You might not think to call a balneotherapist when your face breaks out or a reflexologist when asthma flares. But alternative medical practices, no matter how weird they might seem, are gaining traction.
“Alternative therapy” refers to any health treatment not standard in Western medical practice. Beyond that, complementary and alternative therapies are difficult to define, largely because the field is so diverse: It encompasses diet and exercise changes, hypnosis, chiropractic adjustment and acupuncture. Technically, “alternative” treatments are used in place of conventional medicine; when used alongside standard medical practices, alternative approaches are referred to as “complementary” medicine.
The benefits (or lack of benefits) of alternative therapies listed here are far from clear, since there have been few large-scale randomized clinical trials of them. Still, in 2008, more than 38 percent of American adults said they had used some form of alternative medicine.
Some pilot studies have found positive results: Acupressure might decrease nausea for chemotherapy patients and reduce anxiety in people scheduled to have surgery.
Proponents of the therapy cite findings that water might boost people’s immune systems.
Researchers still aren’t sure how or why biofeedback works – but a lot of research suggests it does work for some things. Relaxation seems to be a key component, as most people who benefit from the practice have conditions that are caused or exacerbated by stress.
Studies suggest the practice can decrease some types of back pain and improve physical functioning. The use of neck cracking can pose some risk.
Some studies have found that reflexology can improve respiratory function in breast cancer patients, reduce fatigue and improve sleep – but a 2011 review found there is not good clinical evidence to suggest it’s effective “for any medical condition.”