Understanding Complementary, Alternative, And Integrative Medicine

Many people are interested in exploring different ways to improve their health and well-being. Some of them may turn to non-conventional practices that are not part of the mainstream medical system. These practices are often called complementary, alternative, or integrative medicine. Here is some information about what these terms mean and how they differ.

What Is Complementary Medicine?

Complementary medicine is used together with conventional medicine. For example, someone may use acupuncture to help with the side effects of cancer treatment or massage therapy to reduce stress. Complementary medicine can enhance the effectiveness of conventional medicine and provide additional benefits for the patient.

What Is Alternative Medicine?

Alternative medicine is used instead of conventional medicine. For example, someone may choose to use homeopathy or herbal remedies instead of antibiotics or surgery. Alternative medicine may appeal to people who have different beliefs or values concerning health and disease or who want to avoid the side effects or costs of conventional medicine.

What Is Integrative Medicine?

Integrative medicine is a holistic approach that uses both conventional and non-conventional therapies to treat the whole person. This type of medicine considers not only the physical aspects of health, but also the mental, emotional, social, spiritual, and environmental factors that influence well-being. Integrative medicine aims to provide personalized care that is based on the best available evidence and the patient's preferences and values.

Integrative medicine is not a specific type of therapy, but rather a way of delivering health care that incorporates multiple modalities and disciplines. Some examples of integrative medicine practices include:

  • Acupuncture. This is a technique that involves inserting thin needles into targeted areas of the body to stimulate the flow of positive energy and promote healing.
  • Animal-assisted therapy. This type of therapy involves interacting with animals, such as dogs, cats, horses, or dolphins, to improve physical and mental health.
  • Dietary and herbal supplements. Supplemental products include vitamins, minerals, herbs, and other substances that are intended to supplement the diet or treat certain conditions.
  • Massage therapy. Massage therapy is the manual movement of the muscles and other soft tissues. Providers may use their hands or a massage tool to help relieve pain, reduce stress, and improve circulation.
  • Music therapy: This type of therapy uses music, sound, or vibration to enhance physical, emotional, cognitive, and social functioning.
  • Resilience training. This is a program that teaches skills and strategies to cope with stress, adversity, and trauma.
  • Tai chi or yoga. These forms of exercise combine physical movements, breathing techniques, and meditation to improve balance, flexibility, strength, and relaxation.

Integrative medicine is an evolving field that offers many opportunities for improving health and wellness. By combining the best of both worlds, integrative medicine can offer a more comprehensive and personalized approach to health care that respects the individuality and diversity of each person.

Visit a local integrative medicine clinic to learn more.