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Complementary Medicine

Choosing the Right Therapy for You

Acupuncture - Bodywork - Chiropractic Treatment - Healing - Herbal Medicine - Homeopathy - Massage Therapy - Naturopathy - Tai Chi and Qi Gong - Yoga

There are many types of complementary medicine. Choosing between different treatments can be confusing. This section describes several of the most popular alternatives. You can use this section to help you decide which of these treatments (if any) is most likely to help you.


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The main idea behind acupuncture is that there is energy called qi or chi (pronounced "chee") flowing throughout your body. Your chi flows along energy pathways called meridians. If the flow of chi is blocked or unbalanced at any point on a meridian, you may become ill. The aim of acupuncture is to unblock and balance the flow of chi to restore health.

Acupuncture is done by stimulating particular points along meridians that relate to the symptoms you are having. This is usually done by sticking very thin needles through your skin, but some practitioners use heat, pressure, or a mild electrical shock to stimulate the meridians.

Acupuncture is one of the most tested alternative medicine treatments. Several studies have shown that acupuncture works to control pain and nausea, helps people manage asthma, and may help people with addiction problems.


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There are several kinds of bodywork practised throughout the world. Some of the most common are the Alexander Technique, the Feldenkrais Method, and Trager Psychophysical Integration. The idea behind all of these treatments is that people learn or are forced (by injury or stress) into a way of moving or holding their bodies that is not natural. This unnatural movement or posture changes the natural alignment of bones and organs. Having bones and organs out of alignment causes discomfort and may contribute to health problems.

Bodywork teaches you to become aware of your posture and patterns of movement. The goal is to develop more natural body positioning, which over time may reduce stress and ease pain.

There has not been much scientific testing of bodywork. A few studies have suggested good results in people with arthritis, stress, low back pain, and children with cerebral palsy.

Chiropractic Treatment

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The primary aim of chiropractic therapy is to help the body heal itself by correcting misalignments of the joints, particularly the bones of the spine (vertebrae).

Chiropractic treatments usually involve having a chiropractor twist, pull, or push your body to realign your joints and the bones in your spine. Some chiropractors use heating pads or electrical stimulation to help loosen a joint before adjusting it.

Many studies show that chiropractic treatments can be helpful in the treatment of back, neck, and shoulder pain.


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Healing is sometimes referred to as spiritual healing, faith healing, or therapeutic touch. Faith healing is a part of some religions. Spiritual healing is more widespread and may or may not have anything to do with religion. Nurses often use therapeutic touch in conventional medical settings to help heal and comfort their patients.

Like many other complementary approaches, healing starts with the idea that people are naturally healthy. The way people live and think may disturb their natural health energy, and they become ill. The aim of healing is to focus healing energy from a divine or spiritual entity to the person who is sick. The methods of healing include prayer or meditation, channeling of healing energy through a healer, or transfer of healing energy through the laying on of hands.

There has been almost no research on this type of healing. Some people have begun to study the power of prayer. If you give up on conventional medicine when it has the possibility of good outcomes and only use healing, you may be putting your health in danger. It is important not to turn away from other treatments that may be effective. Healing can always be used along with more conventional treatments.

Herbal Medicine

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Herbal medicine uses plants as medicines to keep people healthy and cure illness. Herbal medicine has been around for thousands of years. Many conventional medicines are based on herbal medicines. For example, willow bark tea was used for centuries to control fever. Drug companies learned to copy the chemical makeup of willow bark to produce aspirin.

Herbal medicines can do all of the same things that conventional drugs can do. They may prevent illness. They may cure infection. They may soothe a fever or help wounds heal. They may keep you regular or ease your pain. They may calm you down or perk you up.

There have been thousands of studies on the effects of herbs. Most of the research has been done in Europe and China, and herbal medicine is widely practised in those countries. In North America, the analysis of this research began fairly recently, and many new studies are underway.

Be sure to tell your doctor about any herbs or natural supplements you are taking. Pregnant and breast- feeding women and people with serious health problems should not use any herbal medicines or natural supplements without consulting their doctor. Like conventional medications, herbal and natural supplements can occasionally cause allergic reactions or other side effects. If this occurs, stop using the herb or supplement and notify your doctor.


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Homeopathy, like other alternative treatments, is based on the idea that the body has the ability to heal itself. Sometimes the body needs to be stimulated to start the healing process. In homeopathy, a treatment is chosen because it can cause health problems just like the one that is troubling you. The treatment is given in such a small amount that it does not cause the problem but stimulates your body to heal the problem.

Homeopathy is used to treat allergies, atopic dermatitis, rheumatoid arthritis, and irritable bowel syndrome. Homeopathy is widely used in Europe and England, and a lot of research done in those countries shows that homeopathy works. No one really understands why it works.

Massage Therapy

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Massage therapy is based on the idea that touch is healing. There are many different types of massage therapy. Some are very gentle, while some are very active and intense. Some methods use the same ideas as acupuncture: the massage therapist will press on or stroke points on the body where energy is blocked.

Massage therapy has been and continues to be widely studied. Many studies have shown that massage therapy decreases stress and helps control pain. Health problems that are caused by or made worse by stress (such as depression and inflammatory bowel disease) may also improve with massage treatment.

Current research is focusing on the effects of massage in treating conditions such as asthma, diabetes, skin disorders, high blood pressure, behavioural problems, eating disorders, and fibromyalgia.


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Naturopathy blends conventional medicine with complementary medicine. Schools of naturopathy teach anatomy, cell biology, pharmacology, and other sciences studied in conventional medical schools. They also teach herbal medicine, acupuncture, and bodywork. The aim of naturopathy is to help you become and stay well, which is the natural state of your body.

Naturopathic medicine is a whole system of medicine, so it is used to treat all kinds of health problems. It is used most often to treat everyday illnesses, like colds and flu, and chronic illnesses such as asthma, fibromyalgia, high blood pressure, depression, and back pain.

Two of the biggest concerns about naturopathic medicine are the use of fasting and the approach to immunization.

Fasting can be dangerous, especially if you have a disease like diabetes. Fasting puts your body under stress. Talk with your conventional doctor before you try fasting. If you start to feel sick while fasting, break your fast with small amounts of fruit or juice and then return to your normal diet.

Some naturopaths believe that immunization is not important. This belief can be very dangerous. Childhood illnesses used to cause large

numbers of deaths and long-term health problems. Talk with your conventional doctor before deciding against immunization.

Tai Chi and Qi Gong

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Tai chi and qi gong (pronounced "chee-gung") are traditional Chinese exercise forms. They are based on the idea that through gentle, repeated movements, deep concentration, and focused breathing, people can increase and improve the flow of their energy (chi or qi) and improve their health.

Tai chi is a series of movements done in a rhythmic pattern. Qi gong is a lot of different movements that can be done in any order. Qi gong is useful to know because you can do it anywhere, anytime, even if you are unable to sit up or stand. Some common qi gong movements include raising and lowering your arms, moving your head from side to side, and rubbing your ears, feet, and hands.

Both tai chi and qi gong are very gentle and can be done by people of all ages. Their primary benefits are improved muscle strength, balance, and coordination. They increase stamina, lower blood pressure, and relieve stress. These exercise forms are excellent for older adults because they improve coordination and flexibility, and they do not harm the joints. Possible strains and sprains are their only harmful side effect.

A variation of qi gong , called external qi gong , is a form of healing in which one person (a qi gong master) projects his or her energy to another person. If you seek out a practitioner of external qi gong to treat a serious illness, be sure to talk to your conventional doctor first. Don't give up on your conventional medicine. It may be a good idea to combine conventional medicine and qi gong .


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Yoga is an ancient health practice that focuses on the mind-body connection. As it is typically practised in the West, yoga consists of a variety of movements, postures, and breathing techniques that work together to maintain physical and mental health.

Most people who try yoga find that it helps them become more flexible and less stressed. Many repeated studies have shown that yoga helps lower blood pressure and improves a person's sense of well-being. Research has also shown that yoga can be an effective complementary treatment for asthma, heart disease, migraine headaches, arthritis, back and neck pain, diabetes, and cancer.

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