Complementary medicine is a group of diagnostic and therapeutic disciplines or practices that are used together with conventional medicine. An example of a complementary therapy is using aromatherapy to help lessen a patient’s discomfort following surgery.
Alternative medicine is a term that describes medical treatments that are used instead of traditional (mainstream) therapies. Some people also refer to it as “integrative,” medicine.
Types of Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Some of the therapies listed below still need more research to prove that they can be helpful.
These combine mental focus, breathing, and body movements to help relax the body and mind. Some examples are:
- Meditation: Focused breathing or repetition of words or phrases to quiet the mind.
- Biofeedback: Using simple machines, the patient learns how to affect certain body functions that are normally out of one’s awareness (such as heart rate).
- Hypnosis: A state of relaxed and focused attention in which a person concentrates on a certain feeling, idea, or suggestion to aid in healing.
- Yoga: Systems of stretches and poses, with special attention given to breathing.
- Tai Chi: Involves slow, gentle movements with a focus on the breath and concentration.
- Imagery: Imagining scenes, pictures, or experiences to help the body heal.
- Creative outlets: Interests such as art, music, or dance.
Biologically Based Practices
This type of CAM uses things found in nature. Some examples are:
- Nutritional Approach: Vitamins and dietary supplements.
- Botanicals, which are plants or parts of plants. One type is cannabis.
- Herbs and spices such as turmeric or cinnamon. (See Herbs at a Glance.)
- Special foods or diets.
Manipulative and Body-Based Practices
These are based on working with one or more parts of the body. Some examples are:
- Massage: The soft tissues of the body are kneaded, rubbed, tapped, and stroked.
- Chiropractic therapy: A type of manipulation of the spine, joints, and skeletal system.
- Reflexology: Using pressure points in the hands or feet to affect other parts of the body.
Biofield therapy, sometimes called energy medicine, involves the belief that the body has energy fields that can be used for healing and wellness. Therapists use pressure or move the body by placing their hands in or through these fields. Some examples are:
- Reiki: Balancing energy either from a distance or by placing hands on or near the patient
- Therapeutic touch: Moving hands over energy fields of the body
Whole Medical Systems
These are healing systems and beliefs that have evolved over time in different cultures and parts of the world. Some examples are:
- Ayurvedic medicine: A system from India in which the goal is to cleanse the body and restore balance to the body, mind, and spirit.
- Traditional Chinese medicine: Based on the belief that health is a balance in the body of two forces called yin and yang.
- Acupuncture is a common practice in Chinese medicine that involves stimulating certain points on the body to promote health, or to lessen disease symptoms and treatment side effects.
- Homeopathy: Uses very small doses of substances to trigger the body to heal itself.
- Naturopathic medicine: Uses various methods that help the body naturally heal itself. An example would be herbal treatments.
- nih.gov – National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health
- ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – US National Library of Medicine
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