Complementary and Alternative Therapies

I’m confused. What are Complementary and Alternative Therapies (CAT)? Are they something I should stay away from, or will they actually help my ailments? Even though it’s obvioius that big pharm and the medical industry spends billions on advertisement, both complementary and alternative therapies are becoming more popular each day.

They focus on the whole person – body, mind, and spirit instead of traditional medical techniques.

What is the Difference Between Complementary and Alternative Therapies

Even though both therapies are for improving your health, they play different roles.

When you’re talking about complementary therapy, you’re thinking about using non-traditional treatments along with traditional medical regimens. For example, people are starting to use acupuncture as a method to lessen the side effects of chemotherapy.

On the other hand, people are foregoing conventional medical methods completely and using alternative therapies instead. One example of going for alternative medicine instead of more traditional would be choosing herbal remedies and special diets instead of prescription medicines.

So, you can see that complementary therapies collaborate with standard medicine, while alternative therapies attempt to replace it altogether.

What are Complementary Therapies?

Complementary therapies are used along with conventional medicine. They don’t replace traditional treatments but can help you feel better.

They help improve treatments or reduce the side effects of a conventional medical treatment.

There are many different types of alternative therapies being used to complement conventional medical treatments.

Types of Complementary Therapies

  • Acupuncture: Tiny needles are placed in specific spots on your body to relieve pain and stress.
  • Massage Therapy: This involves rubbing and kneading your muscles and other soft tissues to improve your health.
  • Yoga: This is a mind-body practice combining physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation to improve overall well-being.
  • Aromatherapy: This uses essential oils from plants for healing and relaxation.
  • Reflexology: Reflexology is a type of therapy where pressure is applied to specific points on the feet, hands, and ears to promote relaxation and improve overall health.
  • Chiropractic: Chiropractic is a healthcare practice focusing on diagnosing and treating musculoskeletal issues, especially those related to the spine, through manual adjustment and manipulation.

What are Alternative Therapies?

Alternative therapies are used instead of conventional treatments. These might be used if someone prefers not to use standard medical treatments. Some examples include:

  • Herbal Medicine: Using plants or plant extracts to treat health issues.
  • Homeopathy: A practice where very small amounts of natural substances are used to treat various conditions.
  • Naturopathy: This approach emphasizes natural remedies and the body’s ability to heal itself, often including diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes.

Some Complementary Therapies Explained


Acupuncture is the use of very fine needles that penetrate the skin and stimulate specific points of the body. Some practitioners use needles that provide electrical stimulation.

Acupuncture is a widely used and popular therapy. It is used by many to ease chronic pain and is found to be helpful to those who suffer from depression.

A British National Health Service review found evidence that acupuncture is an effective treatment for dental and jaw pain, and for relieving nausea after operations and chemotherapy.


Acupressure is similar to acupuncture but without the use of needles.

Instead of needles practitioners use their hands, elbows or feet to apply pressure to the body’s meridians. Practitioners believe that meridians are channels that carry life energy throughout the body.

The premise is that illness occurs when any of these channels are out of balance or blocked. This treatment is claimed to get the energy flowing freely again and restore well-being.

Experimental studies have had some positive results. Acupressure has been found to decrease the nausea that is experienced by chemotherapy patients, and is believed to relax people and relieve anxiety.


Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils. These oils are extracted from the leaves, roots, flowers or seeds of plants. The oils can be inhaled or used topically to promote healing. Each of these oils has its own unique qualities and specific purpose.

Studies have found that some aromatherapy oils have the ability to reduce pain, depression and anxiety. Some oils are used in the treatment of infection and inflammation, while others are noted for being able to promote relaxation.


Chiropractic treatment concentrates on disorders of the musculoskeletal and nervous system. This treatment includes disorders relating to pain in the back, arms, legs, neck and joints. One of the most common procedures is spinal manipulation.

This treatment is often implemented when movement of a joint has become restricted due to injury of surrounding tissues. These injuries can occur because of a single incident or through repetitive stress. A chiropractor makes adjustments to the affected areas.

This restores mobility and loosens the muscles. The tissues are healed and the pain is resolved. There have been many medical studies of chiropractic therapy which affirm its efficacy.

The research shows that this practice can reduce pain and improve physical functioning. Chiropractic treatment is widely accepted by the medical profession. Because of this it currently qualifies as complementary medicine more than many other alternative therapies.


Reflexology involves targeting specific areas of the feet, hands and ears. The theory of reflexology is that these specific areas correspond to different body organs and systems. Applying pressure to these particular areas is believed to positively affect these organs.

For example, when pressure is applied to a spot on the arch of the foot it is claimed to benefit the functioning of the bladder. Reflexology is a therapy that is used by millions of people world-wide as a complement to traditional treatment for medical conditions. These illnesses include cancer, kidney function, asthma and diabetes.

Some studies have found that breast cancer patients have had improved respiratory function when reflexology is used as a complementary therapy. Other studies have shown a reduction in anxiety and fatigue and an improvement in sleep.

Herbal Medicines

The use of herbal medicine is believed to be the oldest form of healing. Herbal medicine is classed as an alternative or complementary therapy in most western countries. However it still remains the only form of medicine that is available for much of the world’s population.

Herbal medicines work in a similar way to pharmaceutical preparations. Some pharmaceutical medicines are also obtained from plants. One of these is quinine (the pharmaceutical medication for malaria), obtained from the bark of the cinchona tree. The opium poppy is a plant that produces morphine.

Herbal medicine aims to return natural balance to the body to enable it to heal itself. Some commonly used herbs and their traditional uses include:

Echinacea – stimulates the immune system, helps the body fight infection and is a treatment for boils and herpes.

Garlic – lowers the levels of blood fats and cholesterol which reduces the risk of heart disease. Garlic contains antibiotic and antiviral properties that make it useful for fighting respiratory infections, colds and sinusitis.

Ginger – studies involving ginger have shown positive results in the treatment of nausea, including motion and morning sickness.


Massage therapy is a treatment that is growing in popularity. Massage was once known by the doctors of traditional medicine as an alternative medicine, however it is now being considered as a mainstream complementary option.

Massage therapy is the kneading and massaging of a person’s muscles and other soft body tissues. This form of therapy increases circulation, relieves tension and anxiety, promotes relaxation and improves sleep.

Regular massage therapy has proven to lower blood pressure levels and there are claims that it helps strengthen the body’s immune system. Massages using aromatherapy oil have been used as a complementary treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

Why Do People Use CAT?

People use CAT for various reasons:

  • Holistic Approach: They treat the whole person, not just the symptoms.
  • Personal Control: They allow you to take an active role in your health.
  • Fewer Side Effects: Many people believe they have fewer side effects than conventional treatments.

Are They Safe?

Some CAT methods are very safe, but others can have risks, especially if they interact with conventional treatments. It’s always best to talk to your doctor before starting any new therapy. This way, you can make sure it’s safe and will not interfere with any other treatments you are receiving.

How Do You Choose a Therapy?

Choosing a therapy depends on what you need. Here are a few steps to help you decide:

  • Research: Learn about the therapy and its benefits.
  • Consult: Talk to your doctor or a healthcare provider.
  • Check Credentials: Make sure the practitioner is qualified and experienced.
  • Start Slowly: Try the therapy on a small scale to see how it affects you.

In Summary

Complementary and Alternative Therapies can be a great way to improve your health and well-being. They can help you manage stress, relieve pain, and improve your overall quality of life. Just make sure to do your research and talk to a healthcare provider before starting any new treatment. This ensures that it is safe and right for you.

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