Are you having back pain with any of the following?

  • Severe pain, weakness or tingling in your leg(s).
  • Difficulty stopping urination or loss of control of bladder or bowels.
  • Unexplained fever, nausea or vomiting.
  • A history of cancer or unexplained weight loss.

We understand that you are experiencing one or more of the health issues that might be impacting your back pain.

We recommend that you discuss these health issues with your doctor before proceeding with this program.

Once you are cleared by your doctor to do this program, we hope it helps you find relief from your back pain.

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Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

Some people prefer treatment options that complement traditional medicine such as acupuncture or herbal supplements that can help you stay healthy, feel better, and manage medical problems safely. To ensure the best possible treatment, please talk to us about your options.


Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is any therapy or practice that developed outside of conventional Western medical practice. Some examples of CAM include:

  • Chiropractor adjustment or massage for back pain
  • Herbal or vitamin supplements for relieving cold symptoms or improving the immune system
  • Meditation or breathing exercises for relaxation
  • Acupuncture or acupressure for pain relief

The words "complementary" and "alternative" are often used interchangeably, but they are different.

  • Complementary medicine uses other healing modalities in addition to the care you already receive.
  • Alternative medicine implies nonconventional care is used instead of treatment provided by traditional Western medicine doctors.

Types of CAM

There are several major categories of complementary and alternative medicine:

Mind-body medicine
  • Meditation is a process of seeking calmness, relaxation, and clarity of mind through focused breathing and attention.
  • Guided imagery is a type of relaxation in which you focus your imagination to create calming, energizing, or healing responses in your body.
  • Deep breathing exercises can help you improve your mood, reduce stress, and calm your mind and body.
Manipulative and body-based methods
  • Chiropractic care refers to spine and bone manipulation that may relieve low back pain, headache, and other ailments.
  • Osteopathy is a method of healing by manipulating the skeleton and muscles to restore or improve health.
  • Massage is rubbing or kneading the body to aid circulation, relieve muscle pain and promote health and relaxation.
Biologically based therapies
  • Herbs are plants valued for their scent, flavor, or healing properties. Some herbs are believed to have medicinal properties that can help maintain health or prevent and treat disease.
  • Supplements are nutrients used in addition to the nutrients you get from your daily diet food intake. Some supplements contain herbs or extracts; others contain vitamins or minerals.
Alternative systems of medicine
  • Homeopathy is a practice of taking drugs or medications in very small doses to strengthen the immune system and prevent or treat disease.
  • Naturopathy is a therapy system that uses massage, heat, water, light, and air as primary prevention and treatment for disease.
  • Traditional Chinese medicine is a medical practice based on a belief that illness stems from an imbalance of energy, or Qi.  Optimal health is achieved when the yin and yang are balanced by regulating the flow of Qi.
  • Ayurveda is an ancient Indian holistic healing system that focuses on the balance and maintenance of life energies rather than specific symptoms of an individual illness.

Why People Choose CAM

Many people choose complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) because they believe it will help them stay healthy, feel better, and manage medical problems safely. Some people use CAM in addition to conventional medical treatment to improve a sense of wellbeing. Common reasons people try CAM include:

  • Pain management for chronic, recurring pain
  • Treatment of common colds, gastrointestinal disorders, hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms, sleep disturbance, and infertility.
  • Fewer side effects of treatments, compared with some conventional medical treatments
  • Promotion of relaxation and stress management
  • Improved sense of mental and physical well-being
  • Tradition or cultural belief that has been passed on from generation to generation.

Safety and Effectiveness

Some CAM approaches are effective, and others are less effective or not effective at all. This is true of both CAM therapies and conventional medical therapies. The best way to study the effectiveness of any therapy is to conduct scientific tests and carefully analyze the results.

Some studies show that certain types of CAM therapies are effective in improving health and fighting disease. The studies on CAM therapies are more recent but less numerous than studies of conventional medicine. Sometimes CAM studies are thorough and scientific, but others are not.

Sometimes CAM therapies work, and sometimes they don't.  The effect of the treatment depends on the person's health status, belief in the treatment and how the treatment is used.

Natural is not always safe

Many people think that just because something is natural, it must be safe. The truth is that when something is strong enough to have an effect, it's also strong enough to have side effects and interact with medications.

It's important for your health to know the facts about all of your medications, including natural products. That's why we've teamed up with the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database to bring you unbiased, scientifically reliable information so you can better evaluate dietary supplements, including:

  • Herbal remedies
  • Vitamins
  • Minerals
  • Other natural products
Take precautions

Here are some precautions to take when using complementary and alternative care:

  • Continue standard treatments and tests. Avoiding conventional treatment could mean missing important – even lifesaving – diagnoses and treatments.
  • Talk to your doctor. Always tell your doctor if you're using an alternative therapy because some complementary and alternative therapies can affect your health treatment, especially medications you're taking.
  • Be cautious about using herbs and dietary supplements. Herbs and supplements are not regulated by the U.S. government in the same way as as prescription medications and over-the-counter medications are.
  • Beware of claims that sound too good to be true. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Products sold for weight loss, sexual performance enhancement, breast enlargement, and sports performance enhancement are commonly misleading.
  • Get the facts about the treatment that you want to try. Talk to us, use the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database online, or look for books and publications from reliable sources.
  • Choose a qualified CAM practitioner by taking as much care as you would when choosing a medical doctor.
  • Know what works for you. Just because a treatment worked for someone else doesn't mean that it will work the same way for you.
Additional References:

Our Approach to Complementary and Alternative Medicine

We take the same approach to CAM as to Western medicine by:

  • Evaluating whether the treatment is safe and effective
  • Counseling you about the risks and benefits
  • Considering how to make it part of your total care program

If you are interested in using CAM, discuss it with us. We want you to feel comfortable talking about your options, and we will do our best to help you find the best one for you.

Our research on CAM

We conduct research on some CAM therapies and herbal products, including:

  • Mind-body health programs for obesity management
  • Shamanistic healing for temporomandibular disorders (TMD)
  • Ayurvedic medicine for type 2 diabetes
  • Acupuncture for low back pain
Additional References:

Related Health Tools:


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If you have an emergency medical condition, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital. An emergency medical condition is any of the following: (1) a medical condition that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity (including severe pain) such that you could reasonably expect the absence of immediate medical attention to result in serious jeopardy to your health or body functions or organs; (2) active labor when there isn't enough time for safe transfer to a Plan hospital (or designated hospital) before delivery, or if transfer poses a threat to your (or your unborn child's) health and safety, or (3) a mental disorder that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity such that either you are an immediate danger to yourself or others, or you are not immediately able to provide for, or use, food, shelter, or clothing, due to the mental disorder. This information is not intended to diagnose health problems or to take the place of specific medical advice or care you receive from your physician or other health care professional. If you have persistent health problems, or if you have additional questions, please consult with your doctor. If you have questions or need more information about your medication, please speak to your pharmacist. Kaiser Permanente does not endorse the medications or products mentioned. Any trade names listed are for easy identification only.

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