National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)

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Terms Related to Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Note: The following terms and definitions are excerpted from the National Health Statistics Report No. 12, Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use Among Adults and Children: United States, 2007, published by the National Center for Health Statistics, a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This list is intended to provide a brief introduction to common complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) terminology and does not in any way reflect an endorsement of these practices by NCCAM.

Acupuncture
Acupuncture describes a family of procedures involving stimulation of anatomical points on the body by a variety of techniques. American practices of acupuncture incorporate medical traditions from China, Japan, Korea, and other countries. The acupuncture technique that has been most studied scientifically involves penetrating the skin with thin, solid, metallic needles that are manipulated by the hands or by electrical stimulation.
Alexander technique
Alexander technique is a movement therapy that uses guidance and education on ways to improve posture and movement. The intent is to teach a person how to use muscles more efficiently in order to improve the overall functioning of the body. Examples of the Alexander technique as CAM are using it to treat low-back pain and the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
Ayurveda
Ayurveda is a system of medicine that originated in India several thousand years ago. In the United States, Ayurveda is considered a type of CAM and a whole medical system. As with other such systems, it is based on theories of health and illness and on ways to prevent, manage, or treat health problems. Ayurveda aims to integrate and balance the body, mind, and spirit (thus, some view it as “holistic”). This balance is believed to lead to contentment and health and to help prevent illness. However, Ayurveda also proposes treatments for specific health problems, whether they are physical or mental. A chief aim of Ayurvedic practices is to cleanse the body of substances that can cause disease, and this is believed to help reestablish harmony and balance.
Biofeedback
Biofeedback uses simple electronic devices to teach clients how to consciously regulate bodily functions, such as breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure, in order to improve overall health. Biofeedback is used to reduce stress, eliminate headaches, recondition injured muscles, control asthmatic attacks, and relieve pain.
Botanica
A Botanica is a traditional healer who supplies healing products, sometimes associated with spiritual interventions.
Chelation therapy
Chelation therapy is a chemical process in which a substance is used to bind molecules, such as metals or minerals, and hold them tightly so that they can be removed from a system, such as the body. In medicine, chelation has been scientifically proven to rid the body of excess or toxic metals. For example, a person who has lead poisoning may be given chelation therapy in order to bind and remove excess lead from the body before it can cause damage.
Chiropractic care
This care involves the adjustment of the spine and joints to influence the body’s nervous system and natural defense mechanisms to alleviate pain and improve general health. It is primarily used to treat back problems, headaches, nerve inflammation, muscle spasms, and other injuries and traumas.
Chiropractic manipulation
Chiropractic manipulation is a form of health care that focuses on the relationship between the body’s structure, primarily of the spine, and function. Doctors of chiropractic, who are also called chiropractors or chiropractic physicians, use a type of hands-on therapy called manipulation (or adjustment) as their core clinical procedure.
Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)
Refers to therapies not usually taught in U.S. medical schools or generally available in U.S. hospitals. They include a broad range of practices and beliefs such as acupuncture, chiropractic care, relaxation techniques, massage therapy, and herbal remedies. They are defined by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine as a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not generally considered to be part of conventional medicine.
Curandero
A Curandero is a type of traditional folk healer. Originally found in Latin America, Curanderos specialize in treating illness through the use of supernatural forces, herbal remedies, and other natural medicines.
Deep breathing
Deep breathing involves slow and deep inhalation through the nose, usually to a count of 10, followed by slow and complete exhalation for a similar count. The process may be repeated 5 to 10 times, several times a day.
Energy healing therapy
Energy healing therapy involves the channeling of healing energy through the hands of a practitioner into the client’s body to restore a normal energy balance and, therefore, health. Energy healing therapy has been used to treat a wide variety of ailments and health problems, and is often used in conjunction with other alternative and conventional medical treatments.
Espiritista
An Espiritista is a traditional healer who assesses a patient’s condition and recommends herbs or religious amulets in order to improve physical or mental health or to help overcome a personal problem.
Feldenkrais
Feldenkrais is a movement therapy that uses a method of education in physical coordination and movement. Practitioners use verbal guidance and light touch to teach the method through one-on-one lessons and group classes. The intent is to help the person become more aware of how the body moves through space and to improve physical functioning.
Guided imagery
Guided imagery involves a series of relaxation techniques followed by the visualization of detailed images, usually calm and peaceful in nature. If used for treatment, the individual will visualize their body free of the specific problem or condition. Sessions are typically 20 to 30 minutes in length, and may be practiced several times a week.
Hierbero
A Hierbero or Yerbera is a traditional healer or practitioner with knowledge of the medicinal qualities of plants.
Homeopathy
Homeopathy is a system of medical practices based on the theory that any substance that can produce symptoms of disease or illness in a healthy person can cure those symptoms in a sick person. For example, someone suffering from insomnia may be given a homeopathic dose of coffee. Administered in diluted form, homeopathic remedies are derived from many natural sources, including plants, metals, and minerals.
 Hypnosis
Hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness characterized by increased responsiveness to suggestion. The hypnotic state is attained by first relaxing the body, then shifting attention toward a narrow range of objects or ideas as suggested by the hypnotist or hypnotherapist. The procedure is used to effect positive changes and to treat numerous health conditions including ulcers, chronic pain, respiratory ailments, stress, and headaches.
 Massage
Massage therapists manipulate muscle and connective tissue to enhance function of those tissues and promote relaxation and well-being.
 Meditation
Meditation refers to a group of techniques, most of which started in Eastern religious or spiritual traditions. In meditation, a person learns to focus his attention and suspend the stream of thoughts that normally occupy the mind. This practice is believed to result in a state of greater physical relaxation, mental calmness, and psychological balance. Practicing meditation can change how a person relates to the flow of emotions and thoughts in the mind.
Native American Healer or Medicine Man
A Native American Healer or Medicine Man is a traditional healer who uses information from the “spirit world” in order to benefit the community. People see Native American healers for a variety of reasons, especially to find relief or a cure from illness or to find spiritual guidance.
 Naturopathy
Naturopathy is an alternative medical system. Naturopathic medicine proposes that there is a healing power in the body that establishes, maintains, and restores health. Practitioners work with the patient with a goal of supporting this power through treatments such as nutrition and lifestyle counseling, dietary supplements, medicinal plants, exercise, homeopathy, and treatments from traditional Chinese medicine.
Nonvitamin, nonmineral, natural products
Nonvitamin, nonmineral, natural products are taken by mouth and contain a dietary ingredient intended to supplement the diet other than vitamins and minerals. Examples include herbs or herbal medicine (as single herbs or mixtures), other botanical products such as soy or flax products, and dietary substances such as enzymes and glandulars. Among the most popular are echinacea, ginkgo biloba, ginseng, feverfew, garlic, kava kava, and saw palmetto. Garlic, for example, has been used to treat fevers, sore throats, digestive ailments, hardening of the arteries, and other health problems and conditions.
Osteopathic manipulation
Osteopathic manipulation is a full-body system of hands-on techniques to alleviate pain, restore function, and promote health and well-being.
 Pilates
Pilates is a movement therapy that uses a method of physical exercise to strengthen and build control of muscles, especially those used for posture. Awareness of breathing and precise control of movements are integral components of Pilates. Special equipment, if available, is often used.
Progressive relaxation
Progressive relaxation is used to relieve tension and stress by systematically tensing and relaxing successive muscle groups.
Qi gong
Qi gong is an ancient Chinese discipline combining the use of gentle physical movements, mental focus, and deep breathing directed toward specific parts of the body. Performed in repetitions, the exercises are normally performed two or more times a week for 30 minutes at a time.
 Reiki
Reiki is an energy medicine practice that originated in Japan. In Reiki, the practitioner places his hands on or near the person receiving treatment, with the intent to transmit ki, believed to be life-force energy.
 Shaman
A Shaman is a traditional healer who is said to act as a medium between the invisible spiritual world and the physical world. Most gain knowledge through contact with the spiritual world and use the information to perform tasks such as divination, influencing natural events, and healing the sick or injured.
 Sobador
A Sobador is a traditional healer who uses massage and rub techniques in order to treat patients.
Tai chi
Tai chi is a mind-body practice that originated in China as a martial art. A person doing tai chi moves his body slowly and gently, while breathing deeply and meditating (tai chi is sometimes called “moving meditation”). Many practitioners believe that tai chi helps the flow throughout the body of a proposed vital energy called “qi.” A person practicing tai chi moves her body in a slow, relaxed, and graceful series of movements. One can practice on one’s own or in a group. The movements make up what are called forms (or routines).
Trager Psychophysical Integration
Trager Psychophysical Integration is a movement therapy in which practitioners apply a series of gentle, rhythmic rocking movements to the joints. They also teach physical and mental self-care exercises to reinforce the proper movement of the body. The intent is to release physical tension and increase the body’s range of motion. An example of Trager Psychophysical Integration as CAM is using it to treat chronic headaches.
 Yerbera
A Yerbera or Hierbero is a practitioner with knowledge of the medicinal qualities of plants.
 Yoga
Yoga combines breathing exercises, physical postures, and meditation to calm the nervous system and balance body, mind, and spirit. Usually performed in classes, sessions are conducted once a week or more and roughly last 45 minutes.