What is alternative medicine?

Many people turn to alternative methods when modern medicine fails or the side effects of medications or medical procedures outweigh the risks of living with a disease or medical condition.

There are many types of alternative medicine, some of the most popular include chiropractic care, acupuncture, herbal medicine and massage therapy.

Chiropractic care: This hands-on therapy uses spinal manipulation or adjustment to correct muscles and bone placement. The goal is to restore joint mobility and alleviate pain temporarily without surgery or pain medication.

Chiropractors target disorders that affect your musculoskeletal and nervous system such as back pain, neck pain and joint pain. If you're having pain or are hypomobile (have a smaller range or frequency of movement than normal), chiropracty may provide an alternative to modern medicinal therapies.

When a chiropractor adjusts you, he or she manipulates your spine to alleviate pain, heal tissues and readjust you to a normal position. In some cases, a chiropractic adjustment can help reduce inflammation and restore mobility.

Acupuncture: Practitioners use this alternative therapy to maintain good health by stimulating specific points on the body. They penetrate the skin with solid, thin metal needles that they adjust by hand or with electric stimulation. The entire process is designed to restore vital energy throughout the body, allowing the body to better handle disease.

Herbal medicine: These are used for therapeutic purposes, and you can find them in teas, extracts, raw plant material, capsules, powders and tablets. Most are a dietary supplements that proponents claim can improve certain health conditions.

Many herbal remedies are harmless, but you should discuss use and dose with your doctor to prevent drug interaction problems and make sure they don't adversely effect on your health.

Massage therapy: These treatments can be used to relax tense or tired muscles. It qualifies a form of alternative therapy because it does not involve being seen by a medical doctor. Massages can help you relieve stress, lower blood pressure, improve posture, increase circulation and improve rehabilitation after an injury.

Can alternative medicine help you?

One clear advantage of alternative medicine is not having to take certain prescription drugs. In some cases, prescription drugs can cause an array of expected and unexpected side effects. In some cases, they may be more dangerous than the disease itself. Many forms of alternative medicines have little to no side effects. 

In addition, some prescription pain killers can lead to addiction, causing long-term damage to your health. Finding an alternative therapy option can sometimes help you deal with pain naturally.

Another benefit of alternative medicine can involve foregoing invasive surgery or a risky medical procedure. Chiropractic care and acupuncture often help alleviate discomfort and reduce pain levels.

In some cases, alternative therapy or medicine may also be referred to as complementary medicine or integrated medicine, meaning that you may choose to use it in conjunction with your current medical treatment program. You will need to work closely with your doctor and follow a treatment regimen so he or she can track your progress.

How do alternative treatments work?

Alternative medicinal therapy may be a short-term or long-term solution to an ongoing medical issue or problem. If a particular remedy works, you can use it to help alleviate symptoms or cure a particular condition.

Some herbal remedies may also help curb the side effects from prescription medications or provide additional relief. In many cases, you can also employ alternative therapies to prevent illness, such as routine chiropractic visits, massage therapy and yoga.

Even alternative treatments may not necessarily cure a condition or treat it according to your expectations. Start with your doctor and slowly explore all-natural therapies that improve your physical and mental health.

Because techniques vary among some of the alternative therapies, be sure to investigate practices by checking them out on Angie's List, where you can peruse member reviews and ratings.

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