From needles to toes, Sophie Goodchild describes the four most popular alternative therapies

This is a traditional Chinese method of relieving pain by inserting thin steel needles into selected points beneath the skin. The needles are then stimulated by rotation or by an electric current which activates deep sensory nerves. It is not clear exactly why the treatment is effective, but it is believed that it stimulates the pituitary gland and parts of the brain to release endorphins which are the body's natural pain-killers. The Chinese believe that disease is caused by a disturbance of Yin and Yang energy in the body and that acupuncture helps reset the balance. Acupuncture is widely used in the Far East for the relief of pain and has become an alternative to anaesthetic in China for some major operations. In the West, the treatment has become increasingly popular to help people give up smoking and to cure stammers. Acupuncturists are not required to have medical qualifications.


Most healers claim to transmit their powers through their hands which they lay on their patients to release positive forces. They use prayer, religious rituals or the guidance of psychic forces to cure people of any ailment. Some claim they are used as channels by the spirits of dead doctors who pass on their wisdom and skill. Patients often describe how they feel a heat running through their body when having the treatment. There is no scientific evidence that trying to heal people by this method does work. However, the psychological effect of the treatment on people can be powerful. Glenn Hoddle, England soccer coach, was converted to this alternative after healer Eileen Drewery saved his career, he felt, by curing a football injury. He even blames England's lack of World Cup success on the fact that Eileen did not accompany the team to France. Researchers in the United States, who have studied faith healers, discovered that faith healers experience an increase in gamma brainwave activity when they are trying to cure patients.


Osteopaths manipulate, massage and gently stretch bones and other parts of the body in the belief that this will restore the body to its proper function. This alternative therapy is based on the theory that many diseases are caused by the displacement of the joints of the vertebral column. Before treatment takes place, osteopaths carry out a detailed examination of the state of a patient's joints based on their knowledge of anatomy. The treatment has been shown to provide relief for many joint and bone disorders and more than 50 per cent of patients are victims of back pain. Osteopaths say problems are common in mothers because childbirth causes stress to the muscular-skeletal system. Osteopaths now have to be registered with the General Osteopathic Council.


According to reflexologists, different parts of the body are related to each other through channels of "life force" which converge and end in the feet. For example, the big toe is supposed to be linked to the head and the neck, and organs on the right side of the body are related to the right foot. Practitioners claim that they can detect blockages in these channels merely by feeling a patient's feet and toes, which they then massage and manipulate with the thumb and forefinger to unblock the channels. Reflexology was used by the late Princess of Wales and is a popular cure for stress, tension, bulimia and backache. It is an ancient Egyptian treatment which was revived by an American doctor in 1937 and there are now more than 5,000 reflexologists nationwide. Practitioners claim it is beneficial to cancer patients because it stimulates the body and helps the immune system.