Medical Definition of Complementary medicine

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Complementary medicine: A group of diagnostic and therapeutic disciplines that are used together with conventional medicine. An example of a complementary therapy is using acupuncture in addition to usual care to help lessen a patient's discomfort following surgery.

Complementary medicine is different from alternative medicine. Whereas complementary medicine is used together with conventional medicine, alternative medicine is used in place of conventional medicine. An example of an alternative therapy is using a special diet to treat cancer instead of undergoing surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy that has been recommended by a physician.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) can include the following:

  • acupuncture,
  • Alexander technique,
  • aromatherapy,
  • Ayurveda (Ayurvedic medicine),
  • biofeedback,
  • chiropractic medicine,
  • diet therapy,
  • herbalism,
  • holistic nursing,
  • homeopathy,
  • hypnosis,
  • massage therapy,
  • meditation,
  • naturopathy,
  • nutritional therapy,
  • osteopathic manipulative therapy (OMT),
  • Qi gong (internal and external Qigong),
  • reflexology,
  • Reiki,
  • spiritual healing,
  • Tai Chi,
  • traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and
  • yoga.

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Last Editorial Review: 1/25/2017

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