The search for health includes many beliefs and practices that are outside conventional medicine. Physicians are important sources for information and guidance about health matters, but our patients also rely on a wide range of other sources including family and friends, cultural traditions, alternative practitioners, and increasingly the Internet, popular media, and advertising. It is essential for physicians to understand what patients are doing to seek health, as this understanding is important to harness potential benefits and to help patients avoid harm.
The phrase complementary and alternative medicine is used to describe a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that have historic origins outside mainstream medicine. Most of these practices are used together with conventional therapies and therefore have been called complementary to distinguish them from alternative practices, those used as a substitute for standard care. Use of dietary supplements; mind-body practices such as acupuncture, massage, meditation, and hypnosis; and care from a traditional healer all fall under this umbrella. Brief definitions for some of the common complementary and alternative health practices are provided in Table 14e-1. Although some complementary health practices are implemented by a complementary health care provider such as a chiropractor, acupuncturist, or naturopathic practitioner, or by a physician, many of these practices are undertaken as “self-care.” Most are paid for out of pocket.
TABLE 14e-1Terminology of Complementary and Alternative Medical Practices |Favorite Table|Download (.pdf) TABLE 14e-1Terminology of Complementary and Alternative Medical Practices
|Mind-Body Practices |
|Acupuncture and acupressure ||A family of procedures involving stimulation of defined anatomic points, a component of the major Asian medical traditions; most common application involves the insertion and manipulation of thin metallic needles |
|Alexander technique ||A movement therapy that uses guidance and education to improve posture, movement, and efficient use of muscles for improvement of overall body functioning |
|Guided imagery ||The use of relaxation techniques followed by the visualization of images, usually calm and peaceful in nature, to invoke specific images to alter neurologic function or physiologic states |
|Hypnosis ||The induction of an altered state of consciousness characterized by increased responsiveness to suggestion |
|Massage ||Manual therapies that manipulate muscle and connective tissues to promote muscle relaxation, healing, and sense of well-being |
|Meditation ||A group of practices, largely based in Eastern spiritual traditions, intended to focus or control attention and obtain greater awareness of the present moment, or mindfulness |
|Reflexology ||Manual stimulation of points on hands or feet that are believed to affect organ function |
|Rolfing/structural integration ||A manual therapy that attempts to realign the body by deep tissue manipulation of fascia |
|Spinal manipulation ||A range of manual techniques, employed by chiropractors and osteopaths, for adjustments of the spine to affect neuromuscular function and other health outcomes |
|Tai chi ||A mind-body practice originating in China that involves slow, gentle movements and sometimes is described as “moving ...|