Complementary or alternative medicine can be classified into five major categories of practice:
The category names only partially describe their components. Some approaches are understandable within the concepts of modern science, whereas other approaches are not. Many types overlap with others.
(See also Overview of Integrative, Complementary, and Alternative Medicine Overview of Integrative, Complementary, and Alternative Medicine Integrative medicine and health (IMH) and complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) include a variety of healing approaches and therapies that historically have not been included in conventional... read more .)
Whole Medical Systems
Whole medical systems are complete systems that include a defined philosophy and explanation of disease, diagnosis, and therapy. They include the following:
Mind-body techniques are based on the theory that mental and emotional factors can influence physical health. Behavioral, psychologic, social, and spiritual methods are used to preserve health and prevent or cure disease.
Because of the abundance of scientific evidence backing the benefits of mind-body techniques, many of the approaches are now considered mainstream. For example, the following techniques are used in the treatment of chronic pain, coronary artery disease, headaches, insomnia, and menopausal symptoms, and as aids during childbirth:
These techniques are also used to help people cope with disease-related and treatment-related symptoms of cancer and to prepare them for surgery.
Biologically Based Therapies
Biologically based therapies use naturally occurring substances to affect health. These practices include the following:
Natural products and supplements
Manipulative and Body-Based Practices
Manipulative and body-based therapies treat various conditions through bodily manipulation. These therapies include
These therapies are based on the belief that the body can regulate and heal itself and that its parts are interdependent. Acupuncture Acupuncture Acupuncture, a therapy within traditional Chinese medicine, is one of the most widely accepted CAM therapies in the Western world. Licensed practitioners do not necessarily have a medical degree... read more is also sometimes considered a manipulative therapy.
Some of these therapies (cupping, scraping, and moxibustion) result in lesions that may be mistaken for signs of trauma or abuse. These therapies are thought to stimulate the body’s energy and to enable toxins to leave the body. However, very little high quality research has measured how effective they are.
Energy therapies focus on the energy fields thought to exist in and around the body (biofields). These therapies also encompass the use of external energy sources (electromagnetic fields) to influence health and healing. Energy therapies are based on a core belief in the existence of a universal life force or subtle energy that resides in and around the body (vitalism). Limited scientific evidence supports the existence of such a universal life force, which is inherently hard to measure.
Energy therapies include the following:
Qi gong and Tai chi—components of traditional Chinese medicine Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Originating in China several millennia ago, traditional Chinese medicine is based on the theory that illness results from the imbalance of the life force (qi, pronounced chee) through the body... read more using gentle postures, mindful movement, and the breath to bring the person’s energy into better balance
Practitioners of energy therapies typically place their hands on or near the body and use their energy to affect the energy field of the person.