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Medicine, Alternative


MEDICINE, ALTERNATIVE. Alternative medical practices have arisen in or have easily been transported to the United States, where social values and political infrastructure have encouraged many forms to flourish. The pervading American value placed in persons having autonomy with respect to making decisions over their own bodies; the skepticism toward any professional group having a monopoly on a given field; and Article 10 of the U.S. Constitution, which reserves to each state the exclusive power to set standards, make rules, and license practitioners in their jurisdictions, have enabled the public and small groups of unorthodox practitioners to shape laws that limit the powers of the dominant orthodox medical profession and protect the interests of alternative minority groups. In Europe and most other countries, licensure and medical policy are centralized, and alternative practitioners and their supporters must win one large battle to gain political recognition or face being marginalized. In the United States, alternative medical movements have been able to fight simultaneous battles in several states, winning some and using those successes to institutionalize, build followings, set standards, and continue their struggles in other jurisdictions.

Although alternative medicine has existed throughout the country's history, the greatest growth of alternative medical movements occurred during three eras, when more broad-based social ideologies nurtured the philosophical premises and political aims of such movements. These ideologies were Jacksonian Democracy (roughly the 1820s to the 1840s), populism (1880s–1910s), and New Age thought (1970s–1990s).

The Era of Jacksonian Democracy

President Andrew Jackson and many of his followers trumpeted the virtues of "the common man, " feared large centralized institutions, and had a distrust of professionals, particularly when the latter sought special privileges or exclusive rights based upon expertise to practice in fields traditionally open to those with or without formal training. Consistent with these beliefs, three large alternative medical movements arose during this time.

Samuel Thomson, a self-trained root doctor from New Hampshire, believed that all disorders were caused by obstructed perspiration. He argued that fever was the body's effort to eliminate disease and that orthodox physicians, with their bleedings, blisterings, and use of drugs like mercury, arsenic, and antimony, were jeopardizing the lives of patients and causing many deaths. Thomson believed anyone could treat disease using six classes of remedies consisting of botanical drugs and the steam bath, all designed to produce great internal heat, eliminate the cold, and allow the body to reestablish its natural balance. Thomson wrote a popular book, prepared kits of his medicine, sold individual rights to his practice, and encouraged followers to defeat or repeal medical licensure laws that restricted the practice of medicine to formally trained physicians. Although Thomson was antiprofessional, other alternative groups that employed a wider range of botanical drugs emerged, including Eclectic Medicine, which established schools, journals, and hospitals and won status for its practitioners as physicians.

The second major group of medical reformers, part of the so-called popular health movement, believed that physicians were largely unnecessary because most diseases could be prevented by individuals adopting healthy habits. The most prominent American lecturer and writer in this movement, Sylvester Graham, maintained that disease resulted from excessive stimulation of the tissues. Any food that caused too much stimulation had to be avoided, including tea, coffee, alcohol, pastries, and all fleshy meats. Graham also used the doctrine of overstimulation to warn of the powerful dangers of too much sexual energy. Eating meat, he argued, produced a heightened sex drive, which was health destroying. One of his innovations was a cracker that still bears his name, which was initially designed in part to discourage overstimulation of this type.

The most significant European import during this era was homeopathy, a system of practice originated by the German physician Samuel Hahnemann. Brought to America in the 1820s, homeopathy encompassed two essential principles. The first principle was that the drug best able to cure a given illness would be that which could produce the symptoms of that illness in a healthy person. The second principle was that the smaller the dose, the more powerful the effect. One active part per hundred was shaken in a vial, and one part of that solution was mixed with another ninety-nine inactive parts, and so on, usually thirty times. By the end of the nineteenth century, homeopaths constituted 10 percent and the eclectics 5 percent of the physician and surgeon population in the United States.

The Era of Populism

Midwestern populism encompassed a distrust of large East Coast–controlled businesses and institutions, a belief that elites had gained too much power, and a sense that common people had too little say in shaping government and law in their own interests. As opposed to Jacksonian Democracy, many populists were not against creating laws governing the professions as long as the interests of competing groups were protected. In the 1870s and 1880s, new medical licensure laws were enacted; however, homeopathic and eclectic physicians were given the same rights as orthodox physicians. Challenging this hegemony were two groups—osteopathy and chiropractic.

Osteopathy was founded by Andrew Taylor Still, an apprenticeship-trained Midwestern physician. Still, who had practiced for a time as a bonesetter, believed that disease was the result of an obstruction or imbalance of the fluids caused by misplaced bones, particularly of the spinal column. These misplacements could be corrected through physical manipulation. He established an infirmary and school in Kirksville, Missouri, in 1892. Still's followers relatively quickly gained some measure of legal protection, established other colleges, and gradually expanded osteopathy's scope of practice to incorporate drugs and surgery. Eventually, D.O.s (doctors of osteopathic medicine) won equal rights along with M.D.s as full-fledged physicians and surgeons in every state and equal recognition by the federal government. As homeopathic and eclectic medicine faded after the beginning of the twentieth century, osteopathy became, and remained, the only equivalent professional rival of allopathic medicine, although the differences between the two groups have faded considerably.

Chiropractic appeared within a decade of the emergence of osteopathy and was founded in Davenport, Iowa, by Daniel David Palmer. Like Still, Palmer believed that diseases were due to misplaced bones. Many early chiropractors or D.C.s (doctors of chiropractic) were initially charged with practicing osteopathy without a license, but they demonstrated to courts and eventually legislatures that their diagnostic and treatment techniques were different. Unlike osteopathic physicians, who grew to encompass the full range of medical training and skills, chiropractors, despite the addition of some adjuncts, continued to center their activities on spinal manipulation and quickly became associated in the public mind with that technique, though osteopathy had historical priority.

"New Age" Thought

Fueled by America's continued participation in the Vietnam War and frustration with the perceived failure of government to produce meaningful change consistent with their own beliefs, a growing number of middle-class Americans in the 1970s shifted their attention from reforming society by legislative action to focusing on the potential for personal improvement. Drawing upon the rich traditions of other cultures, and often incorporating metaphysical and spiritual understandings of the basis and meaning of life, millions of Americans turned to a variety of disparate health beliefs and practices, including traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine; crystals and scented candles; rolfing and other body treatments; imaging and other psychological interventions; alternative diets; herbs, vitamins, and other supplements; and a rediscovery of homeopathic and botanical remedies. By the end of the twentieth century, more money was spent by Americans on alternative practitioners and remedies than on visits to the offices of conventional primary care physicians.

This movement also reflected a growing frustration with the way orthodox medicine was practiced. Too little time was spent listening to patients, and while science had contributed to the treatment of acute diseases, many patients with chronic illnesses wanted more relief from their conditions than conventional physicians could provide. The number of alternative treatments that became available provided patients with new choices and new hopes. Experience by physicians with some of these modalities, and later research indicating value in some forms of alternative treatment, encouraged a growing number of conventionally trained physicians to incorporate these methods under the banner of "holistic" or "integrative" medicine. The continued popularity of these most recent forms of alternative medicine will, as in earlier periods, depend not only on the perceived efficacy of the respective practices over time but also on the broader social trends and ideologies that facilitated the emergence and growth of these practices.


Berman, Alex, and Michael A. Flannery. America's Botanico-Medical Movements: Vox Populi. New York: Pharmaceutical Products Press, 2001.

Gevitz, Norman. The D.O.'s: Osteopathic Medicine in America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991.

———, ed. Other Healers: Unorthodox Medicine in America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988.

Haller, John S. Medical Protestants: The Eclectics in American Medicine, 1825–1939. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1994.

Kaufman, Martin. Homeopathy in America: The Rise and Fall of a Medical Heresy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1971.

McGuire, Meredith. Ritual Healing in Suburban America. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1988.

Moore, J. Stuart. Chiropractic in America: The History of a Medical Alternative. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.

Whorton, James C. Crusaders for Fitness: The History of American Health Reformers. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1982.


See alsoHomeopathy ; Medical Profession ; Medicine and Surgery ; New Age Movement .

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Alternative Medicine

Alternative medicine

Alternative medicine is the practice of techniques to treat and prevent disease that are not generally accepted by conservative modern Western medicine. These techniques include homeopathy, acupuncture, herbal medicine, yoga, meditation, chiropractic, massage therapy, biofeedback, naturopathy, and many others. Although some of these forms such as yoga, meditation, and acupuncture have been practiced for centuries in many cultures, the U.S. medical community has been slow to acknowledge their benefits.

With an increased emphasis on disease prevention in recent years, many people have looked to alternative forms of medicine for drug-free approaches to achieving and maintaining good health. Alternative medicine allows people a measure of participation and control in their own well-being, as many of the practices can be taught and self-administered. Some people have turned to alternative medicine in search of treatment or cures for illnesses such as cancer, AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), arthritis, and heart disease.

Relaxation techniques

Relaxation techniques help promote sleep, reduce stress, and alleviate pain. Controlled breathing is the simplest form of relaxation and consists of sitting or lying in a quiet place and breathing slowly in through the nose and out through the mouth. An advantage of this technique is that, if needed, it can be performed at any time, in any location, to produce relaxation.

Progressive relaxation therapy is a method of relieving muscle tension. Quietly lying on one's back and focusing on a particular region of the body such as the face, the individual consciously relaxes the muscles in that area. Moving through each part of the body, the individual repeats the process until all the body's muscles are relaxed.

The ancient practice of yoga incorporates relaxation, deep breathing, and postures (placing the body in certain positions) to relieve stress, improve blood circulation, and strengthen the body. Regular practice of yoga has been shown to be helpful in reducing the symptoms of many ailments from depression to heart disease.

Meditation is a method of relaxation in which a person concentrates his mind on a single thing such as an image, a word or phrase repeated silently, or the pattern of his breath. Meditation is usually practiced in a sitting position with the eyes closed and the back held straight. Its immediate benefits are reduced stress and anxiety, lowered blood pressure, and a slower rate of breathing. The daily practice of meditation over a long period of time has been shown to strengthen the body's ability to fight disease.

Biofeedback is a relaxation technique in which an individual learns to consciously control certain body functionsfor example, blood pressure. The individual is connected by electrodes to a machine that responds to body signals (blood pressure in this case) by beeping. Increased blood pressure results in a faster series of beeps, which slow as blood pressure decreases. As the beeps slow down, the person realizes that the blood pressure has decreased and tries to remember the relaxed state that created the change. The ultimate goal is to be able to recreate the relaxed state that lowered blood pressurewithout the aid of signals. Biofeedback has been used to treat migraines, to improve digestion, to lower heart rate, and to relieve pain. It has also been used to regain some control of muscles in persons who are partially paralyzed.

Hypnotherapy is the use of hypnosis to help a person gain control over stress, pain, and bad habits such as smoking and overeating. It is also sometimes used in medicine to block the sensation of pain during medical procedures and in psychotherapy to assist patients in recalling traumatic events. Under the guidance of a hypnotherapist, the person enters a trancelike state during which his subconscious mind responds to the suggestions of the therapist. The person can be taught to recreate the deeply relaxed state he experienced while under hypnosis and to use it on his own to overcome pain, control eating and smoking habits, and reduce stress.

Visualization and guided imagery are additional relaxation techniques that involve focusing the mind on specific images. With eyes closed, the person pictures in his mind a peaceful image or scene and concentrates on the sights, sounds, and smells that make the image soothing. Visualization is sometimes used as a supplemental treatment for patients with cancer or other serious and painful diseases. Guided by a therapist, the patient may visualize his body fighting the disease. This technique has been credited with bringing about physical healing in some cases.

Massage therapy is a method of achieving relaxation by applying pressure to and kneading the muscles of the body. Under the hands of a skilled massage therapist, this relaxation technique can temporarily relieve muscle tension and mental stress.


Chiropractic is a medical practice founded on the theory that human disease is caused by impaired nerve functioning. This impairment stems from the vertebrae of the spine shifting from their normal place and putting pressure on the spinal nerves. To treat a patient, the chiropractor massages and manipulates the vertebrae back to their proper position.

Holistic medicine

Holistic medicine is an approach to health care that takes into consideration the whole person in the treatment and prevention of disease. According to practitioners of the holistic approach, a person's physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual states must all be in harmony for optimal health. Many licensed doctors practice holistic medicine, and they may include alternative forms of therapy in place of or in addition to traditional forms in treating patients.

Herbal medicine

Herbal medicine uses herbal remedies composed of plant substances to treat illness. Herbs have been used for centuries in most cultures of the world, and many drugs used in modern Western medicine are derived from plants. Herbal remedies can be taken as capsules or as tinctures (plant extracts in alcohol). Fresh or dried herbs can be brewed for teas, applied directly, or mixed with water and used as pastes to treat skin disorders. Herbal remedies are often prescribed by alternative medical practitioners as part of a treatment program that includes proper diet, exercise, and relaxation techniques.


Homeopathy is a term derived from the Greek words meaning "similar suffering." A system of medicine developed over 200 years ago, homeopathy is based upon the principle that "like cures like." To treat a disease or disorder, the homeopath practitioner prescribes a remedy (an extract of plant, mineral, or animal substances) that produces the same symptoms the patient is experiencing. The remedy would make a healthy person sick, but in a sick person the remedy is thought to stimulate the body's natural defenses and promote healing.

In homeopathy, it is believed that each individual's illness is unique to that person, and both the person's physical and mental states are considered before prescribing a remedy. Like many other alternative medicine practices, homeopathy treats the body and mind as one; what affects one affects the other.

Acupuncture and Acupressure

Acupuncture is a technique developed by the ancient Chinese in which very thin needles are inserted through the skin at specific points of the body to relieve pain, cure disease, or provide anesthesia for surgery. The technique is one element of traditional Chinese medicine, which also includes herbal remedies, massage therapy, and a healthful diet. Acupuncture is practiced in the United States by both medical doctors and licensed practitioners, although its use by physicians is mostly limited to pain relief.

According to Chinese belief, lines or channels of energy cover the body and flow through it. The presence of illness or disease indicates that the flow of energy is blocked. Inserting fine needles at precise points along the channels removes the blockage, restoring the free flow of energy and allowing the internal organs to correct imbalances in their functioning.

Acupressure, also called shiatsu in Japan, is an ancient Chinese method of improving a person's health by applying pressure to specific points on the body. Acupressure uses the same channels of energy flow as acupuncture but does not break the skin. Instead, the acupressure practitioner applies pressure using the fingertips or knuckles to loosen muscles and improve circulation.

Homeopathy is a respected and approved medical practice in parts of Europe, Latin America, India, Greece, South America, and South Africa. In the United States, homeopathy has only begun to be accepted by the mainstream medical community, with some physicians using it along with traditional medicine to treat their patients. The production of homeopathic remedies is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and the remedies are available in many natural food stores.


Founded in the early part of the twentieth century, naturopathy is a system of healing disease using natural means. This drug-free method of treating patients relies on natural means such as manual manipulation, homeopathy, herbal medicine, hydrotherapy (water therapy), massage, exercise, and nutrition. The body's power to heal is acknowledged to be a powerful process that the practitioner, or naturopath, seeks to enhance using all-natural remedies that appear to help the patient.

Naturopaths are trained practitioners who diagnose and treat disease and are licensed in a number of states. They are specialists in preventive medicine who teach patients how to live in ways that maintain good health. Naturopaths sometimes work with physicians to help patients recover from major surgery. Although naturopathy is not widely accepted in the medical community, some physicians are also naturopaths.

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alternative medicine

alternative medicine, the treatment and prevention of disease by techniques that are regarded by modern Western medicine as scientifically unproven or unorthodox. The term alternative medicine can encompass a wide range of therapies, including chiropractic, homeopathy, naturopathy, acupuncture, herbal medicine, meditation, biofeedback, massage therapy, and various "new age" therapies such as guided imagery and naturopathy. Although many alternative therapies have long been widely employed in the treatment of disease, the scientifically oriented modern medical establishment has typically been skeptical about, and sometimes strongly opposed to, their use. Despite this, Americans spend billions of dollars on alternative treatments each year. In 1993 the U.S. National Institutes of Health established the Office of Alternative Medicine to examine the merits of such techniques. See also holistic medicine.

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Alternative Medicine

Alternative Medicine

While conventional health care is still thought by many to be the primary option for treating an illness, particularly in the United States, many people throughout the world seek alternative medical solutions to their physical ailments. In fact, alternative medicine is now becoming a widely accepted form of health care. Much of this acceptance has been prompted by a worldwide crisis in terms of quality health care, a crisis that has taken hold of the United States as well as Third World and developing nations. Prohibitively expensive conventional medical care has prompted many people to seek alternative means to cure their ailments. Often times, this decision is motivated by more than a lack of health insurance. People suffering from chronic (long-lasting or frequently recurring) conditions or life-threatening diseases will often seek out alternative treatment when they have exhausted all the possibilities that conventional care has to offer and have found those possibilities to be inadequate.

What is interesting about the growing acceptance of alternative medicine is that practices now deemed "alternative" were for thousands of years considered standard medical practices. However, as world population continues to expand and health care concerns grow, it is likely that alternative treatments will continue to expand in popularity and acceptance by lay (non-medical) persons and medical professionals alike.

Alternative medicine includes systems of medical care such as homeopathy and naturopathy, as well as acupuncture, chiropractic, massage therapy, reflexology, and yoga, all of which are explained in the sections that follow.


Homeopathy is a system of natural remedies that centers around two basic laws. The first is the law of similars, which is built around the principle that "like cures like," meaning that a disease is cured by medicines that have the properties of producing in healthy persons some symptoms similar to those of the disease. For example, if an individual has a fever, is flushed, and has a high pulse rate, that person would be treated with an agent that would cause a healthy person to have similar symptoms. The second law is the law of infinitesimals, which states that medicines are more effective in smaller doses.

History of Homeopathy

Homeopathy grew out of a movement known as sectarian medicine. (Sectarian medicine can be compared to what today is called alternative medicine. That is, sectarian medicine was set apart from conventional medicine.) In the 1800s, sectarian medicine included Thomsonianism (the foundation for herbal medicine, based on the healing arts practiced by Native American women and popularized in mainstream society in the early nineteenth century by New Hampshire farmer Samuel Thompson, 17691843). Sectarian medicine also embraced Grahamism (named after Sylvester Graham (17941851), which advocated proper nutrition and hygiene to fight disease and sickness).

Alternative Medicine: Words to Know

A form of alternative medicine that involves stimulating certain points, referred to as acupoints, on a person's body to relieve pain and promote healing and overall well-being.
A kind of doctor who advocates the system of medical practice making use of all measures that have proved to be effective in the treatment of disease.
Alternative medicine:
Medical practices that fall outside the spectrum of conventional allopathic medicine.
Human-made; not found in nature.
Blood vessel:
Vessel through which blood flows.
A way of treating certain health conditions by manipulating and adjusting the spine.
Any of several diseases of humans and domestic animals usually marked by severe gastrointestinal symptoms.
Magnetism developed by a current of electricity.
Genetic predisposition:
To be susceptible to something because of genes.
Of or relating to the whole rather than its parts; holistic medicine tries to treat both the mind and the body.
A system of natural remedies.
Substances formed in certain glands that control bodily functions.
To make a tentative assumption in order to draw out and test its logical or observable consequences.
Immeasurably small quantity or variable.
Belonging to the essential nature of something.
The study of the iris of the eye in order to diagnose illness or disease.
The study of anatomy in relation to movement of the body.
Massage therapy:
The manipulation of soft tissue in the body with the aim of relieving and preventing pain, stress, and muscle spasms.
The number of deaths in a given time or place.
A kind of alternative medicine that focuses on the body's inherent healing powers and works with those powers to restore and maintain overall health.
An emotional disorder that produces fear and anxiety.
Not involving penetration of the skin.
A branch of science that focuses on the functions of the body.
A medicated or protective dressing that consists of a film (as of cloth or plastic) usually spread with a medicated substance.
Qi (or Chi):
Life energy vital to an individual's wellbeing.
A type of bodywork that involves applying pressure to certain points, referred to as reflex points, on the foot.
Sectarian medicine:
Medical practices not based on scientific experience; also known as alternative medicine.
Relating to particles smaller than atoms.
To stop the development or growth of something.
Something that indicates the presence of an illness or bodily disorder.
A bony piece of the spinal column fitting together with other vertebrae to allow flexible movement of the body. (The spinal cord runs through the middle of each vertebra.)
A form of exercise and a system of health that involves yoga postures to promote wellbeing of body and mind.

Homeopathy began its rise to popularity in America in the late 1840s, but Samuel Hahnemann (17551843), a German conventional physician, had created the practice in the late eighteenth century. Homeopathy grew out of Hahnemann's opposition to the medical practices of his peers, practices that were conventional but had grown from heroic medicine (see sidebar), which Hahnemann considered to be extremely crude in certain aspects.

Hahnemann's major homeopathic discovery came about while he was conducting an experiment involving cinchona, a Peruvian bark that was known to cure the disease malaria. Hahnemann had been ingesting the cinchona (he did not have malaria at the time) and found that he began to develop fevers similar to those suffered by people with malaria. When he ceased ingesting the cinchona, Hahnemann observed that the symptoms ended. This prompted Hahnemann to hypothesize (form an educated guess) that if taking a large dose of something brought on symptoms of a disease, then taking a small amount of that same substance would prompt one's body to use its defenses against that same disease. Of course, many years of experiments followed, years that led Hahnemann to form the two basic laws of homeopathy (listed above) as well as the holistic principle (emphasizing the whole of something is more important than any one of its parts) that each illness is specific to the individual.

One of Hahnemann's students, Dr. Constantine Hering, considered the father of American homeopathy, continued Hahnemann's work, bringing homeopathy to America in the early part of the nineteenth century. By 1835, Hering had opened the first homeopathic medical school in the United States. Less than ten years later, the American Institute of Homeopathy (which was the first national medical association in America) was formed.


When one thinks of going to the doctor, it is most likely a conventional, or allopathic, physician that the individual will be seeing. However, up until the late eighteenth century, most medicine could be considered sectarian, or alternative. Thereafter, however, allopathic medicine, or conventional health care, which stems from heroic medicine, began to rise in popularity.

Heroic medicine was an inexact branch of medicine practiced in the early nineteenth century, the forerunner to today's conventional medicine. Heroic medicine was called such because heroic measures were taken to cure a patient. The foundation of heroic medicine was that all diseases resulted from an excess of fluids in the body, and the cure was to relieve the body of the excesses through bloodletting (the letting of someone's blood in the [false] belief that it was a remedy for fever, inflammation, and other disorders) and purging. In heroic medical practices, doctors did not hesitate to add to a patient's pain in the name of a cure; furthermore, natural causes and treatments were completely discounted. Many people believed heroic methods worked as the treatments did provide visible and predictable effects (though not necessarily cures).

For example, Dr. Benjamin Rush (also a signer of the Declaration of Independence), a major figure in heroic medical practices, advocated the use of bloodletting on women in the throes of childbirth as he viewed childbirth as a disease. Rush also utilized techniques such as blistering the skin with camphor and tartar plasters on a patient's chest (when blisters or second-degree burns appeared, Rush concluded that the infection had been drawn out because of the appearance of pus in the blisters).

The success of homeopathy in combating several widespread epidemics helped popularize the practice. In 1849, an outbreak of cholera in Ohio proved homeopathy's validity when only 3 percent of those treated homeopathically died from the disease; compared with a mortality rate of 40 to 70 percent for those treated with conventional, or allopathic, health care methods. Similar success was seen in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1879 when homeopaths (as practitioners of homeopathy are called) treated 1,945 people with yellow fever with a mortality rate of only 5.6 percent; conventional treatment used during the same epidemic yielded a 16 percent mortality rate.

Another factor lending itself to the popularity of homeopathy is that there long existed in the traditional medical practice community a prejudice and misunderstanding toward women and ailments particular to their bodies. Women's frustration with traditional health care, coupled with the fact that women, as the primary child-rearing force in the home, typically made the health care choices within their families, led many to seek out homeopathic solutions for their children's ailments. Thus, this too led to the surge in homeopathy.

Homeopathy soon became so popular that books on the practice appeared in several languages, some of which even offered up cures for animals' ailments. By the turn of the twentieth century, there were almost one hundred homeopathic hospitals and twenty-two homeopathic medical schools in the United States. It is also estimated that nearly 15 percent of American physicians were engaging in homeopathic practices at the time.

By the 1930s, homeopathy's popularity had begun to decline due to competition from conventional medicine and the American Medical Association (see sidebar on page 274). However, in the 1990s, homeopathy, like many other age-old alternative health care practices, enjoyed a growing resurgence in the United States and around the world.

Principles of Homeopathy

LAW OF SIMILARS. Hahnemann's law of similars actually stems from the observations and studies of another great medical mind, Hippocrates (c. 460377 b.c.), who observed the law of similars in the fourth century b.c. The notion that "like treats like" has been proven again and again, specifically by scientific minds of the twentieth century, such as Jonas Salk (19141995) with his invention of the vaccine against polio. Salk and others who have developed similar vaccines use small amounts of the actual disease to help an individual's body "immunize" itself against the disease. For example, individuals who receive allergy shots today often receive small amounts of an allergen (the allergy-causing substance) to boost their bodies' tolerance to that allergen.

LAW OF INFINITESIMALS. The law of infinitessimals states that medicines are more effective in smaller doses and involves using trace amounts of a substance. A mixture is prepared by using one part of a particular substance that brings on the symptoms of a disease and mixing it with ninety-nine parts of either pure water or alcohol. This procedure is then repeated anywhere from twenty-four to thirty times to further dilute the mixture. The process also involves shaking the substance vigorously, something Hahnemann believed imbued the mixture with energy.

Critics of homeopathy have wondered how homeopathy actually works, if after twenty-four successive dilutions of a remedy are performed, there is virtually no trace of the original substance remaining in the remedy; therefore, the so-called remedy is actually only water and/or alcohol. Advocates of homeopathy have proposed theories that center on subatomic activity that takes place within the remedies themselves. Specifically, it has been suggested that structures form in the remedies that are capable of holding electromagnetic signals that may carry a message to the body, prompting the body's immune system to respond appropriately.

HOLISTIC DIAGNOSES. The holistic principle that is also employed by homeopathy centers around the fact that not all illnesses are alike even though they may fall into similar categories. For example, one person's headache should not be treated in the same manner as another person's headache as their symptoms will never be identical. In fact, according to homeopathic theory, there are more than two hundred diverse patterns of symptoms for headaches alone, with different remedies for each pattern.


The American Institute of Homeopathy, founded in 1844, was the first formal medical association in the United States. It wasn't until 1847 that the American Medical Association (AMA) was founded, some say in large part to combat the popularity of homeopathy. In fact, by examining historical records, it appears that the primary mission of the AMA at its inception was to abolish the practice of homeopathy. The zeal with which the AMA attacked homeopathic medicine was due, in large part, to financial considerations. The homeopaths were taking business away from conventional allopathic physicians. Still, many allopathic physicians did embrace homeopathic solutions to illness.

By the early twentieth century, however, competition between medical schools, hospitals, and practitioners was on the rise. The AMA discouraged allopaths from associating professionally with homeopaths. And to compound matters, the AMA forged a bond with many major pharmaceutical companies. This bond centered on a mutually beneficial financial relationship; doctors received free samples of drugs and endorsed certain pharmaceuticals while the pharmaceutical companies purchased advertisements in the Journal of the American Medical Association. These advertisements gave the AMA the financial power it needed to improve its medical schools.

Soon, rating systems for medical colleges were created. These ratings contributed to the closing of the less financially stable homeopathic medical schools and organizations. By the 1930s, homeopathy had faded from the American medical field.

HERING'S LAWS OF CURES. Dr. Hering introduced yet another principle to the practice of homeopathy with Hering's laws of cures. These laws of cures upheld that healing begins from the deepest part of the body and then moves toward the extremities. Likewise, healing originates with emotional and mental aspects before moving to physical aspects; and finally, healing begins at the head and works its way down to the feet.

Another element of these laws includes Hering's assertion that the body will begin to heal its most recent disorder before moving to an older, preexisting condition. All of this means, then, that a homeopath will treat a condition in layers (from the inside to the outside, from the new to the old, from the top to the bottom, etc.). Yet, Hering also postulated that, as healing begins (new and old), a patient's condition might worsen before it gets better. This is what is known as the "healing crisis."

Homeopathy Helps Many Conditions

Homeopathy has been touted as being effective in treating a variety of diseases, from skin disorders to asthma to arthritis to diabetes. Practitioners believe this is so because it cures a disease at its deepest level. Many conditions, however, upon which homeopathic remedies have proven effective center around colds, influenza, or the flu, headaches, digestive disorders, and hay fever.

Other research indicates success in using homeopathic remedies to treat Parkinson's disease, bronchitis, sinusitis, pain, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Homeopathy Today

Currently, more than 500 million people in the world have received or are seeking homeopathic treatment for their illnesses. The World Health Organization has recommended that homeopathy be integrated into conventional medical practices so that health care demands worldwide will be met by the early twenty-first century.

Homeopathy is widespread in Europe, particularly in Germany, France, and Britain. Britain has a national health care system that includes homeopathic hospitals and clinics. India, too, has long advocated homeopathy; the country has more than 25,000 homeopaths. Homeopathy is also popular in Mexico and parts of South America.

In the United States, homeopathy, although its popularity is growing, still faces challenges. The Food and Drug Administration's lengthy approval process (see Chapter 9: Over-the-Counter Drugs) requires a great deal of funding. Many homeopathic remedies are extremely inexpensive (thus, unprofitable for a manufacturer) so the likelihood of homeopathic remedies appearing on pharmacy shelves is less than that of traditional over-the-counter or prescription drugs. As health care reform continues to be a topic of discussion in the United States, and individuals continue to explore and embrace alternative medicine, homeopathy may once again become an integral part of American health care practices.


Naturopathic medicine, or naturopathy, is another alternative form of medicine that differs from allopathic medicine. Naturopathy, like most alternative medicine, has been around for thousands of years and is one of the oldest types of medical practices. In fact, naturopathy is more a combination of various healing practices than a single method; it encompasses homeopathy as well as other alternative health care practices, such as acupuncture (see section below) and therapeutic exercises, such as yoga (see section below). Naturopathy focuses on the body's inherent (natural) healing powers and works with those powers to restore and maintain overall health.

Six Principles of Naturopathy

Naturopathic doctors, or N.D.s, do not use artificial drugs or perform surgery. Rather, the practice of naturopathy is based on six main principles that take into account many different aspects of a person's body and lifestyle.

NATURE'S HEALING POWER. Naturopathic physicians believe that the body has the power to heal itself by using its own life force. The role of the naturopathic physician, however, is very important to help the body in its healing process. The naturopathic physician tries to uncover any factors preventing good health or recovery from an illness and tries to combat those factors. In addition, the physician helps a person create a lifestyle and an environment that promotes good health.

IDENTIFY AND TREAT THE CAUSE OF ILLNESS. Naturopathic physicians know that an illness does not occur without a cause. Causes, however, must not be confused with symptoms. Symptoms are signs that the body is trying to heal itself. For example, when an illness is present in the body, a symptom will appear, such as a fever, stuffed-up nose, or a cough. These symptoms are signs that the body is trying to fight the illness. The philosophy behind conventional medicine is to suppress and, therefore, relieve symptoms, but an important doctrine of naturopathic medicine is that symptoms should be left alone so that the causes of an illness can be uncovered. Causes may be rooted in physical, spiritual, or emotional problems. By identifying the cause and then treating it, proper healing and recovery can occur.

FIRST DO NO HARM. Because naturopathic physicians believe that the body will heal itself once the cause of the illness is identified and treated, trying to suppress symptoms is considered harmful. Physicians are committed to treating a person in a way that is complementary with the body's own healing process. Any practice that does not support the body's natural healing process is avoided at all times by naturopathic physicians.

TREAT THE WHOLE PERSON. Naturopathic physicians aim to treat the whole of a person, not just the part that is ailing. For this reason, healing involves the examination of many different factors in a person's life. These factors can be environmental, social, genetic, spiritual, mental, and/or physical in nature. The physician must address each of these factors to heal an illness. It is not until all these factors are working together in harmony that a person can be assured good health.


Benedict Lust (18721945) is considered the father of naturopathic medicine. Even though the practice has been around for thousands of years, it was Lust who established the first official school of naturopathic medicine in the United States. In fact, he coined the term naturopathy in 1902.

Lust learned about naturopathic medicine by studying in Europe under Father Sebastian Kneipp. Kneipp had pioneered a philosophy of health, which was referred to as the "nature cure." This philosophy believed that good nutrition, exercise, and regular exposure to sun and air were essential to good health. These factors later became the basis of Lust's naturopathic medicine. In fact, Lust recovered from a bout of tuberculosis by following Kneipp's philosophy of hot- and cold-water treatments. When the cured Lust returned to America, he and his wife started the Yungborn Nature Cure Health Resort in New York. The resort was very successful, and three years later Lust opened the first school to teach others naturopathic medicine.

The popularity of naturopathic medicine grew in the next few years and more than twenty schools opened by 1925. The outbreak of World War II (193945), though, contributed to a reliance on medicine based more on science and technology. Prescription drugs, such as antibiotics, and surgical procedures became the preferred method of medical treatment in part because of their effectiveness in treating the soldiers who were wounded or fell ill during the war. Many believed at the time that medical science would soon find cures for most known diseases. As a result of these developments, naturopathic medicine suffered, and its popularity declined sharply as the American Medical Association (AMA) worked to establish itself as the main authority of medicine.

A resurgence in naturopathic medicine occurred in the late 1970s. At this time, many people became discontented by science and technology and more interested in all things natural and organic. As a result, more conventional medical schools began to offer courses in alternative medicine and naturopathy. In the 1990s, Americans spent billions of dollars on alternative health care, believing that good health involves one's diet and lifestyle and that one should take an active role in maintaining good health. Currently, there are approximately one thousand practicing naturopaths in the United States.

DOCTOR AS TEACHER. While naturopathic physicians are important in promoting good health, they have a responsibility to their patients to educate them in the practices of maintaining health. The role of the patient is equally as important in achieving good health because it is the patient who ultimately must accomplish the healing. As a result, the relationship between physician and patient must be caring, understanding, and respectful. Through education and encouragement, the naturopathic physician can give the patient the wisdom and hope he or she needs to embrace and practice good health.

PREVENTION IS THE BEST CURE. The final principle focuses on prevention (preventing illness before it strikes), which is at the root of naturopathic medicine. By promoting health through prevention, instead of working to combat disease and illness after the fact, naturopathic physicians can help their patients achieve good health. The naturopathic physician helps the patient identify any risk factors, such as genetic predisposition to disease or environmental hazards, that can be avoided. With the proper steps, a physician can help a patient avoid these risk factors and prevent illness and disease.

What Happens During a Naturopathic Doctor Visit?

Naturopathic doctors handle their patients differently from allopathic doctors. When a person makes an appointment with a naturopathic doctor, the N.D. will spend a few hours with the patient, during which time the N.D. takes a complete medical history. The N.D. will also discuss the details of the patient's symptoms and then proceed with a physical examination.

The N.D. will also conduct what is called a constitutional intake. This is a series of in-depth questions that explore the patient's lifestyle and diet. The constitutional intake will allow the N.D. to better understand the patient in order to recommend the right treatment for that person.

Once the questioning is complete and the physical examination has taken place, the N.D. will discuss treatment and a course of recovery. The patient is encouraged to take an active role in promoting good health. The N.D.'s responsibility is to make sure the patient has the information needed to heal. It is also normal for future visits to be scheduled so that the N.D. can monitor the patient's progress.


Naturopathic medicine has many different specialties which include:

  • Clinical nutrition: Uses food and nutritional supplements to treat illness.
  • Physical medicine: Focuses on the muscles, bones, and spine, using massage, exercise, heat, water, and cold to heal.
  • Homeopathy: Works to strengthen the body's immune system by giving natural medicine that produces similar symptoms to what the body is already feeling in order to treat an illness.
  • Botanical medicine: Uses plants as medicines to treat illness.
  • Naturopathic obstetrics: Offers natural alternatives before, during, and after childbirth that do not involve any drugs and take place outside of a hospital.
  • Chinese medicine: Follows ancient beliefs that unify the body and the mind and restore balance to the body's energy force, referred to as Qi. Includes acupuncture and acupressure.
  • Psychological medicine: Uses counseling and different types of therapies to achieve mental and emotional health.
  • Environmental medicine: Focuses on helping people deal with the toxic elements that are part of their environment and may be causing certain illnesses.

The Benefits and Limitations of Naturopathy

Naturopathy has many different benefits, from physical and mental to financial. Sometimes, patients find that conventional medicine isn't providing them with the care they need or that conventional therapies are failing as treatment. For these patients, naturopaths can offer a different type of treatmentone that is nontoxic and noninvasive. Because naturopaths focus on prevention and a holistic approach to treatment, patients may find better results with naturopathic methods. Naturopathic treatments are less expensive than conventional treatments because natural drugs do not cost as much as prescription medicines, which are manufactured by pharmaceutical companies, and because naturopaths do not rely on high-technology medical equipment to treat their patients.

Because naturopaths must learn a great deal about their patients' lives, they tend to be more involved with their patients. Part of their training involves counseling and communications skills, which enables them to develop a strong relationship with patients and, therefore, be in a better position to help them.

Naturopaths do have their limits, however. Sometimes naturopaths must refer their patients to allopathic doctors, especially when patients need surgery. Naturopaths are not licensed or trained to perform surgery. For example, if a patient breaks a bone, an allopathic doctor has to set the bone, while the naturopath doctor can assist with the recovery process.



Acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine that involves stimulating certain points, referred to as acupoints, on a person's body to relieve pain and promote healing and overall well-being. These points are most often stimulated by thin needles and are found along twelve pathways in the body, called meridians. According to acupuncturists, these pathways have energy, called Qi (or Chi; both pronounced chee), flowing through them. For the body to be healthy, it is important for the flow of Qi to be balanced, and needling of acupoints helps to balance the flow of energy. Acupuncture also aids in balancing yin and yang, opposite forces that make up all things, including the human body.

Acupuncture has become popular in the United States in recent years. It has been found to help relieve pain and restore and maintain health. Many people use acupuncture in combination with other forms of treatment and have found it helps them recover from their conditions at a faster rate. Acupuncture has been found to help include headaches, drug addictions, asthma, tonsillitis, nausea, paralysis, stomach ailments, and even the common cold. In a few cases, it has even been used to control pain during surgeries performed in Asian countries. Mental conditions, such as depression and anxiety, have also been treated with acupuncture.

Yin and Yang

Chinese medicine has been influenced by the Chinese philosophy Taoism. In Taoism, it is believed that everything is made up of yin and yang. Yin is all things dark, negative, and feminine. Yang is all things light, positive, and masculine. One cannot exist without the other. However, one may over-power the other and create an imbalance. Acupuncturists believe if yin and yang are not balanced within a person, he or she will be more prone to illness or disease. Acupuncture helps to restore yin and yang balance.

Qi: Life Energy

As well as having balanced yin and yang, a person should be concerned with having balanced Qi, or life energy. In English, Qi has been called "life

energy," "vital life energy," "life force energy," or "life activity." This energy is invisible and is considered vital to each person. Acupuncturists believe that a balanced flow of this energy is important to a person's health. If the flow is interrupted at any point, some parts of the body are going to be affected and not function at their best. This may lead to illness or disease. In order to restore health, Qi must be rebalanced. The practice of acupuncture, then, works to rebalance the flow of Qi and allow the body to naturally heal itself.

The Ancient History of Acupuncture

Acupuncture goes as far back as five thousand years and was developed by the ancient Chinese as a form of medicine. Ancient Chinese practitioners mapped out acupoints, the places on the body to be stimulated. Researchers have found that these points have more nerve endings than other areas of the skin. These acupoints total more than 365; some say there are as many as one thousand points. Acupuncture was developed and used in China for many years before it spread to neighboring countries and eventually to Europe and the United States. The first introduction of acupuncture in the United States occurred during the 1700s, but it wasn't until the twentieth century that it became a popular form of medical treatment.

Stimulating Acupoints: Needles and Other Ways

Acupuncturists most often stimulate points on a person's body with needles that are as thin as a hair. Early needles were made of stone, bamboo, iron, silver, or even gold. Today, acupuncture needles are made of stainless steel and are typically used only once and then thrown away. Not all of the needles are straight. One type, called a staple, is round with a small needle and can be attached to the ear so the patient can wear it out of the office. This type of needle can be worn for about two weeks and is used often with patients who suffer from addictions, such asnicotine addiction.


Acupuncture sharply increased in popularity in the United States following President Richard Nixon's (19131994) trip to China in 1970. During this trip, one of the people from the Nixon group needed to have an appendectomy, a procedure in which the appendix is removed. During the operation, pain was controlled by the use of acupuncture. After seeing the effects of acupuncture on his colleague, Nixon returned to America and made an effort to increase public awareness of acupuncture.

Other ways of stimulating the points include using pressure with hands (acupressure), electrical stimulation, lasers, magnet therapy, drug needling, and moxibustion. In electrical stimulation, a weak electric current is sent into the acupoint to stimulate it. In laser acupuncture a laser is used instead of a needle to stimulate a point. Magnet therapy has the acupuncturist placing magnets over the acupoints for stimulation. Drug needling is when herbal medicine or vitamins are injected into the acupoints, and moxibustion is when the mugwort herb is burned and placed on the head of the needle in order to send heat into the acupoint.

What Does Acupuncture Feel Like?

Surprisingly, acupuncture is not painful. Acupuncturists are trained in the proper insertion of the needles so they don't cause pain. However, patients will feel a tingling sensation and possibly some cramping or heaviness in the area of the needle. Typically, the needles are inserted about onequarter to one inch deep into the skin. The acupuncturist will usually insert only about twelve needles during one session. The placement of the needles depends upon a patient's condition. For example, if a patient is suffering from back pain, the needles may be placed in the leg. Once the needles are placed in their appropriate acupoints, the acupuncturist may twirl them to stimulate the acupoints even more. The idea of having needles inserted into a person's body may not sound appealing, but it is not as scary as it looks, and it is thought to offer great benefits to the body.

[See also Acupuncturist section in Chapter 7: Health Care Careers.]


Chiropractors, practitioners of chiropractic medicine, are commonly known to help patients with back problems. While many clients of chiropractors are people with back problems, chiropractors claim to be able to ease all kinds of health conditions. They do this by manipulating and adjusting the spine. Chiropractors believe that if the spinal column is in the correct position then the nerves in the spine may function at their best, which in turn allows other bodily systems to function at their best. Therefore, chiropractors may treat a variety of conditions, including back, shoulder, and neck pain, as well as headaches, sports injuries, heart disease, allergies, and epilepsy.

What Is Chiropractic?

Chiropractic is a way of treating certain health conditions. The word chiropractic comes from Greek origins and means "done by hand." This is a good description of how chiropractors treat their patients. They use their hands to manipulate and adjust the spinal columns of their patients. According to chiropractors, vertebrae (the bones forming the spinal column) can become slightly misaligned and cause problems with nerve function since the spinal cord (which carries nerve impulses to and from the brain) runs through the vertebrae of the spinal column. Chiropractors call these misaligned vertebrae that affect the flow of nerves subluxations. It is believed that subluxations block some messages from the brain as they are routed through the nerves in the spine. This means that, depending on where the subluxation is located, certain organs are not receiving all of their vital messages from the brain. When this happens, the organs are not functioning at their best and may start to have problems. These problems can, in turn, result in illness or disease.

Chiropractors try to fix subluxations by using quick thrusts with their hands or applying pressure to the problem area on the spine. Once the spine is in the correct position, chiropractors believe nerve function will improve and the body will be able to fight illness and disease better. Thus, chiropractors do not heal the illness or disease; they work to have a person's body functioning at its best so it can naturally heal itself.


One form of acupuncture, called auricular acupuncture, focuses on stimulating the ear instead of the whole body. French neurophysiologist Paul Nogier, M.D., mapped out certain points on the ear. He founded auricular acupuncture after he noticed that by stimulating certain points on the ear different parts of the body received a benefit of increased energy flow. This increase in energy flow is thought to improve health. A similar type of therapy to auricular acupuncture is reflexology. In this practice, reflexologists stimulate certain areas on the feet in order to provide benefits to the whole body. (See the Reflexology section in this chapter.)

The History of Chiropractic

Chiropractic got its start in 1895 by Daniel David Palmer (18451913). A faith healer (a person who treats patients using prayer and faith in God) from Davenport, Iowa, Palmer founded chiropractic after he restored hearing in a man, Harvey Lillard, by realigning part of his spinal column. Lillard had suffered a work injury many years before that resulted in his hearing loss. When Palmer examined him, he found a painful area on Lillard's spine. By thrusting on the area with his hands, Palmer was able to adjust the spine and Lillard's hearing returned. From this experience Palmer formed his beliefs that would become the foundation for the practice of chiropractic. He even started the first chiropractic school in the United States in 1897.

Part of Palmer's chiropractic beliefs were spiritual. He believed that every human has a life force that flows through the nervous system. He called it "innate intelligence." According to Palmer, a balanced flow of this life force is important for good health. Since innate intelligence flows through the nervous system, it can be affected if the spinal column is not aligned properly. Thus Palmer believed that by realigning the spine, chiropractors would be improving nerve function as well as rebalancing the innate intelligence.

After Palmer founded chiropractic, his son, B. J. Palmer, carried on his father's beliefs and heavily promoted the practice. However, he did not work to create a relationship with practitioners of conventional medicine. Instead, he spoke out against medical doctors and their use of drugs to heal illnesses and disease. Chiropractors' rocky relationship with medical professionals was further shaken when, in the 1960s, the AMA deemed it unethical for their members to work with any chiropractors and sought to expose problems in chiropractic beliefs. A lawsuit was eventually filed by five chiropractors against the AMA and other similar associations for violating their rights. The chiropractors won the lawsuit and chiropractic has since established itself as the most popular form of alternative medicine in the United States. There are now more than 50,000 chiropractors in the United States, the third largest group of health care practitioners in the nation.

What Happens During Treatment?

Treatment by a chiropractor includes manipulation and adjustment of the spinal column and other joints and muscles as well as counseling in nutrition and other areas to promote healthy living. Chiropractors are trained to provide painless treatments. Before working on the patient's spine, a chiropractor will ask the patient about his or her medical history and perform a physical examination. A chiropractor will also create a treatment plan for each patient.


Treating health conditions by working with the spine occurred before the founding of chiropractic. It has been documented that people of ancient Egypt and ancient Greece manipulated the spine to promote healing, as did Europeans during the Middle Ages (c. 5001450). Native Americans were also known to manipulate the spine before chiropractic practices were formalized in 1895 by Daniel David Palmer.

As well as feeling for displaced vertebrae with their hands, chiropractors often rely on X rays to locate misalignments in the spine. After locating problem areas, a chiropractor will have a patient lie on his or her stomach; the practitioner will then try to reposition the spine. Chiropractors may also use other forms of treatment in addition to manipulation with their hands. These may include massage, electrical stimulation, traction (a pulling force applied to a part of the body), ice, heat, or ultrasound.

[See also Chiropractor section in Chapter 7: Health Care Careers.]


Massage therapy is defined as the manipulation of soft tissue in the body with the aim of relieving and preventing pain, stress, and muscle spasms. In addition, massage therapy works to improve blood circulation and the body's ability to recover from illness and injury. There are many physical as well as psychological benefits to massage therapy, which will be discussed later in this section.

The practice of massage therapy has been around for thousands of years. Even ancient Greek and Roman civilizations recognized the many benefits of massage and often participated in massage after exercising or competing in athletic games. While massage therapy is considered an alternative treatment, many conventional physicians now encourage patients to seek out massage therapy for illness and injury. According to a survey in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, there are forty-nine conventional medical schools that offer courses in massage therapy. Furthermore, conventional doctors refer patients to massage therapists for a wide variety of problems, including allergies, asthma, arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches, insomnia, stress, bronchitis, chronic pain, and constipation.

The Different Types of Massage

There are many types of massage therapy, and each one uses a different technique to achieve a similar result. These include, but are not limited to, Swedish massage, reflexology, shiatsu and acupressure, and sports massage. Swedish massage, perhaps the most well known and popular type of massage, combines kneading

and stroking of the muscles with movement of the joints. Reflexology focuses on certain points on the hands and feet that are connected to other areas on the body. Shiatsu and acupressure are Asian techniques that apply pressure to certain points on the body that correspond with acupuncture meridians. Meridians are the channels through which the body's energy, or Qi, flows. Finally, sports massage focuses on improving an athlete's performance, preparing an athlete for a specific event, and helping the particular muscles that are used in a certain sport.

The Physical Benefits of Massage Therapy

There are many physical benefits to massage therapy. Massage therapy's rhythmic movements and applied pressure help increase one's blood circulation. It also helps blood vessels to expand, allowing more blood to pass through them. In addition to increased blood circulation, massage therapy works to increase lymph (a white substance that carries the body's toxins away) flow. Since lymph, unlike blood, does not move on its own, it must be stimulated through muscle movement, or exercise and massage. The increased flow of blood and lymph has a positive effect on the body's cells, which contribute to a person's overall health. More blood means more oxygen and more lymph means less waste and toxins.


As professional and amateur athletes strive to reach their peak performance, sports massage therapy works to keep their bodies in top shape. Massage helps athletes perform better, avoid injuries, and recover more quickly from minor injuries. The three main areas of sports massage therapy are maintenance massage, event massage, and rehabilitation massage.

Maintenance massage is used to improve an athlete's flexibility and range of motion. A trained therapist knows how to focus on the particular muscle groups that different types of athletes use most often. This allows athletes to train more effectively and prevent possible injuries.

Event massage includes two categories: Preevent massage and post-event massage. Pre-event massage helps athletes prepare for a big event by increasing their blood circulation and releasing any muscle tension that may be present before a big event. Post-event massage reduces muscle spasms that may occur and helps athletes' muscle tissues recover from the event. This allows athletes to be ready to compete in the next event. Both pre-event and postevent massage enable athletes to compete at their best while reducing the risk of injury.

Rehabilitation massage is used when athletes suffer from injuries, such as muscle tears, cramps, bruises, and aches. Even the best athletes have injuries, and it is a sports massage therapist's job to help athletes recover quickly. Massage is used simultaneously with proper medical care and helps the muscle tissue heal by removing lymph fluid (a white substance that carries the body's toxins away). Finally, rehabilitation massage can make the recovery process less painful for the athlete, which helps to restore the mental edge that athletes need in order to perform their best.

Massage can be particularly important when a person is involved in an exercise regimen or participates in a sport on a regular basis. When muscles are being used more often, there is an increase in certain acids that build up in the tissue if the muscles do not get the oxygen they need. If these acids remain in the muscle tissue, cramping, soreness, and fatigue generally follow. Massage can help to drain the muscle tissues of these acids and thus help muscles recover more quickly.

Another important aspect of overall health is good nutrition. Giving the body the proper vitamins and nutrients will help it function properly. Massage therapy can increase the benefits of good nutrition by helping the nutrients reach their destination: the cells. As mentioned, massage expands the blood vessels, which increases circulation. By having a clear and open path, nutrients have an easier time finding the cells that work to keep the body healthy.

The Psychological Benefits of Massage Therapy

In addition to physical benefits, there are many psychological, or mental, benefits to massage therapy. The most obvious benefit is stress relief. Stress affects everyone, young and old alike. Frustrations can build in many aspects of a person's life, whether it be job, family, friends, or school. Stress prompts the release of certain hormones that cause blood vessels to shrink. The shrinking of blood vessels results in poor circulation, which can greatly harm a person's overall health. Research has indicated that stress is a main cause of certain illnesses, such as migraine headaches, depression, high blood pressure, constipation, and other digestive disorders. Massage therapy can help to reduce the risk of these illnesses. Massage therapy also helps people release repressed, or built-up, emotions, which can result in an overall sense of relaxation and peace.


Reflexology is a type of body therapy that involves applying pressure to certain points, referred to as reflex points, on the foot. Many people seek reflexology for relaxation and to improve their health and well-being. It is thought that by pressing points on the feet, impulses are sent through pathways to certain areas of the body, increasing energy and health in those areas. During treatments, patients may even feel tingling sensations in the parts of the body to which the impulses are being sent. Reflexology is thought to help anxiety, asthma and allergies, chronic pain, diarrhea and constipation, high blood pressure, migraine headaches, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), skin problems, and stress.


Massage therapists work hard to make sure their clients feel comfortable when receiving a massage. Clients usually are asked to remove most of their clothing during the massage. However, if this makes clients feel uneasy, therapists can provide a towel or sheet to cover up their clients, leaving only the body part being massaged exposed. Some clients like to have complete quiet during a massage while others enjoy music. Therapists will accommodate their clients in every way possible, providing soft music or total silence. Oils and lotions may also be used if the client wants, but these things are not necessary to a good massage. While some clients prefer not to talk during a massage, a successful session often relies on good communication between the client and the therapist. A good therapist should answer any questions a client has and lay to rest any anxiety the client may have.

Overall, the most important thing for a good massage is for the therapist to be well trained in the areas of anatomy (study of the human body), physiology (study of bodily functions and processes), and kinesiology (study of human movement). Also, the therapist should be sensitive to a client's needs and open to feedback to promote overall health for the client.

The Roots of Reflexology

Reflexology is approximately as old as acupuncture, which has been around for the past five thousand years. Like acupuncture, reflexology has its roots in China, but evidence has been found indicating that reflexology was also used in Egypt as far back as 2330 b.c. Reflexology was first developed in the United States by William Fitzgerald, M.D., in 1913. Fitzgerald had begun to realize that his patients would feel less pain when pressure was applied to certain areas of the body, such as the hands or feet, before surgery. Deciding to research this further, Fitzgerald conducted some experiments and concluded that pressing points on certain areas of the body produced beneficial effects in other areas of the body. Fitzgerald called this "zone therapy."

Physiotherapist Eunice Ingham further developed Fitzgerald's zone therapy into the practice that is known today as reflexology. During the 1930s, Ingham used zone therapy and concluded that applying pressure to the feet yields the best results to the body. She also asserted that it is better to vary the amount of pressure applied and that greater benefits than just pain relief occurred from applying pressure to the feet. Ingham then mapped out the reflex points on the feet to be pressed and the specific areas of the body that relate to the points on the feet. Thus reflexology was officially born in the United States.


Massage therapy for premature babies (babies that weigh less than five pounds at birth) is a relatively new phenomenon, pioneered by Dr. Tiffany Field, a child psychologist who founded the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami Medical School. Its mission is to research the medical benefits of touch and further its role in the treatment of illness and disease. Field's thinking, however, has quickly caught on with both parents and the medical community. Although doctors believed for many years that premature babies were so fragile that it would be harmful to touch them at all, this belief has been challenged by the tremendous benefits massage has produced with such babies. According to the Touch Research Institute, premature babies who are massaged three times a day develop more quickly by gaining weight faster than those preemies who are not massaged. Babies who receive massage also develop better mental and motor skills just months after their births.

Massage not only benefits premature babies, but it also aids all babies by helping them sleep better and generally be more relaxed. While the benefits of massage therapy for babies seem to be evident, many hospitals still do not have programs that incorporate this therapy, and even if they do, many insurance companies won't cover the costs. As a result, many new parents are taking classes to learn how to massage their babies at home.

How Does Reflexology Work?

Students of reflexology are trained to know the correct points to press on the foot. They may refer to foot reflexology charts that show which areas of the foot should be pressed and which organs will be affected if a certain area of the foot is pressed. The reflex points on the feet are located on the bottom as well as the top and sides of the feet. Reflexologists are taught that pressing points on the right foot affects organs on the right side of the body and pressing points on the left foot affects organs on the left side of the body. They also learn that different points on a foot relate to different organs in the body. For example, if a reflexologist presses an area just below the three middle toes, the eyes and ears may be affected, and if the tips of the big toes are pressed, the head and brain are affected. Sending impulses to these areas is thought to allow the organs to perform better and thus contribute to healing or maintaining the health of the body.


Reflexology is not the only practice that sees one part of the body as a map for the entire body. In Chinese and Indian medicine, many practitioners examine the tongue as a way to determine the health of the rest of the body. In iridology, practitioners use the iris of the eye to diagnose disease in other parts of the body. The colon has also been thought to show signs if another part of the body is suffering from an illness. Auriculur acupuncture (see Acupuncture section) focuses on the ear in order to restore or maintain health in the entire body.

According to reflexologists, other benefits of reflexology include the reduction of lactic acid in the feet. Lactic acid is a waste product produced from using muscles and too much of it can cause problems, such as stiffness. Reflexologists also believe there are tiny calcium crystals that build up at the nerve endings of the feet and cause problems in energy flow. They claim reflexology helps to break up these crystals and restore healthy energy flow.


Although many people today are embracing yoga solely as a form of exercise, yoga is actually considered to be a system of health, such as homeopathy or reflexology. In the United States, yoga has slowly grown in popularity; however, in Eastern cultures, such as India, yoga has always been a common practice.

The term yoga means "union" in the Sanskrit language, and it refers to the relationship of physical, mental, and spiritual energies that enhance all facets of an individual's well-being. Dating back to the second century b.c., when a writer named Patanjali wrote the Yoga Sutras, one of yoga's primary philosophies is that the health of the mind and the body are linked together and that one cannot function properly if the other does not. Proponents of yoga claim, then, that its practices can restore this balance between body and mind and promote overall health.

Yoga Postures

Yoga postures are known as asanas (often categorized as Hatha yoga). In Sanskrit, the word asana means "ease." Asana refers not only to postures but also to exercises that revolve around these postures to promote positive change in the body. Asanas often entail a limited amount of movement from participants, but at all times the body and the mind remain engaged, working together to achieve a state of simultaneous energy and relaxation.

When an asana is done correctly, it is designed to create a perfect balance between movement and stillness. Two types of asanas used today are meditative and therapeutic.

MEDITATIVE ASANAS. Meditative asanas are used to properly align the head and the spine. In turn, they also promote a state of relaxation that may be influenced by the improved circulation these postures elicit. This means that while the mind is at rest, the body's major organs and glands are enjoying a great deal of energy.

THERAPEUTIC ASANAS. Initially used to introduce the body into a relaxed state prior to meditation, therapeutic asanas (which include the popular shoulder stand and lotus positions) can also be used to ease pain in the back, joints, and neck. In fact, holistic practitioners often prescribe these positions to their patients as a way of alleviating such pain. Therapeutic asanas were originally referred to as cultural asanas; however, their applicability to pain reduction has contributed to the change in their name.

Breathe Easy

Controlling one's breathing in yoga is called pranayama, which refers to the control of prana, or the life force/life energy. Breath control is practiced in yoga to help yogis (experienced practitioners of yoga) regulate their autonomic

physical functions (heart rate, for example). Yoga philosophy suggests that controlling one's breathing to make it slow and steady results in having a relaxed mind. Therefore, yogis try to perfect their breathing using smooth motions that promote an evenness of breath. It is believed that this, in turn, promotes a serenity (calmness) of the mind and raises concentration and energy at the same time. This is why breath control is integral to the practice of meditation.

Meditation is Concentration

Once a yogi has mastered his or her breathing and the appropriate postures, the yogi can move on to meditation. Meditation refers to a state of heightened concentration in which many practitioners enjoy feelings of peace and awareness. Meditation creates a state in which yogis can focus fully on the balance between the mind and the body.

Expert yogis strive to achieve the final stage of yoga, known as samadhi. In this stage, the yogi is believed to realize a state of awareness (consciousness) that is above those states of dreaming, sleeping, and wakefulness. Samadhi is the fourth stage of consciousness.

Yoga's Benefits to the Body

Yoga's benefits to the body are numerous, according to proponents of the practice. Like any type of physical activity, yoga promotes a certain degree of muscle strength. Even more so, yogis enjoy a great deal of flexibility, and flexible muscles lead to improved posture. In fact, a common trait in yogis is their exceptional posture that resonates from the top of their heads down to their feet. While yoga is not considered to be an aerobic (cardiovascular) exercise, people engaging in yoga often break a sweat and, like any activity, yoga does burn calories, which further promotes fitness.

Yoga has also been credited with diminishing symptoms of and suffering from certain physical conditions. Specifically, many studies have been built around yoga's positive effects on reducing the blood pressure in those suffering from hypertension. Other physical conditions thought to be improved by yoga, according to the Yoga Biomedical Trust survey (19831984), include back pain, arthritis and rheumatism, migraines, menstrual disorders, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), asthma and bronchitis, hemorrhoids, cessation of smoking, and obesity.

Yoga's Benefits to the Mind

It is only natural that yoga has direct benefits to a person's mental health and well-being since the practice centers around unity between the body and the mind. Because it employs breathing techniques and meditation, yoga helps reduce people's overall stress, anxiety, and insomnia. Furthermore, advocates of yoga claim that it improves concentration as well, allowing individuals to focus clearly and easily on a thought or a task at hand.



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complementary medicine

complementary medicine (kom-pli-ment-ări) n. various forms of therapy that are viewed as complementary to conventional medicine. Previously, complementary therapies were regarded as an alternative to conventional therapies, and the two types were considered to be mutually exclusive (hence the former names alternative medicine and fringe medicine). However, many practitioners now have dual training in conventional and complementary therapies. There is very limited provision for complementary medicine within the confines of the National Health Service. See acupuncture, aromatherapy, chiropractic, homeopathy, naturopathy, osteopathy, reflexology, reiki.

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complementary medicine

com·ple·men·ta·ry med·i·cine • n. any of a range of medical therapies that fall beyond the scope of scientific medicine but may be used alongside it in the treatment of disease and ill health. Examples include acupuncture and osteopathy. See also alternative medicine.

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alternative medicine

alternative medicine (awl-ter-nă-tiv) n. see complementary medicine.

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