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Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is defined by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) as "medical and health care systems, practices and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine." There are many practices and procedures that fall under this general category. (Read about "Complementary & Alternative Medicine")
NCCAM uses a set of categories to describe CAM therapies. They include:
Lifestyle, age, physiology and other factors combine to make every person different. A treatment that works for one person may not work for another who has the very same condition. You as a health care consumer (especially if you have a preexisting medical condition) should discuss any CAM treatment with your health care practitioner.
Below find more information on these different types of therapies.
NCCAM says some of the most popular health therapies of CAM are among the body-based practices, such as chiropractic care and massage therapy. NCCAM defines body-based therapies as those involving manipulation of the body's structures, such as bones, joints (Read about "Orthopedics") and soft tissues, as well as systems of the body, including circulation and the lymph system. (Read about "The Heart & Cardiovascular System" "The Lymph System") Visits to chiropractors and massage therapists make up half of all visits to CAM practitioners, according to NCCAM.
Chiropractors, also called doctors of chiropractic or chiropractic physicians, must be licensed by the state in order to practice. Licensing requires 2 to 4 years of undergraduate education, completion of a 4-year chiropractic college course and passing scores on national and state exams, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Chiropractors diagnose and treat individuals with health conditions related to the nervous, muscular and skeletal systems (Read about "Nervous System" "Skeletal System") - including back and neck pain, joint pain, headaches, osteoarthritis and a host of other issues. (Read about "Back Pain" "Neck Pain & Work" "Headaches" "Osteoarthritis") Generally, the most common reason for visits to chiropractors is back pain. According to the American Chiropractic Association (ACA), an estimated 31 million Americans have low back pain at any given time and one-third of U.S. adults have had a back problem severe enough to seek professional help in the past five years.
The primary belief of chiropractic care is that the body has great ability to heal itself, often without drugs and without surgery. This is why chiropractors do not prescribe medicine or perform operations. The basic tenets of chiropractic care are:
When seeing a patient, chiropractic physicians will conduct physical and neurological exams and may use laboratory tests, X-rays or other diagnostic tools. (Read about "Laboratory Testing" "X-rays") Chiropractors then tailor their treatments to the individual needs of the patient, in many cases manually adjusting the spine to aid in healing.
Chiropractic care is generally considered very safe, according to NCCAM. Although there are some risks associated with manipulation of the spine, including rare reports of stroke (Read about "Stroke") or vertebral artery dissection, most of the adverse effects reported have been moderate and lasted only a short time, according to NCCAM.
Chiropractic care is now quite accepted in the medical field. For example, NCCAM reports 90 percent of all spinal manipulations in the U.S. are performed by chiropractors. And a great number of insurance companies now cover some portion of visits to chiropractic physicians.
The studies that have been done on chiropractic care offer evidence that it can be effective in alleviating migraine and tension headaches (Read about "Headaches") and providing short-term relief from neck and back pain, according to NCCAM. However, there are still relatively few clinical studies on the long-term benefits of the therapy.
Massage is the other popular body-based therapy of CAM. It involves manipulation of the soft tissues of the body through pressure and movement. Like Chiropractic care, massage therapy shares the principle that the body has the ability to heal itself and, again, practitioners tend to tailor their treatments to the particular needs of each patient, according to NCCAM. Unlike the quick movements of Chiropractic care, however, massage techniques use slower applications of force and pressure.
Some of the most popular massages and how they help, according to the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) are as follows:
Massage therapy takes great care to focus on the patient's comfort. According to AMTA, when giving a massage the therapist will generally ask the patient what type he/she prefers and if there are any specific areas of pain or a particular need the client wants addressed. The therapist may massage the whole body or just precise areas needing attention depending on the client's preferences. The client removes only as much clothing as he/she is comfortable with and privacy is provided at all times. Therapists often use oil or lotion to reduce the drag on the skin, but a powder can be used if the client is allergic (Read about "Allergies") to oil. With clear information from the client, the therapist can determine the most effective techniques to use during the massage session.
Massage is a therapy that involves little risk, according to NCCAM. Some reported side effects include deep vein thrombosis, burns, skin infections and eczema. (Read about "Deep Vein Thrombosis" "Skin" "Eczema")
There have been few clinical studies on the effectiveness of massage, according to NCCAM. A handful of trials did show that massage therapy can be effective for the condition most often treated with massage - back pain, but NCCAM says more scientific evidence is needed.
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) says putative energy fields (also called biofields) are energy fields that exist, but can't be measured in conventional ways. Therapies involving putative energy fields are based on the concept that human beings are infused with a subtle form of energy. This vital energy or life force is known under different names in different cultures.
Vital energy is believed to flow throughout the human body, but it has not been unequivocally measured by means of conventional instrumentation. Nonetheless, therapists claim that they can work with this subtle energy, see it with their own eyes and use it to effect changes in the physical body and influence health. Practitioners of energy medicine believe that illness results from disturbances of these subtle energies (the biofield). Energy based treatments include acupuncture, Reiki and Healing Touch.
As always, you should inform your primary healthcare provider of any alternative therapies that you are receiving.
Acupuncture originated in China more than 2,000 years ago. Research shows that acupuncture can be beneficial in treating a variety of health conditions, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).
In the past two decades, acupuncture has grown in popularity in the United States. A Harvard University study estimates that Americans make more than five million visits per year to acupuncture practitioners. The report from a Consensus Development Conference on Acupuncture held at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that acupuncture is being "widely" practiced - by thousands of physicians, dentists, acupuncturists and other practitioners - for relief or prevention of pain and for various other health conditions.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) have funded a variety of research projects on acupuncture. These grants have been awarded by NCCAM, the Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM, NCCAM's predecessor) and other NIH Institutes and Centers.
Traditional Chinese medicine theorizes that there are more than 2,000 acupuncture points on the human body, and that these connect with 12 main and eight secondary pathways called meridians. Chinese medicine practitioners believe these meridians conduct energy, or qi (pronounced "chee"), throughout the body.
Qi is believed to regulate spiritual, emotional, mental and physical balance and to be influenced by the opposing forces of yin and yang. According to traditional Chinese medicine, when yin and yang are balanced, they work together with the natural flow of qi to help the body achieve and maintain health. Acupuncture is believed to balance yin and yang, keep the normal flow of energy unblocked and maintain or restore health to the body and mind.
Traditional Chinese medicine practices (including acupuncture, herbs, diet, massage and meditative physical exercise) all are intended to improve the flow of qi.
Western scientists have found meridians hard to identify because meridians do not directly correspond to nerve or blood circulation pathways (Read about "Nervous System" "Vascular System"), according to NCCAM. Some researchers believe that meridians are located throughout the body's connective tissue; others do not believe that qi exists at all. Such differences of opinion have made acupuncture an area of scientific controversy.
Several processes have been proposed to explain acupuncture's effects, primarily those on pain. Acupuncture points are believed to stimulate the central nervous system (Read about "Nervous System") to release chemicals into the muscles, spinal cord and brain. These chemicals either change the experience of pain or release other chemicals, such as hormones, that influence the body's self-regulating systems. The biochemical changes may stimulate the body's natural healing abilities and promote physical and emotional well-being. NCCAM says there are three main mechanisms:
Some studies have documented acupuncture's effects, but they have not been able to explain fully how acupuncture works within the framework of the Western system of medicine.
According to the NIH Consensus Statement on Acupuncture:
"Acupuncture as a therapeutic intervention is widely practiced in the United States. While there have been many studies of its potential usefulness, many of these studies provide equivocal results because of design, sample size and other factors. The issue is further complicated by inherent difficulties in the use of appropriate controls, such as placebos and sham acupuncture groups. However, promising results have emerged for example, showing efficacy of acupuncture in adult postoperative and chemotherapy (Read about "Cancer Treatments") nausea and vomiting and in postoperative dental pain. There are other situations such as addiction, stroke rehabilitation (Read about "Rehabilitation"), headache, menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, osteoarthritis, low back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome and asthma, in which acupuncture may be useful as an adjunct treatment or an acceptable alternative or be included in a comprehensive management program. Further research is likely to uncover additional areas where acupuncture interventions will be useful." (Read about "Addiction" "Stroke" "Headaches" "Menstrual Disorders" "Tendinitis & Bursitis" "Fibromyalgia" "Osteoarthritis" "Back Pain" "Carpal Tunnel Syndrome" "Asthma")
Currently, one of the main reasons Americans seek acupuncture treatment is to relieve chronic pain (Read about "Chronic Pain"), especially from conditions such as arthritis or lower back disorders. Some clinical studies show that acupuncture is effective in relieving both chronic (long-lasting) and acute or sudden pain, but other research indicates that it provides no relief from chronic pain. NCCAM says additional research is needed to provide definitive answers.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved acupuncture needles for use by licensed practitioners in 1996. The FDA requires manufacturers of acupuncture needles to label them for single use only. Relatively few complications from the use of acupuncture have been reported to the FDA. Complications have resulted from inadequate sterilization of needles and from improper delivery of treatments. When not delivered properly, acupuncture can cause serious adverse effects, including infections and punctured organs. (Read about "Microorganisms")
The use of acupuncture, like the use of many other complementary or alternative medicine (CAM) treatments, has produced a good deal of anecdotal evidence. Much of this evidence comes from people who report their own successful use of the treatment. If a treatment appears to be safe and patients report recovery from their illness or condition after using it, others may decide to use the treatment. However, scientific research may not support the anecdotal reports.
The practice of Reiki is an energy-based healing therapy within the realm of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). This spiritual healing art has been practiced in the Far East for thousands of years and is now gaining popularity in the West.
Though spiritual in nature, Reiki is not a religion, nor is it based on any particular belief or faith. It falls in the category of putative energy medicine, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). Healing remedies involving putative energy fields (also called biofields) are rooted in the concept that all living things are infused with vital life force energy. Though this energy cannot yet be measured by conventional means, therapists in the field say they can see and work with the energy to aid in healing, according to NCCAM.
Practitioners believe that when the flow of the life force energy is disrupted or restricted, a person is more vulnerable to illness, according to NCCAM. The practice of Reiki purports to aid in healing by restoring the proper flow of the life force and enhancing the body's ability to heal itself.
"Rei" is from the Japanese for "universal." However, when used in the term Reiki, it has the deeper meaning of supernatural knowledge or spiritual consciousness, according to the International Center for Reiki Training (ICRT). "Ki" refers to the vital life force energy. Therefore, its practitioners define the term Reiki, as "spiritually guided life force energy." Reiki therapists claim that although they transmit the energy to the patient, they do not guide it; it guides itself. This is what makes Reiki different from other putative energy healing, according to ICRT - it involves this special type of self-guided life force that can only be channeled by someone who has been attuned to it by a Reiki master.
During a Reiki session, healing energy is transmitted by the practitioner through the hands. While the Reiki practitioner uses specific hand positions, it is not a massage. The client is fully clothed and either lying down or seated comfortably. Practitioners say the session is pleasant and relaxing - it reduces stress (Read about "Stress") and by tapping into the life force energy, it helps the body improve health on all levels - physical, mental and emotional. ICRT does recommend, however, that if a patient has a specific health condition and wants to be treated with Reiki that he/she does so under the supervision of a doctor or other health care professional.
Reiki practitioners say the therapy can help treat a wide range of health problems from allergies to chronic pain. (Read about "Allergies" "Chronic Pain") NCCAM says while there is impressive anecdotal evidence of its benefits, there has been little research or scientific proof of its effectiveness.
Healing Touch is another therapy using putative (biofield) energy. This concept uses gentle, non-invasive touch to influence the human energy system, specifically the energy within and surrounding the body. As with Reiki, it is believed that illness results from disturbances in the body's energies. The goal of Healing Touch is to support the self-healing process by clearing and restoring balance to the body's energy system, according to Healing Touch International, (HTI).
Like Reiki, Healing Touch helps promote relaxation and reduce stress (Read about "Stress") to help the body heal itself. Also, the sessions are similar in that clients lie comfortably, fully clothed, while the practitioner moves his/her hands around the body, sometimes using light touch if the client is comfortable with it.
Healing Touch differs from Reiki in that the energy is not believed to be self-guided. Also, practitioners consider themselves and their clients to be equal partners, coming together in the healing process. In fact, Healing Touch practitioners refer to it as "compassionate, heart-centered care" and refer to a "heart-centered caring relationship" between themselves and their clients, according to HTI.
A few small studies suggest healing touch has some effectiveness in helping to reduce pain and manage stress. However, NCCAM says there has been little serious scientific study. Healing Touch practitioners say the therapy complements conventional health care and that, in combination with traditional medicine, can be part of an effective overall health care program.
Your mind, thoughts, feeling and your body are more than connected. They are one. Mind-body medicine focuses on the interaction between mind and body and the ways in which emotional, mental, social, spiritual and behavioral factors can affect health.
Much of mind/body medicine is designed as self-care. Some of the most commonly used mind/body techniques are:
Studies have shown that the body produces chemicals in response to thoughts. We have all heard of the flight or fight reaction. That is when our body produces chemicals in reaction to a scare or dangerous situation. Sometimes our bodies don't turn those chemicals off and that can result in illness. Mind body medicine seeks to use the healing powers of the body to bear on certain physical problems by bringing the body into balance.
Meditation uses concentration and focusing of the conscious mind to bring about mental tranquility and physical relaxation. This quiet contemplation has been used for thousands of years in different cultures and meditation is an element of many of the world's religions. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), meditation is a relaxation method approved by a National Institutes of Health (NIH) independent panel. Meditation involves concentrating the mind on a neutral or meaningful focus such as a word, an image, an object or your breathing. This is reported to bring about mental tranquility and physical relaxation.
The National Women's Health Information Center (NWHIC) describes a simple mediation technique:
There are many forms of meditation. Two of the best-researched approaches are:
Other types of meditation focus attention by walking or visualizing.
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) reports that meditation may help reduce chronic pain, anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure, cholesterol and substance abuse. (Read about "Chronic Pain" "Anxiety" "Sleep" "Hypertension: High Blood Pressure" "Cholesterol" "Addiction") However, the ACS reports, although rare, some people who try meditation may experience slight anxiety or disorientation.
Biofeedback is a technique in which people are trained to improve their health by learning to control certain internal bodily processes that normally occur involuntarily, such as heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension and skin temperature. The Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB) describes the process of biofeedback as a way of providing the patient with information about how their body changes in association to thoughts, ideas and images in the mind. In a normal biofeedback session, electrodes are attached to the skin. The sensors feed information to a monitoring box such as a computer screen. These measurements of physiological changes are given back to the patient. According to the National Cancer Institute, the types of biological information that is fed back to the patient may include muscle tension, heart rate and blood pressure. The measure of brain waves may also be used. As the information is gathered, a therapist, coach or patient themselves can employ a variety of relaxation instructions such as calming thoughts, soothing images and encouraging words. The patient can watch the computer monitor showing increases and decreases in tension or temperature. One aspect of biofeedback training is that the individual can actually watch objective and measurable changes in their own physiology that are a result of thoughts, feelings and ideas.
The AAPB lists several disorders that may be helped by biofeedback techniques. Some of these include:
The agency also says biofeedback has been used in areas of pain control including:
The National Cancer Institute also lists biofeedback as a method to control pain.
Yoga is a philosophy teaching that the mind, body and spirit are united as one. According to the American Yoga Association (AYA), classical techniques of yoga date back more than five thousand years. Yoga aims to attain the unity of mind, body and spirit though three main Yoga structures:
All these forms of yoga should be thought of as a process rather than a type of exercises. In yoga, the focus is on specific postures and exercises and how you feel while you are doing them. AYA says regular daily practice of all three parts of the yoga structure produce a clear mind and a strong body. AYA says those who practice yoga may receive these benefits:
There are many types or "paths" of yoga. Some of the more common are:
AYA says yoga is suitable for most adults of any age or physical condition but the agency does caution against practicing yoga during pregnancy and does not recommend yoga exercises for children under 16. The agency also advises the best way to get started in Yoga is to find a qualified instructor. Also, check with your healthcare provider before undertaking any physical exercise regime.
Hypnosis, which is sometimes referred to as hypnotherapy or hypnotic suggestion, is an altered state of consciousness. Hypnosis is not a form of sleep, but instead a trance or trance-like state. This state of consciousness is generally artificially induced and is different from everyday awareness. According to the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH) when you're under hypnosis:
ASCH says the purpose of hypnosis as a therapeutic technique is to help a patient understand and gain more control over behavior, emotions or physical well-being. The agency says in clinical hypnosis a trained therapist makes suggestions designed to help a patient formulate feelings, memory or images that could lead to agreed upon outcomes. ASCH lists several areas where hypnosis may be effective.
There are many myths and misunderstandings about hypnosis. The ASCH reports people often fear being hypnotized will make them lose control, have amnesia or surrender their will, but this is often not the case. Hypnosis is not something imposed on people, but something they do for themselves. The agency recommends anyone considering hypnosis be careful, selective and choose only licensed health care professionals trained in hypnotherapy.
There are also CAM therapies that do not fall easily under any of the above categories. Aromatherapy is one of those. Aromatherapy is the therapeutic use of essential oils from plants (flowers, herbs or trees) for the improvement of physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.
Essential oils are volatile liquid substances extracted from aromatic plant material by steam distillation or mechanical expression; oils produced with the aid of chemical solvents are not considered true essential oils. Essential oils are available in the United States for inhalation and topical treatment. Topical treatments are generally used in diluted forms. Aromatherapy is not widely administered via ingestion.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) says that aromatherapy can be used to improve the quality of life of cancer patients. The American Cancer Society (ACS) says there is some evidence that aromatherapy may help patients deal with the pain, depression and stress. (Read about "Stress") NCI says it may also help produce a feeling of well-being. Researchers have investigated aromatherapy primarily in the treatment of stress and anxiety in patients with critical illnesses, according to NCI.
There have been many studies done on the effects of odors on the human brain and emotions. (Read about "The Brain") Some studies performed by the aromatherapy community have tested the effects of essential oils on mood, alertness and mental stress in healthy subjects, according to NCI. Other studies investigated the effects of various (usually synthetic) odors on task performance, reaction time or evaluated the direct effects of odors on the brain. Such studies have consistently shown that odors can produce specific effects and that odors can influence mood, perceived health and arousal. These studies suggest that odors may have therapeutic applications in the context of stressful and negative psychological conditions.
Both NCI and ACS say that aromatherapy is not a way to cure cancer or any other disease.
All Concept Communications material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.
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