pain management people. I said ‘Well, I can do that,’ and eventually, I became the pain management guy.

I realized you can’t just shoot people with steroids all the time, so I started looking for more tools, and learned more about acupuncture, nutrients, and herbs.”

Eventually, Dr. Ximenes became board certified in acupuncture, became the president of the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture for several years, and eventually got board certified in Addictionology and Naturopathy, which is what eventually led him to work at Advanced Pain Care and Driftwood Recovery.

Dr. Ximines’ Work at Driftwood Recovery

“At Driftwood, we’re taking people in and trying to get them away from chemicals with additions. We look at what they’re eating, and we try to clean that up and get them involved in exercise programs and have an extensive crew in cognitive behavioral therapy and we look at what’s going on in that person’s mind.

We have a very high percentage of success with addictions at Driftwood because we realize that addiction is not about drugs. Addiction is about how you’re dealing with life. And it may not even be a drug; it could be a behavior, like gambling or shopping.”

At Driftwood, their main work is getting through life with coping skills. And ultimately, it ties a lot back into the traditional versus allopathic approach:

Showing people how strong their bodies are, and with the right tools, it has a huge capability of healing itself through adopting a healthy lifestyle and taking into account the whole body.

— and knowing that at APC, the pain stops here.