The terms complimentary medicine and alternative medicine are not interchangeable. One is used to describe a two-pronged approach to treatment while the other is defined as a single approach apart from treatments adhered to in the mainstream medical community.
Complimentary medicine, as defined by the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine, is the use of unconventional, or alternative, treatments in conjunction with accepted medical treatments prescribed by your physician.
You may take Red Yeast Rice capsules to help lower your cholesterol. If you take it along with a prescribed low-dose statin, you are engaged in complimentary medical treatments.
If you forego the statin prescription and take Red Yeast Rice capsules to lower your cholesterol, you are using an alternative to traditional treatment.
Many doctors use complimentary medicine to aid patients with lifestyle-induced conditions. For example, a patient who suffers from stress related headaches might obtain a prescription from her doctor to ease the pain. Her doctor may also prescribe a regimen of meditation, yoga or massage therapy to alleviate the physical reactions to stress that ultimately result in severe headaches.
This combination of traditional treatment, a prescribed pain reliever, along with a non-traditional treatment plan is complimentary medicine. The doctor is hoping to guide the patient to life-style changes that will let her deal with stress without medication.
An alternative treatment may be described, then, as the same recommendation without the prescription. But there is more to alternative medicine than a lack of prescriptions.
Alternative medicine often involves a more holistic approach to healing than traditional medicine. The body, mind and spirit are treated as a single entity; if the body is suffering, so to is the mind and spirit.
An example of this is therapeutic practices that address such conditions as fibromyalgia. Acupuncture is based on the concept that the life force within the body, the qi (pronounced chee), follows certain pathways. When the life force is out of balance, the body and mind suffer.
By inserting slim needles into the body at specific points, the qi is brought back into balance. The balance eases the pain of the body and mind.
Though acupuncture is an ancient practice, its acceptance in traditional western medicine is limited. Were you to engage an acupuncturist to treat your fibromyalgia, you would be practicing alternative medicine. You would be treating your body, mind and spirit or life force.
A traditional treatment for fibromyalgia may be a synthesized medicine prescribed by a doctor to dull the physical pain associated with this condition. It’s unlikely the doctor would address any other aspects of your life; he would not inquire as to the state of qi.
Both complimentary and alternative medicines are based on herbal and therapeutic application. Complimentary medicine includes herbal supplements and therapies that enhance or are enhanced by traditional medical treatments.
Alternative medicine uses both herbal and therapeutic applications as treatment in a holistic approach devoid of synthesized medicines and singular symptomatic treatments.
You cannot practice alternative medicine and complimentary medicine at the same time. The terms are specific, and should be treated as such.