What are the Different Types of Complementary Therapies?

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  • Written By: Deborah Walker
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2019
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Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), acupuncture, chiropractic, and herbalism are all considered among the different types of complementary therapies and take a holistic approach to patient care. This means that instead of focusing on treating a particular symptom, the complimentary practitioner looks at the patient's entire body and attempts to treat the underlying disease in an integrated fashion; overall health and well-being is the goal. Attitudes towards alternative medicine vary from country to country, with the United States being more skeptical of such treatments. Results of research into the effectiveness of complementary therapies varies; additional research must be done before any definitive conclusions are drawn.

The Chinese have used TCM for thousands of years. At its foundation, TCM regards the cause of disease as an internal or environmental disruption of natural bodily processes. Practitioners may use herbs, massage, acupuncture, and nutrition as a means of healing the patient. In China, TCM is considered part of mainstream medical treatment and is provided alongside allopathic, or western, medical techniques.

Acupuncture consists of inserting very thin, sterile needles into the body at precise points in order to stimulate pain-reducing chemicals, improve circulation, and smooth the flow of chi, or life force. Headaches, arthritis, shoulder pain, and other conditions may be treated by acupuncturists. Some studies show that this is one of the complementary therapies that appears to be helpful to people suffering from migraines, rheumatoid arthritis, and other painful musculoskeletal conditions.


At its foundation, chiropractic medicine posits that spinal misalignment, or vertebral subluxation, is responsible for ill health. Based on this belief, chiropractors manually manipulation the bones and soft tissues to correct spinal alignment. Spinal adjustments have been found in some studies to improve neck pain, low back pain, and some types of headache pain.

Humans have used plants medicinally since the dawn of time. Many complementary therapies incorporate aspects of herbal therapy into their practice. Currently, more than 7,000 over-the-counter and prescription medications have their roots in traditional herbalism. Herbs are some of the most studied complementary therapies and have proven effective when used to treat many different conditions. European doctors may prescribe St. John's wort for depression, for example, or patients may obtain over-the-counter pain relief creams containing capsaicin, a component of hot peppers.

Compared to doctors in the U.S., European and Asian physicians tend to have a more accepting attitude towards complementary therapies. Even though U.S. doctors may be skeptical, over 40% of the American public use complementary therapies on a regular basis. Most people in the medical and scientific communities agree that additional rigorous studies must be done on complementary therapies if they are to be accepted as a realistic medical treatment.


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