According to a survey conducted by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, one in every three adults in the United States has used complementary medicine. The use of complementary medicine is increasing rapidly because patients want more options in taking care of their health conditions.

Physicians are also recognizing the positive benefits that these types of treatment could offer to their patients, thus allowing them to prescribe or recommend complementary medicine.

What Is Complementary Medicine?

Complementary medicine, sometimes referred to as alternative medicine, is a group of therapies that are meant to support the treatment prescribed by a patient’s physician. They do not replace regular medical treatment and should only be used under the supervision of a healthcare professional. Complementary medicine includes mind-body therapies such as:

  • Mediation: A mind-body therapy that helps individuals manage stress, anxiety, and other emotional problems.
  • Yoga: An ancient practice where individuals control their breathing to relax their body, reduce stress, and relieve muscle tension. Gentle stretching exercises are often used during yoga especially for those who have certain medical conditions or cannot move easily because of age or disability.
  • Tai Chi: An ancient Chinese practice where individuals exercise their muscles by practicing slow and gentle movements that focus on balance and concentration. Tai Chi is often recommended to those who have certain medical conditions such as arthritis because it helps improve muscle and joint flexibility and reduce pain.

Patients treated with complementary medicine experience positive changes in their health and well-being. It is often used to help reduce stress, improve overall feelings of wellness, and lower pain levels associated with chronic medical conditions such as:

  • Arthritis
  • Infertility
  • Heart disease
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Complementary medicine is not a new concept. In fact, an anthropological study of native cultures in North America revealed that they have been using some forms of complementary medicine for centuries. These therapies were usually based on their knowledge of plants and herbs from their environment.

Today, complementary medicine is widely used by most people, especially those who are dealing with chronic medical conditions or trying to prevent possible health problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these therapies may be helpful in pain management, boosting immunity, increasing relaxation and well-being, along other positive health outcomes.

What Are The Main Components of Complementary Medicine?

Complementary medicine is composed of three main components:

1) the patient;

2) his or her illness or condition;

3) the treatment plan.

Patients must be willing to participate in their treatment for it to be successful. For many, complementary medicine offers another form of treatment that is not as invasive as surgery or prescription drugs.

Physicians often prescribe complementary medicine because they believe these therapies can reduce pain and the frequency of symptoms, improve a patient’s sense of well-being, and help them better cope with stress and other daily life challenges.

Complementary therapies are used to reduce stress, pain, and the side effects of chemotherapy in cancer patients. For instance, acupuncture is believed to relieve nausea caused by chemotherapy drugs. Massage is said to improve circulation and help patients relax before an MRI or surgery. Mind-body techniques such as meditation are also encouraged to lower blood pressure and heart rate and relieve anxiety.

Complementary Medicine Providers

Complementary medicine is administered by healthcare providers who have different backgrounds and training. Some may be nurses, physicians, psychologists, physical therapists, chiropractors, naturopaths, or acupuncturists. Moreover, complementary healthcare providers will combine their knowledge and skills to provide the best possible treatment for patients.

Medical doctors and other health care professionals who practice complementary medicine, such as acupuncture and massage, have a deep understanding of physiology and anatomy. They understand how the body’s systems function and interact with each other, which allows them to work more effectively with patients.

In addition to those listed above, there are several healthcare providers whose focus is on complementary medicine therapies. They are licensed or registered to provide these therapies by the state in which they practice. When seeking care, it is important that patients ask their healthcare providers about any complementary medicine therapies they offer.

What Are The Benefits Of Complementary Medicine?

There are numerous benefits of using complementary medicine as an alternative form of treatment. In fact, many people turn to these therapies as a way of avoiding prescription drugs and invasive surgery. Let’s take a look at some common benefits:

  • Complementary medicine is non-invasive – It does not require the use of anesthetics or other medications. This can be especially beneficial for those who want a natural approach to healthcare, those who have a sensitivity to medications, and those who have a busy schedule.
  • It also allows the patient to take an active role in his or her treatment – In many cases, patients are encouraged to participate as much as they can because this improves their sense of well-being. For example, yoga classes encourage breathing exercises that improve the effects of chemotherapy.
  • Some complementary medicine treatments can be done at home – Often, these therapies do not cost much money and do not require outpatient treatment. For example, patients can get acupuncture therapy in their own homes by using a small device that delivers electrical stimulation to specific acupressure points on the body.
  • Complementary medicine can help patients cope with stress and prevent illness – Many complementary medicine therapies are designed to reduce stress and increase the flow of energy or balance in the body. In turn, this reduces a person’s risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and some types of cancer.

Closing Thoughts

Complementary medicine is not meant to replace traditional medical care. However, it can be used to complement other therapies for the benefit of the patient. By combining traditional treatments with complementary options, patients are able to experience an improved quality of life while battling their illness.