Complementary and alternative medicine explained
Posted by: The personal injury help and advice team
What is ‘CAM’?
CAM is complementary and alternative medicine, also known as complementary or alternative therapy and although they are often used as if they mean the same thing, they are not.
There’s an important difference between the two as complementary therapy means it can be used alongside your conventional medical treatment to help you cope and feel better and alternative therapy is generally used instead of your usual medical treatment.
Is alternative care dangerous?
Alternative medicines do not necessarily undergo such rigorous testing to prove that they work. Some types of alternative medicine may not be completely safe and could potentially cause harmful side effects or carry risks. On the other hand, complementary medicine, which is used in conjunction with your prescribed treatment such as holistic healing methods, could be a good way to boost physical or emotional health.
Will holistic therapy cure me?
A holistic therapist should never claim that a treatment will cure your illness and should always encourage you to discuss natural therapy with your GP. Some people suffering with mental or physical illness will opt for holistic treatment to relieve their symptoms or side effects and some remedies have been scientifically tested to check how effective and safe they are. Mostly, holistic medicine won’t cause any side effects because they are natural health therapies.
How does a complementary therapist work?
A complementary therapist uses a holistic approach meaning they will work with the person and their entire body, not just target the part of the body or mind that is suffering.
If you decide to use a CAM, it’s a good idea to research practitioners as there is no professional statutory regulation of complementary and alternative treatments in the UK which means it’s legal for anyone to practise the treatment even if they have no formal qualifications.
Why choose complementary medicine?
There are many reasons why people choose complementary therapies. Many treatments can be relaxing more than anything and can help you cope with stress and lift your spirits when you’re not feeling your best.
Other people describe the relationship they develop with their therapist as an added bonus as it’s someone who listens to you and can help you manage difficult feelings. Some people will feel more in control by finding support for themselves and seeking out complementary therapy as a positive thing to do for their well-being.
There are many complementary or alternative health therapies available to try but it’s always best to research the best for you and speak with your GP if you are considering CAM.
Some alternative treatments have been proven to work for a limited number of health conditions but the results often depend on the belief of the individual.
Types of alternative medicine and holistic therapies
Click each one to find out more.
Reiki is a Japanese method of hands-on spiritual healing. It’s a safe and natural therapeutic technique thought to help reduce stress and improve overall well-being. Reiki is administered by the practitioner laying their hands gently in various positions on the client’s body but there is no massage or manipulation.
The client remains fully clothed and will either sit or lay down for the session. Depending on the needs of the patient, the session can last for up to 45 minutes and the whole body is usually treated rather than a specific idea.
Reiki is a perfectly safe and soothing treatment which aims to balance or change energy fields in and around the client’s body. As the treatment works on energy levels flowing through the body, Reiki is said to be a great method for those suffering with depression and anxiety as they are thought to have lower life force energy.
Small studies have found that Reiki can help to relieve or reduce pain and it can be a calming and comforting touch therapy.
Aromatherapy uses essential oils to promote healing and well-being. There are more than 400 essential oils which are made from concentrated extracts of roots, leaves, blossoms, fruit and flowers of plants.
You may have heard of some of the more popular essential oils such as Lavender, Ylang Ylang and camomile; the belief is they will help to refresh your body and in some cases, treat infections or inflammation. These oils are usually massaged into the skin or inhaled but there are cases in which oils have to be taken by the mouth.
Studies suggest this natural medicine may reduce pain, ease depression or anxiety but more research is needed to full understand the benefits and uses.
- CST – Craniosacral therapy
CST is another hands-on therapy where the touch is gentle, non-invasive and involves a therapist lightly holding the skull while making barely detectable movements. Practitioners believe that the tiny manipulations of CST affect the pressure and circulation of the fluid that surrounds and cushions the brain and spinal cord called the ‘cerebrospinal fluid’.
CST could be a good method to choose if you have suffered a traumatic experience or have acute physical problems such as a bad back. It’s a deeply relaxing treatment which supports the body’s natural ability to restore and heal itself.
- Aquatic therapy
Aquatic therapy refers to the treatment and exercises performed in water which offers relaxation, physical rehabilitation and fitness benefits. This complementary medicine is usually carried out in a heated pool which facilitates muscle relaxation and increases peripheral circulation and by a qualified aquatic therapist who gives constant attendance to the person receiving treatment.
The viscosity of the water provides resistance which is perfect for strength training and the warmth of the water stimulates body awareness and balance.
Generally offered in hospitals and sports clinics, water therapy services are there to encourage people to maintain or improve their fitness levels and strength.
- HBOT – Hyperbaric oxygen therapy
HBOT involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurised room or through a tube. This process causes oxygen to become absorbed by all body fluids, cells and tissues so the increased flow of oxygen can stimulate and restore function to damaged cells and organs, including those of the brain.
Your blood carries oxygen throughout your body which helps to fight bacteria and stimulate the release of substances which promote healing therefore, when receiving HBOT, the amount of oxygen your blood can carry increases.
HBOT is used to treat several medical conditions such as crushing injury, infection of skin or bone and brain abscess.