10 Complementary Medicines And Alternative Therapies Explained (Your Ultimate Guide)

Complementary medicines and alternative therapies are becoming increasingly popular as more and more of us start to look for natural ways to improve our health and well-being. In this post, we explore what exactly complementary medicines and alternative therapies are, how they differ from traditional medicine, and the potential benefits they can provide.

We also discuss the definition of complementary therapies and alternative medicines, as well as some of the most common types of treatments available. Finally, we will explore some of the potential risks associated with these therapies. By the end of this post, you should have a better understanding of complementary medicines and alternative therapies so that you can make informed decisions about your own health care.

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10 Complementary Medicines Increasingly Popular.

Complementary medicines are an increasingly popular choice for many.  In fact, there are many mainstream healthcare facilities, or allopathic centers, that offer, and now recommend, a range of alternative therapies as part of their holistic therapy plans.

For example, many cancer patients who receive chemotherapy are now encouraged to include acupuncture as an additional treatment. The addition of acupuncture has been shown to help in the management of chemotherapy side effects such as nausea and vomiting.

complementary medicines - acupressure

Number 1 Is Acupressure

Acupressure is often a first choice for those seeking complementary medicines or alternative therapy. It is similar to acupuncture however is an easier, and often preferred option, as it is done without the use of needles.

In Traditional Chinese medicine, there are specific acupoints known as acupressure points that are located along meridians or energy channels within the body. These meridians and acupoints are the same ones targeted during acupressure treatments. According to this theory, your vital energy called qi (ch’i) flows through these invisible channels, which connect the 12 major meridians to specific organs or groups of organs. These meridians originate at the fingertips, travel to the brain, and then link to an organ that is related to a particular meridian.

Acupressure therapists use their fingers, palms, elbows, or feet, along with specialized tools, to exert pressure on specific acupoints situated along your body’s meridians. Besides pressure application, acupressure may also encompass stretching, massage, and other pulling or flexing techniques. When you attend an acupressure treatment, you remain fully clothed and lay on a massage table. During the time your therapist applies gentle pressure on the acupoints. A usual session lasts about one hour, and optimal results may require multiple sessions.

“The theory,” says Annie Stuart from WebMD, “is that when one of these meridians is blocked or out of balance, illness can occur.” The Acupressure therapy is thought to release and clear the energy blockages within your meridians and enables the Qi (body’s energy) to flow freely again.  This is how you can restore wellness.


Number 2 is Acupuncture.

Acupuncture, the second of our complementary medicines, usually brings needles to mind. In fact, the term Acupuncture, actually describes an array of different procedures that stimulate specific points within the body.

Acupuncturists hold the belief that the human body features over 2,000 acupuncture points interconnected by the meridians. Targeting specific points along these meridians with acupuncture is thought to enhance the circulation of blocked or stagnant qi. By unblocking these meridians, acupuncture, like acupressure, helps to restore the flow of qi and promote better health.

Acupuncture involves inserting fine needles into specific points along meridians on the skin, which are then stimulated either manually by the practitioner or through electrical means. Research has demonstrated the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating the following conditions.

  • Addiction
  • Asthma
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Headaches
  • Lower back pain
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Myofascial pain
  • Nausea following anesthesia or chemotherapy
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Post surgery dental pain
  • Tennis elbow

Acupuncture is extremely popular. It is practiced globally and used by millions of Americans each year. Most states recognize Acupuncture as a therapy in its own right, and many doctors train as acupuncturists. The Johns Hopkins Integrative Medicine and Digestive Center offers acupuncture and other Chinese medicine treatments.

complementary medicines - reflexology

Number 3 – Reflexology (Meridian Alternative Therapies).

Reflexology is similar to acupressure and acupuncture as it involves applying pressure to specific areas of the body.

Reflexology is an alternative therapy and its principles for healing are similar to both acupressure and acupuncture. “Reflexology is a systematic practice” says Nurul Haswani Embong in her research paper Revisiting reflexology: Concept, evidence, current practice, and practitioner training. She goes on to say “Applying pressure to particular points on the feet and hands has impact on the health of related parts of the body.”

It is often used to relieve pain and tension. It is a non-invasive treatment that can be used to treat a wide range of ailments including headaches, migraines, anxiety, insomnia and other stress-related conditions.

Reflexology is a holistic healing method that operates on the belief that specific reflex points on the feet, hands, and ears correspond to various parts of the body. Through gentle pressure on these points, you are able to reduce stress, tension, and pain, while enhancing well-being and recovery. The key principle is that when you apply pressure to the reflex points, which are part of the meridian system, it supports health by restoring the energy flow to optimal conditions.

Reflexologist also believe that the body possesses its own innate healing mechanisms. By stimulating these points, your nervous system is activated and releases endorphins, which act as natural pain relievers. Millions of people worldwide use Reflexology to complement conventional treatments for anxiety, cancer, diabetes, kidney function, and asthma. Some studies have found that reflexology also improves respiratory function, reduces fatigue, and improves sleep.


Number 4: Ayurveda – Holistic Medicine

Ayurveda is an ancient system of holistic medicine that originated in India over 5,000 years ago. It is based on the belief that all living things are interconnected and that health and wellbeing depend on a balanced state of mind, body, and spirit.

Ayurvedic medicine is based on prevention rather than cure. It advocates for maintaining health through achieving balance in various aspects of life, such as your thinking, having a proper diet, making healthy lifestyle choices, and the incorporating herbal remedies. Understanding Ayurveda helps you to achieve a harmonious state of body, mind, and consciousness according to your unique constitution. It provides insights on how you can make lifestyle adjustments to establish and maintain this balance

“Just as everyone has a unique fingerprint,” says Vasant Lad of the Ayurvedic Institute, “each person has a particular pattern of energy—an individual combination of physical, mental and emotional characteristics—which comprises their own constitution.” This constitution stems from the Ayurvedic principle of three basic types of energy or functional principles that are present in everyone and everything. These three energies are Vata, Pitta and Kapha and your balance of each energy determines your individual dosha (or constitution).

Ayurveda has been used to treat a wide range of conditions from chronic diseases to everyday ailments like headaches and colds. The ayurvedic range of treatments, include panchakarma (‘five actions’), yoga, massage, acupuncture and herbal medicine, to encourage health and wellbeing. You can find out your individual Ayurvedic dosha and what it means by taking our Dosha Quiz.


Number 5 Is Chiropractic Medicine.

Chiropractic medicine is now widely accepted within the medical community. The practice focuses on treating disorders of the musculoskeletal and nervous systems. This includes the relief from physical pain in the back, neck, joints, arms, legs, and head. Portland Wellness Care state “Chiropractic’s sole goal is to find and eliminate subluxations [ a partial dislocation] so that adequate nerve flow can be restored.”

One of a Chiropractors main techniques is “spinal manipulation”, technically known as “an adjustment”.  This involves applying controlled force (using the hands), to joints that have become “hypomobile”. The principles and beliefs on Chiropractic Medicine is that our joints’ movements become restricted when surrounding tissues are injured, either during a single event or through repetitive stress.

Chiropractic adjustments are used to restore the joints mobility by loosening the muscles and surrounding tissues. Then allowing these tissues to heal. This is said to be what enables pain to be relieved. Studies of chiropractic medicine affirms it use as one of the best alternative therapies, with research suggesting it as highly effective for decreasing pain and improving physical functioning.

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The next 5 holistic medicine therapies may not be as well known but are growing hugely in popularity.


Number 6 Is Aromatherapy.

Aromatherapy uses essential oils. Essential Oils are the concentrated extracts from the roots, leaves, seeds, or blossoms of plants. It is believed that these oils promote healing. Aromatherapists use a combination of three different methods in treatments -Absorption where the oil is applied to the skin, inhalation, where the oils are inhaled and ingestion where the oils are consumed.

By far the most well known and used of these technique is inhalation. “Due to their volatile ability,” says Amira Ahmed Kamal El-din El-Anssary, Associate Professor of the Department of Pharmacognos, National Research Center of Egypt, “they can be inhaled easily through the upper respiratory tract and enter the lungs, by which it can be spread to the blood stream.”

Each oil has a specific purpose. Some, like Teatree oil, have antibacterial, antifungal, antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties. This speeds up wound healing and targets inflammation, irritation, and bacteria so are used to treat inflammation or infections. Other oils such as Chamomile, contain emollient properties that nourish the skin and can help soothe burns by reducing inflammation and pain. And some like the Bergamot essential oil have antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties, and its use in aromatherapy can relieve stress and anxiety.


Number 7 is Balneotherapy.

Balneotherapy, sometimes mistaken for Hydrotherapy, involves the use of water for therapeutic purposes. The difference between the two comes down to the water itself. Hydrotherapy is a therapy that uses water to support healing. Any water. The therapy uses the water as a counter balance to weight, think water aerobics.

Balneotherapy uses specific water, or the minerals within the water, as the mechanism for healing and therapy. Nikolai Khaltaev, of the Global Alliance against Chronic Respiratory Diseases, in Geneva, explains Balneotherapy as the “appropriate therapeutic use of mineral waters specific in terms of chemical composition, physical properties and microbiome (the genetic material of all the microbes—bacteria, fungi, protozoa and viruses-that live on and inside the human body).”

The practice of Balneotherapy dates as far back as 1700 B.C.E. It was a set of water-based treatments, typically using natural hot springs, mud, mineral water or sea water to promote relaxation, and to reduce pain, muscle and joint soreness. It is also used to improve circulation, stimulate the immune system and revitalize the body.

Today you will find it a common therapy at exclusive spa centers. It is used to treat a range of conditions, from acne, to pain, as well as swelling, and anxiety. Practitioners use mudpacks, douches, and wraps that have been soaked in the water to reap its healing rewards.


Number 8 is Homeopathy.

Homeopathy is believed to function in a similar way as a vaccine. “It’s based on the principle of treating like with like,” says Laura Newcomer of the Washington Post, “meaning a substance that causes adverse reactions when taken in large doses can be used — in small amounts — to treat those same symptoms.”

This concept of “like with like” is sometimes used in conventional medicine, as well. For example, Ritalin is a stimulant, and is used to treat patients with ADHD. As we know ADHD is characterized by hyperactivity. But for those with ADHD the stimulant has the opposite effect and lowers their hyperactivity.

Homeopaths gather extensive background information on patients, looking at all aspects of life. A fundamental belief of Homeopathy is the treatment of the whole person, not just the set of symptoms that are presenting. The homeopath treats a person by prescribing liquid drops or sugar based pellets that contain highly diluted substances from nature, such as onion, yellow jasmine, eyebright and even deadly nightshade.

These formulations are said to jump start the body’s natural systems of healing and bring it back into balance. There is clinical evidence that homeopathy is effective however more research is needed to determine each of the treatments effectiveness. You can read more about the use of homeopathic medicine here.


Number 9 is Naturopathy.

Naturopathic medicine is based on the healing powers of nature.

Naturopathic doctors are trained in conventional allopathic medicine as well as various forms of complementary and alternative medicines.

They seek to understand the cause of a condition, by exploring its mental, physical, and spiritual manifestations in a patient.

Naturopathy typically involves a variety of treatment techniques, including nutrition, behavioral changes, herbal medicine, homeopathy, and acupuncture.


Number 10 is Reiki Energy Healing.

Reiki is a form of energy healing. It is based on the idea that a “universal life force” flows through our body.

According to this philosophy, sickness and stress are indications that our life force energy is out of balance, stagnant or low.

Similarly for those who have high levels of energy, good health, and happiness this would signify having a well balanced and strong life force.

In a Reiki session, the practitioner acts as a conduit for the “universal life force”.

This energy is drawn through the practitioner and into the client. They do this by the placement of their hands on the client’s body, (or a slight distance away).

Reiki can also be performed long-distance.

The purpose of Reiki is to promote relaxation, speed up the healing process, reduce pain, and generally improve the client’s well being.

If you have used any of these complementary medicines and alternative therapies, or you know of others, please do share and leave a comment below. And if you are wanting more then why not check out our post on Qigong and its health benefits.

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10 complementary medicines and alternative therapies explained (your ultimate guide)

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Educator and International Leadership Consultant with over 20 years experience, and still loving it! Qualified and Licensed Reiki Master Teacher, Hypnotherapist and Chakra Energy Health Body Worker. A traveler, a foodie and a knowledge seeker with a passion for all things healthy, herbal and energy holistic!

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