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Glossary of Integrative Terms


  • Acupuncture, a practice used in traditional Chinese medicine and practiced in China and other Asian countries for thousands of years, is a series of procedures that stimulate points on the body.
  • While there are a variety of techniques, the most well-known and commonly studied involves penetrating the skin with thin, solid, metal needles manipulated by hand or by electrical stimulation.
  • Acupuncture is known to ease chronic pain, such as low-back pain, neck pain, and osteoarthritis pain, and can reduce the frequency of tension headaches and prevent migraines.
  • Millions of Americans use acupuncture each year, with relatively few complications  reported. Issues can result from use of non-sterile needles and improper treatment.



  • Ayurvedic Medicine, also known as Ayurveda, originated in India over 3,000 years ago and is one of the oldest medicinal systems. It is a multi-faceted complementary health approach centered around universal interconnectedness, the body’s constitution, and life forces.
  • Ayurvedic physicians prescribe individualized treatments, including compounds of herbs or proprietary ingredients, and diet, exercise, and lifestyle recommendations. In fact, many of the practices in Ayurvedic medicine – herbs, massage, and specialized diets – are also used on their own in integrative medicine.
  • Ayurvedic products are made of herbs or of a combination of herbs, metals, and minerals (they are thus regulated as dietary supplements in the US). Caution should be used as they may be toxic if used improperly or without the consultation of a trained practitioner. In addition, some products may result in side effects or unexpectedly interact with conventional medicines. Other elements of Ayurveda, including massage, diets or cleansing, can also have side effects.


Chiropractic Medicine

  • Chiropractic medicine, from the Greek ‘treatment done by hand’, is grounded in the principle that the body heals itself when the skeletal system is aligned and the nervous system is functioning properly.
  • Chiropractors manipulate or adjust the spine and other parts of the body to correct misalignments, reduce pain, and enhance function. Overall, spinal manipulation may benefit individuals suffering from low-back pain, headaches, neck pain, upper- and lower-extremity joint conditions, and whiplash-associated disorders. Other treatment practices are also common in chiropractic – electrical stimulation, relaxation, heat and ice, rehabilitative exercise, diet and lifestyle counseling, and dietary supplements.
  • Side effects from spinal manipulation can include temporary headaches, tiredness, or discomfort in the parts of the body that were treated. There have been rare reports of serious complications such as stroke, but whether spinal manipulation actually causes these complications is unclear. Safety remains an important focus of ongoing research.


Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

  • A non-conventional treatment coupled with conventional medicine is considered ‘complementary.’ A treatment used instead of mainstream practice it is said to be ‘alternative.’
  • Practices used with conventional treatments are conventional medicine medicinoe, it’s considered “complementary.”
  • If a non-mainstream practice is used in place of conventional medicine, it’s considered “alternative.”
  • CAM practices are grouped as
    • Natural products – that is, individuals using herbs, vitamins and minerals, and probiotics, often as dietary suppplements
    • Mind-body practices – an incredibly broad classification that includes everything from yoga and chiropratic or osteopathic manipulation to movement therapies to acupuncture to massage to homeopathy.


Integrative Medicine

  • Integrative medicine, another term used interchangeably with complementary and alternative medicine, means coordinating conventional, mainstream practice with complementary approaches.
  • The NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health distinguishes between “complementary health approaches” for the discussion of practices and products of non-mainstream origin and “integrative health” to discuss complementary approaches incorporated in mainstream health care.


Naturopathic Medicine

  • Naturopathy, also referred to as naturopathic medicine, is a medical system that evolved from 19th century European traditional and health care practices.
  • Naturopathy includes a range of treatments including dietary and lifestyle changes, herbs and other dietary supplements, homeopathy, manipulation, exercise therapy, practitioner-guided detoxification, and psychotherapy and counseling.


Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

  • Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) originated in ancient China over 2,500 years ago and is rooted in Taoism. TCM practitioners use herbal medicine and mind body practices (e.g., acupuncture, tai chi, qi gong, tui na Chinese therapeutic massage, dietary therapy) to treat a wide range of health conditions.
    • Chinese herbal medicine  includes thousands of medicinal substances—primarily plant-based but which may also derive from minerals and plants -which are often combined in formulas to address different wellness concerns.
  • TCM treatments like tai chi and qi gong are considered generally safe (as is acupuncture when performed by an experienced practitioner using sterile needles). There are cases where Chinese herbal products can be contaminated by toxins or heavy metals or not contain the listed ingredients. As with all herbs, they can interact with other drugs and result in serious side effects.


Additional Research and Resources

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website. Accessed March 1, 2016.