What is Functional Medicine?

How many times have you visited a doctor with specific symptoms and received a prescription or other type of therapy focused solely on those symptoms? Probably lots. That’s the model of traditional care, and it’s how health care has “worked” for generations. While it’s great to find relief for your symptoms, the traditional model of care falls short in one key way: It doesn’t address the myriad ways those symptoms might be affecting your overall health.

At Shift Wellness, we offer a different approach. As a leading functional medicine practice in Union Square, New York City, our team focuses on treating the whole patient, not just the current symptoms. Our goal is to help you attain optimal health now and maintain it in the future, with care strategies focused on your lifestyle and your long-term well-being. Here’s how functional medicine works — and how it might help you lead a healthier life.

Functional medicine vs. traditional care

Traditional medicine has proven successful in addressing their immediate symptoms of disease. But it does have shortcomings. Specifically, traditional medicine typically doesn’t look at the broader implications of a disease or its symptoms — and that could mean your treatment isn’t as effective as it could be or should be.

Many chronic conditions, like arthritis, asthma, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome, are relatively common. Yet, the traditional approach to care frequently falls short in relieving uncomfortable symptoms and restoring a positive quality of life. In part, that’s because these diseases can be quite complex — they often have far-reaching consequences in other parts of the body. If those far-reaching problems aren’t addressed, it can be almost impossible to find an acceptable level of long-term relief.

Plus, a lot of traditional care relies on the use of medicines, some of which come with serious side effects. The medicines themselves can wind up interfering with our natural healing processes, making it harder to ward off other problems or even allowing undiagnosed conditions to grow worse.

Functional medicine takes a different approach right from the start by recognizing that your body is not made up of single, discrete systems. Rather, it’s composed of many systems that are interconnected, interrelated, and “inter-functional.” What happens in one part of your body is probably going to affect other areas, as well, either directly or indirectly through inflammation, chemical release, or other innate processes.

The functional or integrative approach to care recognizes this interconnectedness and seeks to address all the effects of an underlying medical problem, not just the most noticeable discrete symptoms. In addition to a comprehensive physical examination, our team performs extensive testing and lab work to develop a complete picture of your overall health and wellness. Then, we develop a treatment plan aimed at resolving your current symptoms and addressing underlying activity that might be causing other problems. 

Let’s take an example

Arthritis is a common medical condition that affects millions of Americans. In a traditional model of care, arthritis treatment is focused on the sore joint, typically with medication and sometimes physical therapy. The problem is, arthritis involves inflammation — and inflammation can affect your entire body, not just the arthritic joint. Chemicals released in inflammation kick your immune system into overdrive, and you can also have problems with mood, digestion, and healing. Focusing treatment solely on joint pain neglects these other potential “side effects,” leaving you at risk for other problems.

In a functional medicine approach, your symptoms certainly will be treated so you can find relief. But functional medicine goes a step further, looking at all the possible ways the underlying inflammation might be affecting you. Instead of focusing only on your discrete symptoms, a functional medicine approach seeks to optimize your overall health, focusing on methods that help your body heal and function naturally.

Arthritis is just one example. Functional medicine uses the same approach for other chronic conditions, as well as acute medical ailments. By treating the whole patient — body and mind — your natural healing responses are optimized, and that means you’ll be in a better position to ward off future problems, as well.

Preventive care, too

Functional medicine doesn’t just treat acute and chronic illnesses and diseases. It also focuses on helping you stay healthy. All that lab work provides us with the information we need to develop a “health roadmap,” based on your health needs, your lifestyle, and other personal factors. The result is a customized plan of care aimed at optimizing your health and wellness so you can enjoy a better quality of life.

Depending on your unique needs, your plan of care might include:

And of course, we also provide medication when needed to manage both acute illnesses, like infections, and chronic medical conditions, like diabetes and high blood pressure. Overall, the goal of functional medicine is to help you stay healthy by optimizing your body’s natural abilities to heal, while also providing you with the traditional modes of care necessary to address specific medical problems and deficiencies.

Leading pain management specialist

Shift Wellness is committed to helping patients lead their healthiest lives. As a top-ranked pain management specialist in New York City, we focus on treating the whole patient, helping them relieve specific symptoms while optimizing their underlying health for better overall wellness and an improved quality of life. If you’d like to learn more about functional medicine and how it can help you feel better and stay healthy, call the office at 212-604-1316 or use our online tool to book an appointment today.

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