Complementary and Alternative Medical (CAM) therapies are those practices and treatments that are not part of Western-conventional medicine. However, they may be used to complement conventional medicine, such as the use of acupuncture for pain management for those undergoing cancer treatments.
Alternative medicine is the exclusive use of medical approaches that are not under the umbrella of Western medicine, such as Naturopathic medicine. Integrative medicine, while not part of the title of CAM, refers to the combination of using both Western and alternative medicine as a treatment protocol. In this scenario, a naturopathic doctor would work with a conventional doctor to devise the best treatment for a patient.
The use of CAM is on the rise and is more popular than ever. According to a survey by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), more than 30 percent of adults have used alternative therapies. The range of what is considered alternative medicine is broad. It can range from aromatherapy (the use of essential oils) to cupping (an acupuncture technique). However, there are several therapies that people go to on a regular basis. Here are the eight primary alternative treatments.
Naturopathic medicine most closely resembles Western medical practices – compared to all of the different CAM therapies. Naturopathic doctors go to a naturopathic medical school where they learn the same information about surgery, microbiology, pharmacology, and other medical concepts as their Western medical student counterparts.
Naturopathic doctors, however, also learn about whole-body healing techniques like herbology, homeopathy, and others natural remedies. Naturopaths take a holistic approach to healing that focuses on the person and not the disease. Western medicine is disease targeted. Many states license naturopathic doctors.
Acupuncture is the insertion of needles along meridian channels to release blocked energy (chi). Acupuncture is part of the Traditional Chinese Medicine system based on the concepts of energy, environmental influences on the body, a person’s body make up (constitution), and other natural concepts.
Meridians are energetic pathways in the body that can become blocked and invite diseases and other health conditions. Needles help to unblock energy and lead to healing. Acupuncture has been found to be useful for many health issues, such as headaches, back pain, menstrual symptoms, and many others. Acupuncturist needs to be licensed in most states.
A chiropractic doctor focuses on the spine and joints and how they connect to the nervous system. Chiropractors adjust the spine and other joints to realign the body and support the nervous system. While chiropractors are often first seen for an injury, chiropractors can also support a patient’s well-being by keeping the spine in alignment.
Spinal manipulation is not the only treatment they provide. Chiropractic doctors also offer nutritional advice, fitness coaching, and can provide massage and other soft-tissue therapies. Chiropractors graduate from chiropractic schools and need to be licensed in most states. Chiropractic therapy is beneficial for headaches, spinal injuries like herniated disks, pain reduction, mobility, and other health issues.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is thousands of years old. It’s an adaptive and evolving therapy that uses the laws of nature as the basis for healing. The principles of TCM center on energy in both the person and in nature that can influence the individual.
Practitioners of TCM treat the whole person. It’s holistic-based where the person is treated and not the disease. Several healing modalities fall under TCM, such as acupuncture, herbalism, tai chi (a form of exercise), moxibustion (an acupuncture adjunct therapy that heats meridian points on the skin), and others.
Ayurveda is an ancient Indian medical practice that also treats the whole body. The Ayurveda system categorizes bodies into three doshas (body types). Everyone is said to have a dominant dosha along with characteristics of the other two. Like TCM, its goal is to keep the body in homeostasis (balanced) state. An Ayurvedic practitioner may prescribe herbs, meditation, exercise, changes in diet, massage, and other techniques to heal and maintain wellness.
Herbalists are trained in the function of herbs on the body. Herbology is the oldest form of therapy because plants were the first contact ancient civilizations had to medicinal remedies. Herbology is found in all cultures around the world.
An herbalist also treats the patient and not the disease. While herbalists know the medicinal components of herbs and what conditions they benefit, they will devise a treatment based on the individual’s needs and makeup. There are herbalists whose only practice is herbal medicine. However, herbal remedies are also part of other CAM therapies, such as TCM, Ayurveda, and naturopathy.
Behind the healing principles of homeopathy is the theory to treat like with like. In other words, homeopathic medicines treat an illness by giving minuscule amounts of a substance that could cause a disease. It’s like the idea of vaccines. The viewpoint is that these small amounts will stimulate the body’s immune system to heal itself. Homeopathy is also a holistic therapy that looks to treat the whole person and not just the disease.
Homeopathic practitioners are thoroughly trained in homeopathic medicine. Also, many homeopathic remedies are available at health food stores. There are homeopathic medicines to treat nausea, the flu, colds, canker sores, dizziness, sore throats, and other conditions. Usually, the medication is in the form of a pellet that is placed under the tongue.
Massage therapy is widely used in the U.S. and other countries to treat many conditions, such as stress, chronic pain, sinusitis, premenstrual symptoms, injuries, and others. A massage therapist is trained in the manipulation of soft tissue, such as muscles, ligaments, and tendons. They learn how to properly manipulate the tissue to release muscle tightness, trigger points, lengthen muscles, etc.
Their hands are usually the primary tool they use for massaging. However, elbows, arms, knees, and feet may also be used depending on the need and type of massage. Massage can vary in intensity depending on the individual’s pain threshold and the kind of massage. The individual always controls the amount of pressure that the masseuse applies. Massage therapists are licensed in most states.
The various CAM therapies differ in modeling and application. However, they all have one underlying similarity: They are based on a holistic approach to healing where the body just needs a nudge to help to heal itself. The popularity of CAM treatments supported by research shows that they offer many health benefits.
Falcon, Deliahlah. The 12 Most Common Complementary And Alternative Medicines. Retrieved from .
Integrative medicine: Alternative becomes mainstream. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/in-depth/alternative-medicine/art-20045267
What is chiropractic? Retrieved from http://www.palmer.edu/about-us/what-is-chiropractic
What is homeopathy? Retrieved from https://www.homeopathycenter.org
What is Massage Therapy? Retrieved from https://www.nwhealth.edu/school-of-massage-therapy/massage-therapy-definition