Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)
Three broad categories of complementary and alternative medicine include natural products, manipulative and body-based practices, and mind-body medicine. These categories sometimes overlap.
What Are Natural Products?
Natural products include a variety of herbal medicines (also called botanicals) and other dietary supplements. A dietary supplement is a product that contains vitamins, minerals, herbs or botanicals, amino acids, enzymes, probiotics, or other ingredients that supplement the diet. Examples of dietary supplements include vitamin B12, St. John's wort (a botanical), and acidophilus (a probiotic).
What Are Manipulative and Body-Based Practices?
Manipulative and body-based practices focus mainly on the structures and systems of the body, including the bones and joints, the soft tissues, and the circulatory and lymphatic systems. Some practices come from traditional systems of medicine, such as those from China and India.
Examples of manipulative and body-based practices are
- spinal manipulation and
Spinal manipulation is performed by chiropractors and other health professionals such as physical therapists and osteopaths.
There are many types of massage therapy. In general, therapists press, rub, and otherwise manipulate the muscles and other soft tissues of the body. They most often use their hands and fingers, but may also use their forearms, elbows, or feet.
People use massage for a variety of health-related purposes, such as
- relieving pain
- rehabilitating sports injuries
- reducing stress, anxiety, or depression or
- aiding general well-being.
The goal of chiropractic medicine is to help the body heal by correcting its alignment. Doctors of chiropractic (also called chiropractors) use a variety of approaches, but mainly a type of hands-on therapy called adjustment (or manipulation) to the spine or other parts of the body. Adjustments are done to increase the range and quality of motion in the area being treated.
Conditions commonly treated by chiropractors include back pain, neck pain, headaches, and hand or foot problems.
In reflexology, pressure points on the feet or hands are used to help other parts of the body relax and heal.
Mind-body medicine -- which focuses on how the mind, brain, body and behavior interact -- uses a variety of techniques designed to enhance the mind's capacity to affect bodily function and symptoms.
Examples of mind-body medicine are
- tai chi (pronounced "tie-chee")
- qi gong (pronounced "chee-gung")
- imagery and
The term meditation refers to a group of techniques, most of which started in Eastern religious or spiritual traditions. These techniques have been used by many different cultures throughout the world for thousands of years. Today, many people use meditation outside of its traditional religious or cultural settings for health and well-being.
In meditation, people use techniques such as a specific posture, focused attention, and an open attitude toward distractions. This practice is believed to result in a state of greater calmness, physical relaxation, and psychological balance. Practicing meditation can change how a person relates to the flow of emotions and thoughts in the mind.
Yoga has its roots in ancient Indian philosophy. The various styles of yoga typically combine postures, breathing techniques, and meditation or relaxation.
People practice yoga as part of a general health regimen, and also for a variety of health conditions.
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Tai chi is a practice that uses a series of slow, gentle movements coordinated with focused breathing and meditation. People use tai chi to enhance physical functioning, improve balance and flexibility, and help with sleep and overall well-being.
Qi gong is also a practice that combines movement, meditation, and controlled breathing.
In imagery, people use techniques to visualize scenes, pictures, or experiences to achieve a desired physical response such as stress reduction.
Practices Involving Energy Fields
Some CAM practices involve using various energy fields to affect health. These fields either are measurable (called veritable) or have not yet been measured (called putative or biofields). Practitioners believe that illness can result from disturbances of these subtle forms of energies.
Practices based on veritable forms of energy include those involving electromagnetic fields—such as magnet therapy.
- Magnet therapy uses magnet products and devices to treat or ease the symptoms of various diseases and conditions, including pain.
Practices based on biofields use the concept that humans are infused with subtle forms of energy. Examples of these practices include qi gong, Reiki, and healing touch.
- Healing touch practitioners pass their hands over or gently touch a person’s body to try to identify imbalances in the energy field and support healing.
- Reiki is based on the idea that there is a universal (or source) energy that supports the body’s innate healing abilities. Practitioners seek to access the energy and allow it to flow to the body to help with healing. In a Reiki session, the practitioner’s hands are placed lightly on or just above the client’s body.
CAM also includes movement therapies—such as
- Feldenkrais method
- Alexander technique
- Rolfing Structural Integration and
- Trager psychophysical integration.
These practices are used to promote physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
Practices of traditional healers can also be considered a form of CAM. Traditional healers use methods based on indigenous theories, beliefs, and experiences handed down from generation to generation. An example is the Native American healer/medicine man.