As medicine and medical providers continue to search for ways to better address our nation’s health concerns in a way that considers the whole patient, new medical approaches and technologies advance to answer the call. One such method in medicine comes in the form of complementary medicine.
While complementary medicine is not new to the healthcare arena, it is helping to change the playing field when providing healthcare services that support traditional therapeutic medicine. With this combined holistic approach, patients can rest assured that, with complementary medicine, restoring their health, and vitality will remain a core mission of their care. And, here at Shakthi Health and Wellness Center, we’re all about it.
What is complementary medicine?
To start, let’s look at what complementary medicine is as all too often, people get confused with all the different terms for medical treatments and approaches. While people often refer to complementary and alternative therapy as the same, the fact is that they are not the same at all. Where alternative medicine refers to treatment administered in place of traditional medicine, complementary therapy, as the name suggests, acts complementary to conventional Western medicine.
So, a patient undergoing treatment for chronic disease, for example, will receive medicine and treatments that fall under the Western medicine (conventional) paradigm while simultaneously receiving complementary therapies that support the traditional treatments and the patient’s overall health.
What does complementary health care focus on?
Because complementary medicine is also holistic in its approach, just as functional and integrative medicine are, treatments, and interventions aim to impact a specific aspect of an individual’s health. For example, someone experiencing symptoms related to poor gut health would receive support with nutritional counseling and possibly other treatments to improve their gut biome and resolve their symptoms. In addition to the nutritional input to health, there is also a:
- Physical element
- Emotional health input
- Emotional/physical input
- Emotional/nutritional input
The latter sections are concerned with health issues arising from overlapping problems in two areas of health inputs. Some examples would be osteopathic (chiro) related issues (physical), anxiety (emotional), physical manifestations of emotional blocks (emotional/physical), and emotional blocks leading to nutritional imbalances (emotional/nutritional).
How is complementary medicine different from alternative or integrative medicine?
As highlighted above, complementary medicine is different from alternative medicine as it is meant to complement traditional medical interventions. For example, a patient receiving treatment that causes nausea would benefit from complementary therapy to help reduce this side effect.
In contrast, alternative medicine substitutes traditional Western medical treatments and procedures. Considering how complementary compares to integrative medicine is an apples-to-apples comparison, as integrative medicine is the marriage of conventional medicine and complementary therapies. Under the umbrella of integrative medicine, traditional medicine and complementary therapies come together in various individualized ways to restore and promote one’s health.
What are some complementary therapy examples?
While many different therapies are complementary, here are a few complementary medicine examples:
- Manipulation and body-based treatments: Which include massage, chiropractic therapy, reflexology, and cupping.
- Mind/body therapies: This category includes yoga, guided meditation/imagery, hypnotherapy, biofeedback, and music therapy.
- Energy force therapies: Reiki, Tai Chi, QiGong, magnet therapy, and therapeutic touch (which, despite its name, does not include physical touch, but rather the practitioner holds their hands above your body and directs their energy to release any energy blocks they find).
- Expressive therapies: These forms of therapies include journaling, art therapy, and support groups.
- Miscellaneous therapies: This last category includes nutritional and herbal therapies (which includes herbs, such as St. John’s Wort, Gingko Biloba, and echinacea, among others) and aromatherapy, in which essential oils help with relaxation, mood stabilization, and weight loss efforts.
What are the benefits of seeking complementary therapies?
So, now that we’ve covered what complementary health care and therapies are, what are the benefits? For some people, complementary therapies in medicine reduce the side effects of other treatments they receive.
While for others, complementary therapies help boost the treatment’s effects. The patient’s goals and conditions will dictate which therapies are most appropriate. Some of the listed benefits of complementary therapies include:
- Reduced pain
- Reduced anxiety and stress
- Reduced nausea
- Improved mood and relaxation
- Improved wound healing
- Improved quality of life
- Better energy
- Improved flexibility and mobility.
This list of benefits is not exhaustive. As highlighted before, the specific therapy depends on the patient’s symptoms making the benefits quite expansive.
Are there any cons of complementary therapies?
Because most therapies only include energy forces or touch, there is generally a minor risk with using these therapies. However, when considering therapies, such as nutritional counseling and herbal supplements, there may be a risk that specific foods or herbs may interact with other medications you are taking.
For this reason, you should always consult your primary physician before starting anything new. Aside from this, the only cons would be that complementary therapies take time to take effect. Also, many therapies require full participation from the patient to ensure appropriate follow-through and implementation takes place. However, these don’t seem like cons when considering the impact that complementary therapies can have on how one feels.
A note on choosing complementary therapies: To ensure that you remain safe, or if you feel unsure about starting a new therapy, speak to your healthcare providers about the safety of said therapy. Ask for scientific articles showing the safety and efficacy of the therapy. Do your research. You can use trusted sites like National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health to gain more information.
Things to consider when seeking complementary therapies
While there are minor risks associated with complementary therapies, it is always a good idea to ensure that your healthcare team is on the same page and aware of every medicine, treatment, or procedure you’re undergoing. Some things to do as you prepare to start a complementary therapy:
- Discuss which therapy is best for you. While you may find one therapy more interesting over another, it may not be the best option. Also, as highlighted above, you want to ensure your healthcare team is on the same page.
- Find the right complementary health practices. If your primary care provider recommends a chiropractor or acupuncturist, use professional sites to find the right one.
- Reach out to the provider you’re interested in seeing to ensure they have worked with other patients with the same health condition as you.
- Make sure your insurance will cover the therapy and provider you want.
The Center for Complementary Medicine at Shakthi Health and Wellness Center
Here at Shakthi Health and Wellness Center, Dr. Jyothi Rao specializes in complementary therapies in clinical practice that support her patients’ vitality and health. While the more common complementary therapies, like acupuncture, Reiki, and reflexology, are always an option, Dr. Rao and Shakthi Health and Wellness Center offers some more unique therapies, such as:
- Lymphatic Enhancement Technology (LET)
- Nitric Oxide Testing
- Infrared Sauna
In closing, complementary medicine is only one part of integrative medicine. Combined with traditional medical treatments and interventions, complementary medicine helps to support the patient’s health and vitality. But, when compared to alternative medicine, complementary medicine is the exact opposite.
Some complementary therapies are yoga, massage, guided meditation, cupping, chiropractic therapy, Reiki, art therapy, and herbal supplements. A few benefits of complementary therapies include reduced pain, anxiety, and stress and improved mood and energy.
While complementary medicine generally has low risk, researching and speaking to knowledgeable professionals about potential side effects is always a good idea. Also, check that your insurance will cover the service and provider you want to see, and talk to your primary doctor about which therapy would be beneficial.
Dr. Jyothi Rao is a knowledgeable complementary medicine provider at Shakthi Health and Wellness Center. Whether you have questions about specific therapies or general inquiries, the staff here at Shakthi Health and Wellness Center can help you. You can reach us at 301.703.5067 or visit www.raowellness.com.