Alternative medicine is not the sidelined, new age world of yoga and therapeutic needles it was once perceived to be. It has become a mainstream, $50-billion health care industry in the United States, from which 74 percent of Americans seek some sort of medical help [source: NCCAM]. Not that yoga and acupuncture are in the past. On the contrary, they're two of the most popular forms of complementary therapy today, offered in thousands of conventional-medicine hospitals around the country.
Complementary medicine isn't the same as alternative medicine. Alternative medicine involves the use of something like meditation, herbs or energy therapy to treat cancer instead of radiation or chemotherapy. In complementary medicine, treatments like meditation, herbs or energy therapy are used to treat cancer in addition to radiation or chemo. It's called integrative medicine -- an approach to health that focuses on the whole patient, body and mind, instead of only a particular disease. Complementary medicine is now practiced in more than one-third of hospitals in the United States, a notable increase over the one-quarter of hospitals offering complementary therapies in 2005 [source: MNT].
There are lots of complementary therapies out there, divided typically into broad categories that describe the overall approach or theory behind the treatment:
- Biologically based practices
- Energy medicine
- Manipulative/body based practices
- Mind-body medicine
- Whole medical systems
These are not hard-and-fast distinctions. Some complementary therapies fall into more than one category, like meditation, which is a mind-body therapy and part of a whole medical system known as traditional Chinese medicine.
In this article, we'll find out what each of these complementary approaches entails and which therapies they promote. We'll talk about the five most popular complementary therapies that hospitals offer and what's involved in the treatments. We'll start with another therapy that began thousands of years ago in traditional Chinese medicine: acupuncture.