Complementary and Alternative Medicines (CAM) encompass many different types of practitioners of alternative treatment. They take an approach to healing that was not traditionally performed in the western part of the world. Modern times have brought these previously thought to be unusual approaches of natural treatment into a new light. Chiropractic is often thought to be a part of these forms of treatment. Complementary and Alternative Medicine is a broad field of many diverse systems, operating differently than the (Western) medicine model; however, some medical practices have come to integrate this approach to healing into their treatment plans. CAM, when it is used at that same time as Western medicine, is called “complementary medicine”, such as when a doctor uses the technique of acupuncture to reduce pain during treatment. When CAM is used instead of Western medicine, it is called “alternative medicine”. Sometimes CAM and Western medicine are combined together in “integrated medicine”.1 Even some hospitals, such as the University of Colorado Hospital, have CAM and integrative medicine programs. As new information is discovered through research of these alternative treatments and their interactions with traditional treatment, more medical professionals are integrating both styles of medicine into their treatment, sometimes favoring one style over the other depending on the situation and the patient’s needs. Traditional medical doctors are also working more often with professionals in the field of alternative treatment, such as chiropractors.2
Types of CAM
Complementary and Alternative Medicine can include mind and body therapies (the holistic model), as well as natural products and body manipulation practices. CAM practitioners may use herbal remedies, minerals, vitamins, and other supplements, such as probiotics and digestive enzymes. These practitioners will recommend anything to their patient that will both treat the patient’s ailment without the side effects of traditional medications. Mind and body therapies include yoga, meditation, and acupuncture. There are other practices of the mind and body as well, such as tai chi, deep-breathing, and hypnotherapy. Many of these treatments have histories that are at least 2,000 years old. Body-based practices include spinal manipulation and massage therapy. In fact, many traditional medical offices now include these latter practices. Other types of CAM can include “movement therapies”, such as Pilates and Rolfing. Traditional and indigenous “healers” are also considered part of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (i.e., Native American medicine man). Magnet and light therapy, Reiki, and qi gong, which manipulate energy, are also CAM practices. There are older medical systems that are now considered CAM, including Ayurvedic and Chinese medicines. Homeopathy and naturopathy are more modern CAM systems.3
Is Chiropractic CAM?
There is some disagreement over whether or not chiropractic care should be considered part of the category of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. According to Dr. Lon Morgan, DC, DABCO, the effectiveness of the various CAM treatments is “controversial”. Some chiropractors wish to be part of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, even though Morgan feels “CAM approaches conflict with chiropractic ‘philosophy’”. If chiropractors are considered the same as naturopaths and energy healers, or if the treatment methods and “notions of the causes of disease” are so diverse and conflicting, it may not always benefit chiropractic, per Morgan. The chiropractors who wish to be considered CAM share the “Us vs. Them” commonality with the other practices (i.e., “CAM vs. medicine”). Morgan feels that the “schizophrenic approach to a chiropractic identity serves no one” since some alternative practices do not have the same rigorous standards that it takes to become a chiropractor.4 The American Chiropractic Association acknowledges that it can be positive that chiropractic is considered alternative healthcare because it is “one of the top two providers of choice”, which helps insurers respond to “public demand for alternative care”. With regard to insurance, however, the ACA recognizes that it may not be beneficial for chiropractic to be considered just alternative care. If chiropractic is part of mainstream insurance, patients will have better coverage for their chiropractic care. If insurers choose the “affinity product”, treating chiropractic the same as any other alternative provider, then the patient is left to pay a discounted, but cash, rate. The ACA opposes excluding chiropractors and does not support the affinity product. “Chiropractic care should be a benefit within all third party payer plans or programs”. With this form of alternative care becoming more popular, the training and effort that chiropractic practitioners must abide by, and the advantages of insurance coverage, chiropractic is the most traditional of the alternative treatments. Labels do not change the proven results that come from patients who seek regular care from a trained chiropractor.5 The Affordable Care Act (healthcare reform law or “Obamacare”), which was upheld by the Supreme Court, contains a “provider non-discrimination provision”. ACA President Keith Overland, DC stated, “That makes it illegal for insurance companies to discriminate against doctors of chiropractic… the non-discrimination provision, when it is fully implemented, will extend the availability of chiropractic services”.6