What Are Complementary Therapies? - Step To Health

What Are Complementary Therapies?

Complementary therapies have been used alongside conventional medicine in order to improve the quality of life of many patients in recent years. What are they? What are their benefits?
What Are Complementary Therapies?

Last update: 24 May, 2021

The interest in complementary therapies continues to grow in the hope of healing or improving various conditions. People often use these along with conventional medical treatments in order to promote health, quality of life, and make symptoms more bearable. In fact, recent research supports their use.

Note that these are neither a first-line treatment nor a substitute for medical therapeutic options. Still, they’re good adjuvants to mitigate the physical and emotional symptoms of various diseases. OK, so what are they exactly?

What you should know about complementary therapies

They’re a group of therapeutic resources, an alternative approach to conventional medicine. However, they’ve been used alongside conventional therapies in recent years due to the positive effects they have on patients.

It’s important to clarify that conventional medical treatments usually have research backing them up. That means a history of tests conducted in order to determine their efficacy and safety. We also know this as evidence-based medicine and is the first option when treating diseases.

In contrast, complementary therapies have also been the focus of scientific research but the results regarding their use are mixed and thus insufficient. They should be applied under medical supervision by professionals in the field due to this.

A person massaging a man.
Complementary therapies aren’t a first-line treatment against diseases. However, conventional medicine accepts them as adjuvants.

The differences between complementary therapies and alternative medicine

Let’s make it clear that complementary therapies are different from alternative or traditional medicine. The latter proposes to replace conventional medicine, while complementary therapies are used precisely to complement medical treatments.

There are various opinions regarding alternative medicine, so there are advocates and detractors. In any case, it isn’t really accepted as part of conventional medicine. Mainly because it lacks scientific backing and can put the health of patients at risk by suggesting they abandon medical treatment.

Choosing a complementary therapist

As with everything, it’s important to select a qualified, certified, registered therapist that’s a member of a professional organization pertaining to their field. Healthcare professionals trained to conduct this type of therapy might be safer.

You might want to ask the therapist how many years of experience they have in their given area and what types of techniques they use. Also, what their level of training is in accordance with the condition you need to treat. A physician can provide guidance on which complementary therapies are best according to the condition.

You can practice some at home – yoga or tai chi, for example. You’ll benefit even further if you ask for professional guidance during the first sessions though. This is important because the improper practice of these disciplines can either reduce their effectiveness or lead to other ailments or unwanted effects.

Two people doing Tai Chi.
Some complementary therapies can take place in the comfort of the home. However, you must receive previous guidance on how to do them correctly.

Types of complementary therapies

As we mentioned above, there are many types of complementary therapies that can serve as adjuvants to improve health in the face of certain ailments. Thus, the choice between one option or another depends on the type of disease and the patient’s preferences.

The following are the most common, according to information from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH).


This technique involves inserting needles into specific points on the body to stimulate nerve impulses. It’s one of the most researched complementary alternative medicine therapies and used primarily for pain relief.


This therapy makes use of all sorts of essential oils through diffusers, massages, or baths. Inhaling the aromas produces a relaxing effect that can help reduce stress and anxiety. Studies even suggest it can help soothe ailments, such as headaches.

Read more: How much do you know about Aromatherapy?

Therapeutic massage

Here, a therapist presses, rubs, and manipulates the soft tissues of the body to induce relaxation and promote general well-being. In some cases, they use it to reduce muscle tension and soothe ailments.

Other therapies

  • Homeopathy
  • Osteopathy and chiropractic
  • Reflexology
  • Yoga, pilates, and tai chi
  • Meditation and mindfulness
  • Qi gong (internal and external)
  • Biofeedback

Always consult with a professional

The success of complementary therapies depends largely on how you practice them. Therefore, it’s important to do it with the help of professionals. Clear up any doubts you might have with your doctor and have them determine your state of health before you choose one. This is because they could worsen certain conditions.

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