Medical practices or products that are not included in standard medical care are referred to as Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). Pain management is a complex field within the healthcare community. Medical professionals have a deep understanding of the variety of treatment solutions and in every situation will apply what is best for the specific individual.


Complementary Medicine involves treatments that aren’t actually considered to be standard but are used alongside standard medical treatments. While Complementary medical practices have existed for thousands of years, not every treatment is always accepted, available, or commonly used throughout Western medicine.  


The term Alternative Medicine is used in instances where Complementary Medicine is used instead of standard treatment. This system of medical practice has often been developed outside of what Western medical professionals consider traditional. Common treatments that fall under the Alternative Medicine category include things such as acupuncture, aromatherapy, and homeopathy.


To aid in providing clarification to Complementary Medicine, a classification structure of CAM was developed by the NCCAM in 2000 and breaks the therapies down into five categories: 

Alternative Medical Systems
Mind-body Interventions

Biologically Based Treatments

Manipulative and Body-Based Methods

Energy Therapies


Alternative Medical Systems refers to the system of theory and practice as a whole, that was originally developed independently of conventional medicine. These systems include Ayurvedic medicine, naturopathy, and homeopathy.


The practice of Mind-body Interventions are based on the mind and includes things such as prayer and mediation.


Biologically Based Treatments involve natural products such as hormones and minerals. These therapies include special diets and herbal supplements to promote health or decrease the risk of disease.


Manipulative and Body-Based Treatments are centered on the movement and manipulation of the body. Massage therapy is a great example of this type of therapy. Chiropractic treatments or spinal adjustments are the most well-known therapy in this category.


Finally, Energy Therapies involve therapeutic touch or Reiki. This category includes the application of energy fields. While there are a few people who believe that energy fields exist within the body it has never been scientifically proven.


One of the most commonly asked questions about CAM therapies is whether or not they are safe. The most commonly used therapies, such as acupuncture, chiropractic, and massage therapy have been evaluated and are found to be very effective. However, there are a number of CAM therapies that due to time and funding issues have been researched more slowly. 


It is critical to understand that something being ‘natural’ does not make it unequivocally safe. If you are interested in complementary therapies make sure to thoroughly research doctors and institutions, ask lots of questions, and find the specialist that is right for you.