Manipulation and body-based practices

These methods use human touch to move or manipulate a specific part of your body. They include chiropractic and osteopathic manipulation and massage.

Energy medicine

Some CAM practitioners believe an invisible energy force flows through your body, and when this energy flow is blocked or unbalanced you can become sick. Different traditions call this energy by different names, such as chi, prana and life force. The goal of these therapies is to unblock or re-balance your energy force. Energy therapies include qi gong, therapeutic touch, reiki and magnet therapy.

Why are some doctors hesitant about CAM?

Many conventional doctors practicing today didn't receive training in CAM or integrative medicine, so they may not feel comfortable making recommendations or addressing questions in this area. Doctors also have good reason to be cautious when it comes to some CAM. Conventional medicine values therapies that have been demonstrated through research and testing to be safe and effective. While scientific evidence exists for some CAM therapies, for many there are key questions that are yet to be answered.

In addition, some CAM practitioners make exaggerated claims about curing diseases, and some ask you to forgo treatment from your conventional doctor. For these reasons, many doctors are cautious about recommending these therapies.

Why is there so little evidence about CAM?

One reason for the lack of research in alternative treatments is that large, carefully controlled medical studies are costly. Trials for conventional therapies are often funded by big companies that develop and sell drugs. Fewer resources are available to support trials of CAM therapies. That's why NCCAM was established — to foster research into CAM and make the findings available to the public.

Talk to your doctor about risks and benefits of any therapy you're considering

Work with your conventional medical doctor to help you make informed decisions regarding CAM treatments. Even if your doctor can't recommend a specific practitioner, he or she can help you understand possible risks and benefits before you try a treatment.

It's especially important to involve your doctor if you are pregnant, have medical problems or take prescription medicine. And don't stop or change your conventional treatment — such as the dose of your prescription medications — without talking to your doctor first. Finally, be sure to keep your doctor updated on any alternative therapies you're using, including herbal and dietary supplements.

Oct. 18, 2014 See more In-depth