Whole medical systems are overarching groups of theories and practices that encompass every aspect of health. Homeopathy, for instance, a system that developed in Europe, is based on the principle of "like cures like" -- a homeopath would inject a person with a tiny amount of whatever disease he or she suffers from so his or her body can learn to fight it and heal itself. Traditional Chinese medicine is a whole medical system that revolves around the concepts of balance -- yin and yang -- and energy flow, or "qi," along lines known as meridians. In this medical system, disease and pain are caused by a disruption in the body's flow of energy. Acupuncture, a treatment in traditional Chinese medicine, is one of the most common complementary therapies offered in hospitals.
In acupuncture, a practitioner inserts thin metal needles into the skin at specific places. The points align with the body's meridians, the lines along which energy flows. The purpose is to stimulate these points with the needles to encourage the movement of energy (qi) to specific parts of the body, or remove an energy block, in order to restore the body's natural energy flow and thereby alleviate the symptoms of an illness. Acupuncture may be used to treat chronic pain, circulation problems, depression and arthritis.
These conditions are some of the most common reasons why people seek complementary (and alternative) medical therapies. Someone in a hospital experiencing pain or poor circulation might also receive the next treatment on the list.