The phrase "alternative treatment" is often used to describe a method that is used instead of conventional medicine, such as visiting a chiropractor instead of taking prescription medication for pain. The term "complementary medicine" refers to a treatment that is used with conventional medicine, such as alleviating discomfort after surgery by pairing medicine with aromatherapy. Together, these two types of treatment are called Complementary Alternative Medicine, or CAM.
This broad term encompasses all health therapies that fall outside the scope of conventional medical treatment. The use of CAM therapies does not preclude the use of medications or treatments that are commonly used for MS. These methods can go hand-in-hand, and in doing so, often provide the best results.
Both doctors and patients may have previously viewed CAM with a skeptical eye, but today, CAM therapies are increasingly accepted as a part of a comprehensive approach to managing a chronic disease.
Several CAM treatments have been studied in clinical trials to accurately assess their effectiveness in treating MS and other chronic diseases. While the results have so far shown that CAM is not effective in controlling MS progression, some CAM treatments have been shown to help alleviate certain symptoms and to improve overall quality of life.
Research has shown that yoga, horseback riding, nutritional supplementation, guided meditation, and several other CAM therapies can all have positive effects for people with MS. However, some CAM therapies have not been shown to be of any use, and certain ones can even be harmful. It is important to learn all you can about the potential risks and benefits of a given CAM technique, and discuss it with your healthcare provider, before beginning.
CAM comes in several broad categories:
To learn more about specific CAM treatments and what research, if any, supports their use in MS, see the booklet Complementary and Alternative Medicine for MS.