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Pain treatment: Complementary and alternative medicine

Complementary and alternative medicine includes medical systems, practices and products that are not considered part of conventional or traditional medicine. Many of these therapies have a holistic approach to care, which means they treat the body, mind and spirit.

Complementary medicine is used together with conventional medicine. For instance, acupuncture may be used together with analgesic medication to help relieve the pain of rheumatoid arthritis.

Alternative medicine is used in place of conventional medicine. For instance, some patients may choose to incorporate a special diet to replace chemotherapy. It is important to note that not all complementary and alternative therapies are accepted by the medical community and may pose risks in some cases. Be sure to tell your healthcare team if you are using or plan to use any of these therapies.

  • Meditation, prayer, guided imagery, hypnosis, relaxation and biofeedback are mind-body techniques that are also considered as complementary or alternative techniques.
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine is an ancient healthcare system from China. It is based on the concept of ‘qi’ (vital energy) that is believed to flow throughout and bring balance to the body. Acupuncture and acupressure involves stimulation of points on the body using either needles or pressure, respectively, to relax muscular tension and balance the yin and yang forces in the body.
  • Tai chi. Tai chi is an ancient Chinese discipline of slow, meditative movements practiced as a system of exercises that aims to create a natural balance in a person for physical and spiritual well-being. Practice these Tai Chi techniques at home.
  • Yoga. Yoga is an ancient Indian discipline of stilling the mind to find a quiet place inside yourself. There are different forms of yoga, but it is more popularly recognized as exercise that teaches balance, flexibility and meditation. Among many benefits, yoga helps improve posture through stretching, toning and strengthening muscles, joints and the spine.
  • Pilates. Pilates is a type of body conditioning that focuses on the core muscles essential to spinal alignment, muscular flexibility and strength. By using equipment, people use their own body’s resistance to improve strength, circulation, posture and breathing, which help to decrease pain and improve body awareness and muscular tone.
  • Chiropractic care. Chiropractic care is an approach that focuses on the relationship between bodily structure (primarily that of the spine) and function. Chiropractors use spinal manipulative therapy as a basic treatment technique.
  • Aromatherapy. Aromatherapy is an old practice that involves the use of essential oils (extracts or essences) from flowers, herbs and trees to promote health and well-being. Essential oils may be used in a bath, vaporizer, or in other ways. Some essential oils may be used on the skin.
  • Dietary supplements. These products are intended to supplement your diet. Examples include vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, and enzymes. Herbal remedies and supplements are increasingly common too. Make sure you speak to your doctor about any dietary or herbal supplements you are taking or are considering taking.