Complementary Medicine or Alternative Medicine?

Are complementary medicine and alternative medicine the same?

Medical practices have been changing. More and more physicians are incorporating methods into their practices that, in the past, were not considered to have a place in standard medical care. To find hard proof of that you need to look no farther than BlueCross BlueShield, one of the nation’s largest health insurance carriers. Acupuncture, the traditional Chinese system of healing that has been around for centuries, is now approved by BlueCross as a treatment for pain management.  Acupuncture is similarly covered by several other statewide and regional insurance plans and has recently been approved by Medicare for patients with chronic low back pain.

In 1998, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), part of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), added what is now known as the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). The mission of NCCIH, as stated on their website, is to “define, through rigorous scientific investigation, the usefulness and safety of complementary and integrative health interventions and their roles in improving health and health care”.

It may have taken a while for it to get here, but complementary medicine is here to stay. Having more options and being able to incorporate additional methods of healing is a good thing, but it can also be a little overwhelming. Are you confused about what is meant by complementary medicine? Didn’t it use to be alternative medicine? And, what about integrative medicine? Is that something altogether different?  

What Exactly is Meant by Complementary Medicine?

The terms complementary medicine and alternative medicine are often used interchangeably. They should not be. A medical practice that advertises that it embraces the use of complementary medicine is one that adds certain forms of alternative medicine to their standard practices. Alternative medicine is typically the belief and practice of using those and other methods in place of standard Western medical practices. There is a significant difference between these two approaches. 

Merriam-Webster defines complementary medicine as “not traditional”. Of course, this begs the question, “not traditional for whom?” Obviously, the meaning of traditional can rapidly change as we travel around the world, or even from community to community right here in the U.S. That said, for our purposes, complementary medicine refers to methods of healing that were not previously taught in Western medical schools being incorporated along with traditional standard medical practices. 

Some of the methods that are most often being included in medical practices that offer complementary medicine are:

  • Acupuncture
  • Yoga
  • PEMF therapy, which stands for pulsed electromagnetic field
  • Massage
  • Hypnosis
  • Meditation
  • Guided imagery or visualization
  • Tai Chi
  • Dietary Supplements

Where does integrative medicine come into all of this? For many, it has come to mean even more than the combining of the best all healing modalities. Someone who is a proponent of integrative healing focuses on treating the whole person. This includes the mind and spirit, as well as the physical body, which has traditionally been the main concern in Western medicine. An integrative medical practitioner works with his patient to find the right combination of conventional and appropriate alternative methods that will be best for the individual.  

Our physiatrists and acupuncturists work side by side in our primary offices to offer the greatest level of cooperative care and to maximize patient convenience in state of the art treatment rooms and office settings. 

At Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Medicine, our physicians are committed to more than just treating your symptoms. We strongly believe that each individual is best served through an integrative treatment plan. We focus on finding the underlying cause and providing non-surgical, evidenced-based solutions tailored to your specific condition and needs. If you have questions about any of our conditions or services, we invite you to schedule a consultation by using our convenient online form by clicking here.