Whats on this page?
- Does complementary and alternative medicine really work?
- Are complementary and alternative medicines safe?
- What to consider if you’re thinking of using complementary and alternative medicine
- Information on popular forms of complementary and alternative medicine
Complementary and alternative medicines or CAMs are a wide range of treatments that are not conventionally used by most doctors trained in medical schools. Many people use complementary therapies but it’s important to note that you should not stop a course of recommended conventional treatment without consulting your doctor first.
Although complementary therapies are generally harmless, they are not all completely safe and have been less thoroughly tested than conventional medicines.
Always tell your doctor and make sure you use a qualified therapist if you decide to try a complementary therapy to treat symptoms of arthritis.
Most evidence regarding the benefits of complementary therapies for treating the symptoms of arthritis is anecdotal and has not been clinically proven to be effective. However some people find complementary therapies can help ease the pain and discomfort of arthritis. There are also complementary therapies that reportedly improve flexibility and mobility.
If you are in pain and arthritis is having a detrimental effect on your life, trying complementary therapies is a positive way of taking control of your symptoms, and it may help you to manage your pain.
Your GP or consultant will be able to advise about different treatment options, including some complementary therapies.
Generally speaking, complementary and alternative medicine is relatively safe, although you should always talk to your doctor before you start treatment. There are some risks associated with specific therapies, for example some herbal therapies may be associated with significant side-effects and may interact with prescribed medication.
In many cases the risks associated with complementary and alternative medicine are more to do with the therapist than the therapy. This is why it’s important for you to go to a legally registered therapist or one who has a set ethical code and is fully insured.
The following checklist will help ensure that your treatment is safe and reliable.
- Ask how long the treatment is likely to last and how much it will cost.
- Find out if there is a governing body for the treatment you plan to receive and whether your chosen therapist is a member.
- Make sure your therapist has insurance cover.
- Ask about their training, how long they have practised and whether they have any particular areas of expertise.
- Tell them about any medication that you are taking.
- Do not stop taking any medication until you have discussed it with your GP or consultant.
- Avoid miracle cures for arthritis, they do not exist (be suspicious of anyone, or any website, who promises a miracle cure).
- If you don’t trust a therapist, don’t use them.
- What am I hoping to achieve? Pain relief? More energy? Better sleep? Reduction in medication?
- Does this therapy suit me? For example you may be uncomfortable with the use of needles in acupuncture or having massage.
- Are there any risks – are they safe?
- What are the financial costs?
- Is there any evidence for their effectiveness?
There are two main groups of complementary and alternative therapists: those who are legally registered and those who are not:
Osteopaths and chiropractors are legally recognised professionals just like doctors, nurses, occupational therapists and physiotherapists. This means their training is regulated by a body set up by the government and by law they must register with this body in order to practise. They must be insured, and they can be struck off and prevented from practising if they’re incompetent or unethical.
For other therapists it is very important they should:
- have an agreed code of ethics
- be insured in case something goes wrong with your treatment
- be a member of an organisation that promotes self-regulation and doesn’t make unreasonable claims about their treatments