Alternative Treatments Center

More Americans are looking beyond Western medicine to help relieve their back, neck, and spinal joint pain, including osteoarthritis of the spine. In this article, we discuss Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM), which is also called Complementary and Integrative Medicine.
Homeopathic tablets and flower on green leaf.Learn as much as you can about the alternative treatment you are interested in. Photo Source:

Interchangeable Terms

When an alternative (not mainstream) practice is used with conventional (mainstream) medicine, it’s called “complementary” or “integrative” health care. When it’s used in place of conventional medicine, it’s called “alternative.”  However, these terms are often used interchangeably.

Complementary Alternative/Integrative Therapies

There are five general categories of CAM therapies, although therapies may be combined. 

1. Alternative Medical Systems
Medical systems include ancient healing practices, which include Ayurveda, a whole-body approach of therapy from India and traditional Chinese medicine (eg, acupuncture, moxibustion).Alternative medical systems also include homeopathic medicine, which involves tiny doses of an appropriate substance to stimulate the body’s ability to heal.Naturopathy or naturopathic medical care may include massage, water therapy, and herbal medications.

2. Mind-Body Techniques
Mind-body techniques may help a patient with neck or back pain to use their mind to affect or control their symptoms in a positive way, thereby reducing pain. Common mind-body techniques include: biofeedback, meditation (eg, yoga), prayer, relaxation, and art therapy.

3. Biologically-Based Therapies
Biologically-based therapies incorporate nature-based substances such as botanicals and dietary supplements to ease pain. Natural substances include ginseng, ginkgo, fish oil, or Echinacea and may be available in different forms, such as a tea, aromatherapy oils, syrup, powder, tablet, or capsule.

4. Body-Based Practices
Body-based practices include chiropractic, body alignment techniques, osteopathic manipulation and different types of massage.

5. Energy Therapies
Energy therapies may help shift or unblock energy fields in the body.Qi gong (eg, breathing techniques), Reiki (eg, stress reduction/relaxation), and magnets are therapies based on moving energy.

Is an alternative, complementary or integrative therapy right for you?

To help you decide, consider the following points.

  • If insurance coverage is important to you, be sure to check with your health insurance provider before you choose a CAM treatment to make sure the practitioner is covered.
  • Learn as much as you can about the alternative treatment you are interested in.
  • Keep in mind that although a complementary alternative therapy may be popular, that doesn’t make it right for you.
  • Unlike mainstream medical care and procedures, some (if not most) alternative therapies are not scientifically validated by clinical trials and/or research studies. While there may be studies supporting a particular practice, the number of human participants is often small.
  • Just because a substance is natural doesn’t mean it can’t hurt you, cause illness or allergic reaction, or a serious interaction with a medication. For example, ginseng can raise blood pressure.
  • Always tell your treating doctor about all the herbs, vitamins and supplements (in any form) that you take, especially if you are scheduled for a neck or back procedure (eg, spinal injection, surgery). Doing so may help prevent a potentially serious drug interaction.
  • Choose your alternative therapy practitioner with the same care and concern you would for a spine surgery or pain management specialist.

Rosenzweig S. Overview of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Merck Manual. Consumer Version. Accessed July 12, 2015.

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). Complementary, Alternative, or Integrative Health: What’s In a Name? March 2015. Accessed July 12, 2015.

Updated on: 06/01/20
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