What are complementary therapies?

What are complementary therapies?

Complementary therapies are becoming a more common addition to treatment plans for people living with arthritis. Complementary therapies are meant to work with rather than replace treatments recommended by your doctor.

Complementary  therapies include treatments such as massage, acupuncture, meditation, and naturopathic medicine. Complementary medicine is often focused on a whole-body approach to health and wellness.

Many complementary therapies are regulated professions that require extensive training, but practitioners do not need to be medical doctors to deliver treatment.

What are the differences between Complementary, Alternative, and Holistic Therapy?

There are many different terms that people use when discussing forms of care beyond traditional western medicine. Here are some helpful tips to understand the difference between the terms complementary, alternative, and holistic.

flowers in a potComplementary: When a form of treatment that your doctor does not use as part of their medical practice (traditional western medicine) is used with the treatment plan from your doctor, it is considered a complementary therapy since the additional form of treatment works with, or complements the treatment from your doctor.

Alternative: When a treatment option not used by traditional medicine is used on its own as the only treatment plan, this is considered an alternative therapy, because it is being used as an instead, or as an alternative to traditional western medicine.

Holistic: The term holistic is sometimes used interchangeably with complementary and alternative health, but typically means taking a whole-body approach to health and wellness. Holistic wellness includes self management for your overall physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual wellbeing, and can include forms of complementary or alternative therapies.

Talking with your healthcare team

It is important to  find a reputable service provider. Depending on where you live, not all complementary treatment options will be regulated.  It is always best to let your primary health care team know which additional treatment options you are using so they can make sure none of your medications or other treatment plans will interfere. As with all forms of complementary therapies, it is important to discuss options with your primary care providers, especially if you experience any negative effects.

There is no one size fits all approach to pain management or relief. What works for one person may not work for another. It can be a frustrating process to find a pain management strategy that works for you.
Also keep in mind that some pain management techniques may work better for some types of pain, and not others. When thinking about how to choose a complementary therapy for pain management, consider trying one method at a time. This may take some trial and error, and time to find what works best for you.

Therapies should complement, not substitute, care

It is important  to note that complementary therapies are not a substitution for the treatment you receive from your health care team. They are intended to help provide additional options for symptom relief along with your regular treatments. Sometimes when your symptoms are less disruptive, you may not feel like taking your regular medication, but it is important to keep using your medications as instructed.

Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) such as methotrexate or biologics help slow down disease progression and minimize joint damage for people with inflammatory types of arthritis. Other treatment such as therapeutic exercise helps protect your joints and reduce pain by strengthening the muscles around them. If you want to adjust your treatment plan or have questions about changes in your symptoms, always consult your doctor first, so they can help you make adjustments specific to you and your body.

Paying for complementary therapies

Someone manipulating someone's shoulderComplementary treatment options are not typically covered by government health insurance plans, though some community programs or workplace, group, and private insurance plans offer full or partial coverage for some or all services.

Because most of these therapies are not covered under provincial or federal health plans, finding the right treatment can be an expensive process for many, which may be a discouraging thought.

Before you begin a therapy, it may be helpful to visit 211.ca, call 211, or check with your local municipal or provincial health authority for low or no cost pain management options in your area. Some of these therapies may be available on a sliding fee scale, or through pay-what-you-can options. Additionally, some forms of treatment are offered by community organizations or through funding programs that are able to offset costs for people with lower income.  


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