Alternative Medicine Complementary Medicine

Alternative medicine and complementary medicine what is the difference?

Alternative medicine and complementary medicine are two terms that people often use to describe non-conventional treatments and healthcare systems.

A commonly asked question is what, if any, is the difference between the two. In a nutshell, alternative medicine is used instead of traditional treatment and practices and complementary medicine is used alongside conventional medicine. To fully understand and appreciate both, let’s look at each individual term and what it means.

What is alternative medicine and complementary medicine?

What is alternative medicine?
As mentioned above, alternative medicine is a form of therapy that differs from traditional and conventional medical practices and treatments that we commonly use. Alternative medicine actually refers to medical systems such as Ayurvedic medicine and acupuncture but has expanded to include other therapies that are also termed as ‘complementary’. Alternative medicine is growing in popularity as people seek out natural ways to treat physical, mental and emotional problems. Certain forms of alternative medicine have become so popular and effective they’ve achieved professional validation and are now seen by many as being traditional therapies. Two such alternative therapies are chiropractic and osteopathy, both of which are commonly covered by medical insurances whereas other alternative medicine treatments are not.

Other alternative medicine practices that are growing in popularity include massage, therapeutic touch (such as reiki and shiatsu) and ayurvedic medicine, all of which are non-western alternatives. Herbal remedies (Chinese Herbal Medicine), homeopathy, naturopathy and energy therapies such as Polarity therapy are all forms of alternative medicine. Alternative medicine has become a popular choice for treating chronic conditions such as back pain and migraines as well as helping to treat cancer patients and the terminally ill.

What is complementary medicine?
Complementary medicine uses natural therapies that have a rich history dating back many centuries. Complementary medicine assists the body to heal by alleviating symptoms of injury or disease. Instead of identifying viruses or bacteria as the cause, complementary therapists examine the physical and chemical reaction that takes place when the body defends itself against disease or injury. Complementary medicine works to allow the body’s own healing mechanism to function properly and overcome the problem. Complementary medicine is commonly used for infections, colds/flu, skin problems, headaches and muscle/ligament strains and sprains. Chronic conditions such as arthritis, cardiovascular disease, depression and musculo-skeletal pain are also treated with complementary medicine.

Complementary medicine aims to improve overall physical and mental well-being through good nutrition, mobility and emotional growth. Popular complementary medicine therapies include remedial massage, hypnotherapy and naturopathy that work alongside conventional treatments.

Common aspects of alternative and complementary medicine

Alternative medicine and complementary medicine perform similar roles in western healthcare practice with alternative now referred to as complementary in everyday parlance. As such, the majority of non-conventional treatments now typically come under the banner of ‘alternative and complementary medicine’. The important aspect to both alternative medicine and complementary medicine is that they both aim to treat the body holistically. Alternative and complementary healthcare practitioners will examine the body as a whole looking at lifestyle, diet, environment, medical history and emotional and mental well-being.

Alternative and complementary medicine has treated millions of people for thousands of years. Where once people would travel to the Far East for treatments, alternative and complementary therapies now have worldwide acceptance and availability. Alternative and complementary medicine has a growing recognition from many professional healthcare organisations for their effectiveness in treating a variety of conditions.

Article Submitted By:
Daniel Alexander, GoToSee Journalist

Date Published:


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