Alternative healing methods are grouped under the term complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and are generally not a part of standard or conventional medicine. Used by increasing numbers of people, alternative and complementary healthcare treatments generally fall into five broad categories with many methods included. Biologically-based alternative healing methods include herbs and diet, while manipulative or body-based healing encompasses massage, chiropractic and various movement therapies. Mind-body medicine incorporates techniques like meditation, hypnotherapy, relaxation techniques, and yoga. Alternative medical systems include Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurvedic and other traditional healing systems, while energy manipulative healing treatments range from therapies using healing touch to magnets.
Biologically-based CAM covers a broad range of herbal medicines, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and amino acids. These and other nutrients and natural products are used along with diet to promote healing and general well-being. Many employ this alternative healing strategy by taking dietary supplements to maintain or improve health. Nutritionists and dietary experts place an emphasis on diet as it relates to health, seeking to use specific foods or a balance of food groups to prevent disease and promote whole-body healing. Care is taken to avoid foods that are processed, containing ingredients that may harm health.
Body-based and manipulative alternative healing methods seek to correct misalignments to control pain and disease, unblock vital energy pathways in the body, to rehabilitate injuries or reduce stress with massage, or to build strength and flexibility with movement. This is a realm of alternative healing where many of the practices overlap with mind-body techniques. Naturopathy combines bodywork along with herbs and lifestyle changes. Yoga increases both the vitality and flexibility of the body while balancing the emotions and mind. Breathing exercises also involve both body and mind, while meditation, progressive relaxation and hypnotherapy focus primarily on the mind in order to affect the health of the body.
Before the rise of modern conventional medicine, traditional medical systems flourished in most cultures around the world. Some have developed healing interventions over thousands of years. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) employs herbs, acupuncture, diet and other strategies to correct imbalances in the body that cause disease. Ayurvedic treatments were developed in India, and rely on herbs, diet, chakra balancing and lifestyle changes to keep the body in balance and in a corresponding state of good health.
Alternative healing techniques frequently focus on energy fields, another area where the different categories of CAM overlap. Many traditional healing systems are based on a belief that an unblocked flow of energy within the body assures health is maintained. Techniques that unblock stagnant energy or increase the flow of this vital force include Reiki, healing touch, and qi gong. The life energy affects not only the health of the body, but the mind and emotions as well. Other techniques use magnets to influence the electromagnetic fields around and within the body, or use light and color of various wavelengths to promote healing.
Complementary alternative healthcare is used in conjunction with conventional medicine to promote healing aspects not generally emphasized by standard medical practice, such as emotional healing or dietary customization for a particular disease or condition. In the United States, the majority of people use CAM healing methods along with conventional medicine. Frequently cited reasons for using alternative healing include a more personal relationship between practitioner and patient, lower cost, and fewer side effects.