Glossary of alternative medicine

This is a glossary for terms and concepts being used in Alternative Medicine a large category of practices that fall outside the scope of conventional medicine.


  • Acupuncture is the practice of inserting very thin needles in specific acupuncture points or combinations of points on the body, an important aspect of Traditional Chinese medicine.[1]
  • Alternative Medical Systems is the name of a NCCAM classification for those forms of alternative medicine that are built upon a "complete system of ideas and practice" such as Osteopathy or Traditional Chinese medicine.[2]
  • Alexander Technique is a form of posture and movement re-education. The primary aim is to teach people to move with more self-awareness, less tension, more ease, more control, rather than being bound by sheer mechanical habit. The process also aims to correct breathing habits. Although it is not a treatment for specific conditions, many different kinds of disorders may resolve in the re-educational process.[3]
  • Anthroposophical medicine was invented in the early twentieth century by Rudolf Steiner and Ita Wegman. Practitioners supplement anthroposophical ideas with conventional therapies and homeopathic remedies.[4]
  • Anthroposophic Pharmacy is the process of developing treatments according to anthroposophic theories. Anthroposophic medicinal products are primarily used within anthroposophic medicine.
  • Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils and other aromatic compounds, primarily to affect mood.[5]
  • Attachment therapy is a controversial form of therapy aimed at children with alleged 'attachment disorders', usually fostered or adopted children. It is substantially based on the belief in suppressed rage due to early adverse experiences. It uses a variety of confrontational and physically coercive techniques of which the most common form is holding therapy, accompanied by parenting methods which emphasize obedience. Following implication in a number of child death and maltreatment cases in the USA, there has been a move away from coercion by some leading theorists and practitioners.[6]
  • Ayurveda is a system of holistic healing that originated 5000 years in India. It means "science of life" or "knowledge of living". Therapies include herbal and mineral remedies, massage, yoga and breathing exercises. It is widely practiced in India and is becoming more popular in the West.[7]


  • Bates method is related to the visual acuity. It is based on the belief that errors in visual accommodation are due to mental strain, and that vision may be improved by appropriate relaxation techniques.[8]
  • Biologically based therapies is an NCCAM classification for alternative treatments that use substances found in nature and/or some other natural therapy such as Chinese food therapy or Urine therapy.[2]
  • Biofeedback is a technique to learn to become aware of a normally automatic bodily function, such as heart rate, and how to control it. Biofeedback has been found to be effective for the treatment of headaches and migraines.[9][10]
  • The Biomedical model of health is a conceptual model of illness that excludes psychological and social factors and includes only biological factors in an attempt to understand a person's illness. According to this model, health constitutes the freedom from disease, pain, or defect, thus making the normal human condition health. The model's focus on the physical processes, such as the pathology, the biochemistry and the physiology of a disease, does not take into account the role of social factors or individual subjectivity. The model also overlooks the fact that the diagnosis (that will affect treatment of the patient) is a result of negotiation between doctor and patient.[11]
  • Bodywork is any therapeutic, healing, or personal development work that involves some form of touching, energetic work, or the physical manipulation of a practically oriented physical and somatic understanding of the body.[12]


  • CAM is an acronym for complementary and alternative medicine, a large range of treatments and theories on the nature of health and illness, many of them unrelated, which have in common that they are not commonly employed by the conventional medical establishment.
  • Chelation therapy is the use of chelating agents such as EDTA to remove heavy metals from the body. While in conventional medicine, chelation therapy is used only to treat heavy metal poisoning, some alternative practitioners advocate the use of chelation therapy to treat coronary artery disease.
  • Chinese medicine – the group of philosophies embodied by Chinese medicine are, more accurately, referred to as Oriental Medicine with roots in many different Asian countries. This millennia-old Asian medical tradition works to bring balance to the body through acupuncture, massage, Eastern herbalism, diet; and lifestyle changes such as martial arts and meditation.
  • Chiropractic is a manual therapy involving the manipulation of the vertebral subluxation to restore proper, motion, biomechanics, and nerve flow from the brain to the body.
  • Colorpuncture is an alternative medicine practice asserting that light can be used to stimulate acupuncture points for the purpose of balancing energy in the body and promoting healing and better health. It is also called color light acupuncture in North America. It is a form of color therapy.[13]
  • Complementary medicine refers to treatments that are used alongside ("complementary to") conventional medicine.
  • Colour therapy uses the different colours and their energy frequencies to correct psychological or physical imbalances. Also known as Chromotherapy.
  • Craniosacral therapy (or CST) is a treatment founded by John Upledger in the 1970s. A CST practitioner claims to correct positioning and motion of the cranial bones. This is in contrast to the now-debated traditional medical belief that, by adulthood, the cranial bone sutures are fused and don't have movement.[14] CST has been criticized as pseudoscience. CST has not been shown to be effective in treating any disease [15] and there are a lack of studies that examine anecdotal reports of reduced headaches, tension, and stress. [16]


  • Diet-based therapies use a variety of diets in order to improve health and longevity, to control weight, as well as to treat specific health conditions like high cholesterol.
  • The Doctrine of signatures was developed around 1500 and claims that a plant's physical appearance reveals its medical value. The Doctrine of Signatures is often associated with Western herbalism.


  • Eclectic medicine was a nineteenth-century system of medicine used in North America that treated diseases by the application of single herbal remedies to effect specific cures of certain signs and symptoms.
  • Energy medicine is the name of a NCCAM[2] classification, for alternative treatments that involve the use of veritable (i.e., that which can be measured) and putative (i.e., that which have yet to be measured) energy fields.[17]


  • Feldenkrais Method is an movement educational system, aiming to improve physical function, and to promote general wellbeing by increasing students' awareness of themselves and by expanding students' movement repertoire.[18]
  • Flower essence therapy is regarded by some as a sub-category of homeopathy which uses homeopathic dilutions of flowers. This practice was begun by Edward Bach with the Bach flower remedies but is now practiced much more widely.
  • Folk medicine is the collection of procedures traditionally used for treatment of illness and injury, aid to childbirth, and maintenance of wellness.


  • Grahamism, named for Sylvester Graham, recommended hard mattresses, open bedroom windows, chastity, cold showers, loose clothing, vegetarianism, pure water and vigorous exercise. Best known for inventing the graham cracker.[19]


  • Herbalism is the practice of making or prescribing herbal remedies for medical conditions.
  • Heroic medicine is any medicine or method of treatment that is aggressive or daring in a dangerously ill patient. It generally includes the pre-scientific treatments of 18th-century doctors, such as bloodletting.
  • Holism is the study and advocacy of wholeness in health, science, politics, or any other area of life.
  • Hydrotherapy is the external use of hot and cold water in the medical treatment of disease, such as through the use of baths, compresses or sheet packs, and shower sprays. These applications use water as a medium for delivery of heat and cold to the body, capitalising on the thermoregulatory properties such as vasodilation and vasoconstriction to irrigate tissue, purge waste products, and speed healing.[20][21][22]
  • Hypnosis is a technique that taps into a person's subconscious by inducing a light trance state. The practitioner will guide the person using visualisation, breathing and relaxation to help them overcome habits such as smoking or deal with fears, obsessions and emotional disorders.


  • Integrative medicine as defined by National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine combines conventional medical treatments and CAM treatments for which there is some scientific evidence of their safety and effectiveness.[2] Integrative medicine also adopts the term "integrative health" which incorporates mental, spiritual and community wellness with personal health.[23]
  • Iridology (also known as iridodiagnosis[24]) is an alternative medicine technique whose proponents believe that patterns, colors, and other characteristics of the iris can be examined to determine information about a patient's systemic health. Practitioners match their observations to iris charts which divide the iris into zones corresponding to specific parts of the human body.


  • Life extension is the study of maximizing longevity, including length and quality of life, especially in mammals. Methods include nutrition, supplements and hormone replacements, exercise, avoidance of detrimental lifestyle habits, and so forth.
  • Lifestyle is the particular attitudes, habits, or behaviors associated with an individual.
  • Lifestyle diseases are diseases that appear to increase in frequency as countries become more industrialized and people live longer.


  • Macrobiotics is a diet based on whole grains and cereals, and unprocessed vegetables and fruits. Refined and processed foods and most animal products are avoided. It claims to bring a balance of yin and yang within the body.
  • Manipulative and body-based methods is the name of a NCCAM classification, for alternative treatments that are based on manipulation and/or movement of one or more parts of the body.[2]
  • Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) is a type of gentle massage which is believed by proponents to encourage the natural circulation of the lymph through the body.
  • The mind-body connection idea says that the causes, development, and outcomes of an illness are determined as much from the interaction of psychological and social factors as they are due to the biological factors of health. Many mind-body therapists take the definition of "mind-body connection" further and state that the root cause of illness is actually in the mind and spirit, and that for complete and permanent eradication of an illness, the cause must be addressed and cure focused there.
  • Mind-Body Intervention is the name of a NCCAM classification, that covers a variety of techniques designed to enhance the mind's capacity to affect bodily function and symptoms.
  • Moxibustion is a traditional Chinese medicine technique that involves the burning of moxa or mugwort, a small, spongy herb, near the body to promote healing. It has been practised throughout Asia for thousands of years.



  • Pilates is a system of exercise that builds muscle strength and flexibility.
  • Prana is a Sanskrit word which means "life force", a universal energy which is believed to flow throughout the body. In Aryuvedic medicine it is the vital energy that animates life. The poses, meditation, and breathing techniques performed in yoga are designed to enhance and balance the flow of prana.


  • Qi or Chi in traditional Chinese Medicine is the universal life force that flows through and permeates all life. The correct balance and flow of Qi is believed to be essential to health and well being.
  • Qigong is a physical movement practice within Chinese medicine, which is intended to practice the movement of Qi. Qigong is mostly taught for health maintenance purposes, but it is sometimes used for therapeutic interventions. There are hundreds of different schools, and it is also an adjunct training of many East Asian martial arts.


  • Reiki is a form of treatment developed by Mikao Usui in Japan around 1922. Practitioners use their hands on or above the patient in order to control, increase or open up a postulated energy, "ki", in the body. Training is usually through short courses, after which one can become certified as a "Reiki master".
  • Reflexology is an alternative medicine involving the application of pressure to the feet and hands with specific thumb, finger, and hand techniques without the use of oil or lotion. It is based a system of zones and reflex areas that are claimed to reflect an image of the body on the feet and hands.


  • Siddha Medicine
  • Structural Integration is an approach to improving posture, alignment and body awareness. Practitioners use bodywork to reposition tissue, as well as movement retraining for basic actions such as sitting and standing, as well as more complex actions such as yoga poses or sports. Rolfing is the most well-known brand of Structural Integration. Other forms include Hellerwork, The Guild for Structural Integration, KMI, and SOMA.
  • Systems medicine, or systems health, looks at the dynamic systems of the human body as part of an integrated whole, incorporating biochemical, physiological, and environment interactions that sustain life. Systems medicine draws on theories from holistic medicine, systems science and systems biology when developing a comprehensive approach that considers an individual’s health in light of their genomics, behavior and the external environment.[25][26][27]


  • Thalassotherapy is the use of seawater as a form of therapy.[28] Thalassotherapy was popular in England during the second half of the eighteenth century, with Doctor Richard Russell credited as playing a significant role in its popularity.[29]
  • Therapeutic music is music played live at the bedside of persons who are faced with physical, emotional, and spiritual challenges, generally in the person’s home, a hospice or in a clinical setting.[30]
  • Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is a system of health care which is based on the Chinese notion of harmony and balance inside the human body as well as harmony between the body and its outside environment. TCM can include or address the following components:
  • Traditional Japanese medicine – Pre-Western Japanese medicine was strongly influenced by traditional Chinese medicine and is often seen as a sub-category of TCM. It includes the following practices:


  • Unani is a form of traditional medicine practiced in middle-east & south-Asian countries.
  • Uropathy is a specialized branch of alternative medicine, including any sort of oral or external application of urine for medicinal or cosmetic purposes, see urine therapy.


  • Water cure (therapy) in the therapeutic sense is a course of medical treatment by hydrotherapy.[31] In the nineteenth century, the term "Water Cure" was used synonymously with "hydropathy", which itself is the 19th century term for hydrotherapy.[32][33] Conceptually, water cures include a broad range of practices – essentially any therapeutic uses of water. See Water cure (therapy) and Hydrotherapy for further discussion and links.
  • Wellness has been used in CAM contexts since Halbert L. Dunn began using the phrase "high level wellness" in the 1950s, based on a series of lectures at a Unitarian Universalist Church in Arlington, VA.[34] Wellness is generally used to mean a healthy balance of the mind-body and spirit that results in an overall feeling of well-being.


  • Yoga is a diverse and ancient East Indian practise. There are many different styles and schools of yoga. Yoga combines of breathing exercises, physical postures (asana), and meditation, that calms the nervous system and balances body, mind, and spirit. It is thought to prevent specific diseases and maladies by relaxing the body, deepening respiration and calming the mind. Yoga has been used to lower blood pressure, reduce stress, and improve flexibility, concentration, sleep, and digestion. It has also been used as supplementary therapy for such diverse conditions as low back pain,[35] cancer,[36] heart disease,[37] anxiety,[38] insomnia,[36] and addiction.[39]

See also


  1. ^ "Acupuncture". U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). Retrieved 6 February 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. What is CAM?
  3. ^ Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine & Self-Help. Malcom Hulke, Rider & Co
  4. ^ "Anthroposopical Medicine". Rudolph Steiner Health Center. Retrieved 6 February 2014. 
  5. ^ "Aromatherapy". U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). Retrieved 6 February 2014. 
  6. ^ Chaffin M, Hanson R, Saunders BE et al. (2006). "Report of the APSAC task force on attachment therapy, reactive attachment disorder, and attachment problems". Child Maltreat 11 (1): 76–89. PMID 16382093. doi:10.1177/1077559505283699. 
  7. ^ "A Closer Look at Ayurvedic Medicine". Focus on Complementary and Alternative Medicine (Bethesda, Maryland: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), US National Institutes of Health (NIH)) 12 (4). Fall 2005 – Winter 2006. Archived from the original on 2006-12-09. 
  8. ^ "Bates Method". Seeing The Bates Method. Retrieved 6 February 2014. 
  9. ^ Nestoriuc Y, Martin A (March 2007). "Efficacy of biofeedback for migraine: a meta-analysis". Pain 128 (1–2): 111–27. PMID 17084028. doi:10.1016/j.pain.2006.09.007. 
  10. ^ Nestoriuc Y, Martin A, Rief W, Andrasik F (September 2008). "Biofeedback treatment for headache disorders: a comprehensive efficacy review". Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback 33 (3): 125–40. PMID 18726688. doi:10.1007/s10484-008-9060-3. 
  11. ^ Annandale, The Sociology of Health and Medicine: A Critical Introduction, Polity Press, 1998
  12. ^ "Bodywork Therapies". Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders. Retrieved 6 February 2014. 
  13. ^ Cocilovo, A (1999). "Colored light therapy: overview of its history, theory, recent developments and clinical applications combined with acupuncture". Am J Acupunct 27 (1–2): 71–83. PMID 10513100. 
  14. ^ Seimetz, Christina N.; Kemper, Andrew R.; Duma, Stefan M. (2012). "An investigation of cranial motion through a review of biomechanically based skull deformation literature". International Journal of Osteopathic Medicine 15 (4): 152–65. doi:10.1016/j.ijosm.2012.05.001. 
  15. ^ Ernst, Edzard (2012). "Craniosacral therapy: A systematic review of the clinical evidence". Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies 17 (4): 197–201. doi:10.1111/j.2042-7166.2012.01174.x. 
  16. ^ "Craniosacral therapy". American Cancer Society. December 2012. Retrieved August 2013. 
  17. ^ NCCAM Energy Medicine Overview
  18. ^ Levine, Andrew (1998). The Bodywork and Massage Sourcebook. Lowell House. pp. 249–60. ISBN . 
  19. ^ "A History of Sylvester Graham". Retrieved 2014-08-30. 
  20. ^ Guyton, Arthur C.; Hall, John E. (2006). Textbook of Medical Physiology (11th ed.). Philadelphia: Elsevier Saunders. ISBN . 
  21. ^ Kozier, Barbara; Erb, Glenora; Olivieri, Rita (1991). "Fundamentals of Nursing: Concepts, Process and Practice" (4th ed.). Redwood City, California: Addison-Wesley. pp. 1335–1336. ISBN . 
  22. ^ Thrash, Agatha; Calvin Thrash (1981). Home Remedies: Hydrotherapy, Massage, Charcoal and Other Simple Treatments. Seale, Alabama: Thrash Publications. ISBN . 
  23. ^ California Institute of Integral Studies. (2009). Integrative Health Studies Program Guide: Glossary of Terms. San Francisco: California Institute of Integral Studies.
  24. ^ Cline D; Hofstetter HW; Griffin JR. Dictionary of Visual Science. 4th ed. Butterworth-Heinemann, Boston 1997. ISBN 0-7506-9895-0
  25. ^ Ayyadurai, VA Shiva; Chopra, Deepak. "Systems Health: The Future of Medicine". 
  26. ^ "Systems Health - Dr. VA Shiva Ayyadurai". Retrieved 11 February 2013. 
  27. ^ Federoff, Howard; Gostin, Lawrence O. (2009). "Evolving from Reductionism to Holism: Is There a Future for Systems Medicine?". Journal of the American Medical Association 302 (9): 994–996. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.1264. 
  28. ^ Angus Stevenson, ed. (2007). "Definition of Thalasso therapy". Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. 2: N-Z (6th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 3225. ISBN .  Note: Thalasso therapy is a sub-definition under the listing for Thalasso.
  29. ^ Gray, Fred (2006). Designing the Seaside: Architecture, Society and Nature. London: Reaktion Books. pp. 46–47. ISBN . Retrieved 8 December 2009. 
  30. ^ "[1]". American Music Therapy Association, 2013. Web.
  31. ^ Angus Stevenson, ed. (2007). "Definition of Water Cure". Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. 2: N–Z (6th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 3586. ISBN .  Note: Definition is under the general listing for water (noun), alphabetically in the sub-listing for phrases. This section begins on p.3585, but the definition for Water Cure is found in the top part of the first column on p.3586. The phrases are in alphabetical order, so it's just a matter of going down the list.
  32. ^ Unsigned article (1910). "Hydropathy". In …. The Encyclopaedia Britannica XIV. London: The Encyclopaedia Britannica Company. pp. 165–166. Retrieved 2010-04-21. 
  33. ^ "Water cure definition per Webster's 1913 dictionary". Retrieved 6 December 2009. 
  34. ^ DUNN HL (1959). "High-Level Wellness for Man and Society" (Scanned & PDF). Am J Public Health Nations Health 49 (6): 786–92. PMC 1372807. PMID 13661471. doi:10.2105/AJPH.49.6.786. 
  35. ^ Tilbrook, Helen E; et al. (2011). "Yoga for Chronic Low Back Pain: A Randomized Trial". Ann. Intern. Med. 155 (9): 569–578. PMID 22041945. doi:10.1059/0003-4819-155-9-201111010-00003. 
  36. ^ a b DeStasio, Susan A. Integrating Yoga Into Cancer Care. Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing. February 2008, Volume 12 Issue 1. p125-130
  37. ^ Yoga could be good for heart disease. Simultaneous focus on body, breathing, and mind may be just what the doctor ordered. (2010). Harvard Heart Letter: From Harvard Medical School, 21(3), 5. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
  38. ^ Smith K, Pukall C. An evidence-based review of yoga as a complementary intervention for patients with cancer. Psycho-Oncology [serial online]. May 2009;18(5):465–475.
  39. ^ Khalsa, Sat Bir S. et al. Evaluation of a Residential Kundalini Yoga Lifestyle Pilot Program for Addiction in India. Journal of Ethnicity in Substance Abuse. 2008, Volume 7 Issue 1. p67-79
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