Complementary Health Approaches

Safety of Mind and Body Practices

As with any treatment, it's important to consider safety before using complementary health approaches. Safety depends on the specific approach, and each complementary product or practice should be considered on its own.

If You Have a Medical Condition

Complementary health approaches that are safe for healthy people may not be safe for people with some medical conditions. If you have any health problems, always talk with your health care provider before starting a new complementary approach. If the approach involves working with a practitioner or taking classes with an instructor, discuss your health condition with that person, too.

How Safe Are Mind and Body Practices?

Acupuncture is generally considered safe when performed by an experienced practitioner using sterile needles. Improperly performed acupuncture can cause serious side effects, such as infections. An individual’s health can affect the safety of acupuncture. For example, it is especially important for acupuncturists to follow strict clean-needle procedures when treating people with cancer because chemotherapy and radiation therapy weaken the immune system.

Massage therapy rarely causes problems when performed by a trained professional. However, some types of massage may not be appropriate for people with certain health conditions. For example, deep-tissue massage could cause bleeding in people who have bleeding disorders or those who are taking anticoagulant medications (blood thinners).

Meditation is generally considered to be safe for healthy people. However, people with health conditions should talk with their health care providers before starting any type of meditation and make their meditation instructor aware of their condition.

Relaxation techniques are considered safe for healthy people, although users occasionally report unpleasant experiences such as increased anxiety. People with health problems should discuss the use of relaxation techniques with their health care providers. It’s particularly important for people with heart disease to consult their health care providers before using progressive muscle relaxation.

Side effects from spinal manipulation include temporary discomfort in the area that was treated, headache, and tiredness. There have been rare reports of serious complications such as stroke, although it’s not clear whether spinal manipulation actually caused the complications.

Tai chi and qi gong are considered to be a relatively safe practices and well suited to older adults because of their low intensity.

Yoga is generally safe for healthy people when practiced appropriately under the guidance of a well-trained instructor. However, people who have certain medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, glaucoma, or sciatica, need to modify or avoid some yoga poses.