Complementary and alternative medicine encompasses a wide range of therapeutic approaches that fall outside conventional medicine. Understanding some of the commonly used terms in complementary medicine and alternative medicine can be helpful in making informed decisions about which treatments might be right for you and your family.
Acupuncture: Part of traditional Chinese medicine, this practice inserts fine needles into designated points on the body in order to restore the smooth flow of “qi” (energy) and balance the opposing forces of yin and yang.
Alternative medicine: Medicine that is used as a replacement for conventional medicine.
Aromatherapy: The use of flower oils and essences for their therapeutic properties. Depending on the type, oils and essences can be inhaled, ingested, and used externally on the skin.
Ayurveda: An Indian system of alternative medicine that uses diet, herbs, massage, and yoga to regulate a person’s physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects.
Chiropractic: A form of manual therapy that looks at the connection between structure and function — specifically focusing on the spine. Chiropractors perform manipulations of the musculoskeletal system in order to alleviate pain and encourage the body to heal itself.
Complementary medicine: Medicine that is used in combination with conventional medicine.
Craniosacral therapy: A light-touch technique that seeks to improve the functioning of the body’s central nervous system. Practitioners use subtle movements on the skull and spine to affect cerebrospinal fluid and realign bones.
Homeopathy: A whole medical system that operates by stimulating the body’s defense mechanism. Homeopaths give patients small doses of substances that in larger amounts would cause illness. The goal of this alternative medicine is to prompt the body to heal itself.
Integrative medicine: This medicine (also known as integrated medicine) uses complementary and alternative medicine in combination with conventional medicine. Integrative medicine aims to treat the whole person — body, mind, and spirit — not just the disease.
Massage: The use of varying pressure and movement to manipulate muscles and other soft tissues. By relaxing the soft tissues of the body, more blood and oxygen can reach the affected areas and decrease pain.
Meditation: Considered mind-body medicine, meditation is a conscious mental process that is used to release physical tension, relax the body, and ease the mind.
Naturopathy: A whole medical system that focuses on supporting health rather than treating illness. This alternative medicine encourages the body to heal itself through the use of diet, herbs, massage, joint manipulation, and lifestyle changes.
Qi gong: Part of traditional Chinese medicine, qi gong in Western terms is considered energy medicine. This alternative medicine combines movement with controlled breathing to promote health by improving the flow of “qi,” or energy.
Reflexology: A therapeutic modality designed to relieve tension, improve circulation, and promote the natural functioning of the body through application of pressure on various points on the feet.
Reiki: A form of energy medicine that originated in Japan. With this form of alternative medicine, the practitioner places their hands on or near the patient with the goal of spiritual healing.
Tai chi: A form of martial arts from China that is now used as mind-body therapy. Sometimes referred to as a “moving meditation,” tai chi involves slow, gentle movements and deep breathing.
Yoga: This mind-body practice from India combines postures, breathing exercises, and meditation to promote relaxation and improve body functions.