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Health, Sports & Psychology

CAM: Get to know the big five

Updated Tuesday, 14th September 2004

These are the five forms of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) - often termed "the big five" - which have the most mainstream acceptance and are amongst the most popular therapies on offer

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Osteopathy and Chiropractic

Both are popular, highly respected manipulative therapies which have their own regulatory councils and whose members are increasingly seen as 'primary care practitioners'. Osteopaths use soft tissue massage, stretching and manipulative separation techniques (which people feel as a 'click') to treat spinal pain as well as muscle and joint pain in children, sport-related injuries and muscular pain and circulation problems associated with pregnancy. Chiropractors see their role as treating the nervous system as well as improving skeletal mobility - using spinal manipulation to care for people with migraine, repetitive strain injury and sciatica, as well as back pain.

This system of healing, practised in Far Eastern countries for thousands of years, involves the insertion of very fine needles into specific points. Traditional Chinese acupuncture regulates the flow of Qi (pronounced Chi) - or energy- in the body. This is based on the belief that physical and mental illness are caused by a disturbance to this flow, from exposure to environmental problems such as weather, poor nutrition, toxins, physical trauma or psychological factors such as stress, anger, fear or anxiety. Some practitioners provide Western medical acupuncture as an adjunct to mainstream medicine, based on a modern understanding of how acupuncture works, involving the body's nervous system.

Herbal medicine
The oldest system of medicine in the world and the basis of many modern drugs, herbal medicine remains the most popular over the counter complementary therapy, with over £126 million in sales every year. It is most frequently used to treat migraine, arthritis, depression, insomnia and lung, stomach, blood and skin disorders. However, while over-the-counter therapies are booming, medical herbalists believe that the therapy is best provided by a one-to-one consultation. Practitioners treat the individual, not the symptoms, so that two people with apparently the same condition could visit the same herbalist and be given two totally different prescriptions.

Working on the principle that what makes a healthy person unwell can also be used to treat the same symptoms in someone who is ill, homeopathic medicines are hugely diluted and therefore difficult to subject to a rational explanation. Commonly used to treat eczema, arthritis, asthma and PMS, and regularly used by the royal family (and one in five of the population), homeopathic remedies are available over the counter. However, the pure homeopathic approach is to treat the whole person with a consultation involving a search for 'obstacles to cure' which may involve nutritional, psychological or hormonal factors - treatment of all of which are included in homeopathic solution.

Massage Therapy
The manipulation of soft tissue for therapeutic purposes is widely used as an adjunct to cancer therapy as well as being hugely popular as an antidote to stress and sports injuries, particularly among women. Aromatherapy involves the use of specially selected oils to create a state of being both relaxed and alert. Reflexology involves deep foot or hand massage designed to relax the whole body, with the practitioner using their thumbs to break up crystalline deposits which have formed at the nerve endings, particularly on the bottom of the feet.

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