Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Outside the Mainstream

Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Outside the Mainstream

Medicine, as a field, is perpetually evolving to suit the latest discoveries regarding the human body and its capacity for healing. As we grow to understand more about the most effective treatment methods for contemporary illnesses, one of the more surprising discoveries may be that methods beyond traditional medicine, some of them even ancient, can be very helpful when applied to certain ailments and chronic diseases.

Methods like these are typically referred to as “complementary and alternative medicine”, or CAMs.

Methods that typically fall within this category are those that fall outside the mainstream purview for Western medicine, often involving traditional methods, herbal remedies, various physical practices, and even mental stimulation and relaxation techniques. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), nearly 40 percent of American adults use some form of treatment outside of medicine and other typically prescribed methods.

Complementary and alternative medicine actually consist of two separate practices. Complementary medicine is the process of employing unconventional approaches to healing in tandem with Western medicine. Alternative medicine forgoes modern methods altogether, opting for a completely “homeopathic” or “holistic” approach. The term “integrative” is sometimes used to refer to both simultaneously, encapsulating a complete body of treatment methods that nourish the patient in ways beyond typical treatments.

Methods of Treatment in Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Many of the modes of treatment considered to be “alternative” or “integrative” are based on Eastern medicine and practice, including various types of muscle therapy, martial arts, meditative techniques, and the use of traditional healing methods. Here are just some of the methods employed by practitioners of CAMs.

Though a somewhat unnerving concept to people in the West, this process of relieving pressure in the body by carefully placing thin needles in a patient’s skin has been in use for thousands of years in China. As it applies to modern treatment, there hasn’t been substantial research into its benefits, but observed evidence indicates that it can be potentially effective in treating digestive disorders, anxiety, depression, and migraines, among other things.

Tai chi
This low impact, slower form of martial arts has been seen to have a positive influence on patient strength, flexibility, and balance at any point in their treatment. The movements flow together in a routine from form to form, offering a meditative, calming opportunity to stretch muscle fibers without fully extending or stressing them.

Though Western individuals might typically associate meditation with a religious process or a quest for enlightenment, the practical application of this technique in the medical world is something much more simple. Used to relieve symptoms from anything from anxiety to cancer, meditation exercises focus on conscious attention to breath and body, encouraging positive mindfulness and potentially impact patient mood.

Naturopathy is a form of medical practice that uses homeopathic methods, but employs modern-day diagnostic tools, surgery, and a full host of techniques to cure in addition to the natural healing offered by herbs and substances. They create a holistic treatment plan that involves anything from physical to emotional treatment, acting as both counselors and physicians.

Massage, though often considered a luxury activity, has repeatedly been found to have a positive impact on the symptoms of those with chronic pain and a number of other disorders. As with other treatments above, it’s not considered a substitute for medical care, but can certainly benefit most patients.

Learn more about complementary and alternative medicine by visiting the NCAAM website, or explore the field in greater depth with the Special Topics: CAMs course offered through SFU’s online Master of Health Science program.

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