Out of the Ordinary

We explore the most common complementary and alternative medical treatments used in the healthcare industry today.

Although they’re usually put in the same category, alternative and complementary treatments have an important distinction. When a non-mainstream treatment is used alongside a conventional one, it is known as ‘complementary’; while when a non-mainstream therapy is used in the place of conventional treatments, this is known as ‘alternative’. CAMs (complementary and alternative medicines) can include meditation, acupuncture, homeopathy and osteopathy. Although practiced widely, some of these CAMs are based on evidence that is not entirely recognised by the medical community. Others, however, have been proven to work on a number of health conditions.  


Derived from ancient Chinese medicine, this CAM consists of inserting fine needles in certain parts of the body for therapeutic purposes. Used following a medical diagnosis in western medicine, this practice stimulates nerves and muscles in the body. Currently, the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) only recommends considering acupuncture to treat chronic tension-type headaches and migraines, although this therapy is also used to treat musculoskeletal conditions. Acupuncture is sometimes available on the NHS, though access is limited—most patients pay for it privately. 


Most people who visit an osteopath do so to seek help with conditions affecting their bones, muscles and joints. This form of complementary and alternative medicine focuses on detecting, treating and preventing health problems by stretching and massaging muscles and joints. Using manipulation, osteopaths increase the mobility of joints, relieve muscle tension and enhance the blood supply of tissues through stimulation. This therapy is based around the principle that the wellbeing of individuals depends on their muscles, bones and connective tissues working together harmoniously. 


This CAM can help with back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain and pain from osteoarthritis. As it’s not a conventional medical treatment, it isn’t widely offered on the NHS—to find out if there is an NHS chiropractor in your area, contact your doctor or local clinical commissioning group. There is little evidence that chiropractic treatments can help conditions affecting the muscles or joints.


Homeopathy is based on the notion that ‘like cures like’, a claim that a substance that causes disease in healthy people would cure similar symptoms in sick people. Developed in the 1790s by a German doctor, homeopathy also revolves around the process of diluting and shaking a substance. Practitioners believe that this dilution increases the substance’s power to treat symptoms. Although it is sometimes used to ‘manage’ conditions such as asthma, arthritis, high blood pressure and depression, homeopathy is not offered on the NHS anywhere in the UK. Even though there have been countless reviews of the data and research behind homeopathy, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has ruled there is no conclusive evidence on its effectiveness in treating any condition.

Opting for CAMs

As osteopathy and chiropractic are regulated in the same way as ‘conventional’ medicine, patients will be able to look for registered professionals through the General Osteopathic Council or General Chiropractic Council websites. Apart from these two treatments—according to NHS Choices—no other CAMs are professionally regulated in the UK. This means that anyone can practice these forms of alternative medicine without experience or qualifications and that practitioners are not legally bound to any standards of practice

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