Between a quarter to half of the population in developed countries are using complementary or alternative therapies at a cost of nearly $30 billion in the United States alone. Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) spans many broad categories such as culturally based systems of medicine, other systems of medicine such as chiropractic and homeopathy, and individual practices such as massage and meditation.
Acupuncture has ancient roots, but remains one of the most well-researched of practices. Originating in the late eighteenth century as the brainchild of mainly one man, Samuel Hahnemann, homeopathy is based on unique concepts of the energetic properties of matter and the paradoxical idea that potency increases as dilution increases. It is widely practiced in Europe, India, and Asia.
Based on the premise that spinal misalignment contributes to disease, chiropractic has often been at odds with conventional medicine. It has nevertheless gained legitimacy with recognized licensing and widespread use.
Botanical therapies may be the oldest alternative medical practice. It is part of many world systems of medicine. Efforts to classify herbs for their safety and efficacy are ongoing.
Mindful CAM therapies include relaxation breathing, meditation, mindfulness-based stress reduction, self-hypnosis, guided imagery, autogenic training, and progressive muscle relaxation. Therapeutic touch, healing touch, Reiki, Qi Gong, and shamanic healing are all examples of energy healing therapies. These therapies are based on the construct that energy flow can be manipulated by practitioners and brought into balance to induce healing and pain relief.
Helping patients choose CAM therapies should take into consideration the individual and the goals of therapy.
Unproven herbs or supplements should be avoided in the pregnant patient.
Active self-care therapies should be emphasized in the passive patient who needs physical rehabilitation. Integrating CAM with needed conventional care is critical for the patient with complex medical problems.
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