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Glossary


There are a large number of therapies and modalities available to you as a cancer patient and survivor. You may hear about them from friends, family or online. To help you understand what some of these are, here is a list of some of the most popular or common ones you might hear about.

Acupressure is based on the principles of acupuncture. This ancient Chinese technique involves using finger pressure on specific points on the body to treat ailments.

Acupuncture is a treatment within traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), a system of healing that dates back thousands of years. At the core of TCM is the notion that the life force qi, flows through energetic pathways (meridians) in the body. The proper flow of qi is thought to create health. An imbalance of qi (too much, too little or blocked flow) results in disease. Acupuncture needles are inserted in points along the meridians to restore this balance and the flow of qi.

Alexander technique is a method of therapeutic practices and body movements, such as proper posture and energy efficient habits, that improve health, conserve energy and reduce pain.

Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils from plants for healing purposes. The oils are typically inhaled or absorbed through the skin as treatment for infections and stress.

Ayurveda is the Sanskrit word for the science of life. Ayurveda is considered the oldest healing science and has been practiced in India for more than 5000 years. The basic principle of Ayurveda is the prevention of illness by maintaining balance in the body, mind and spirit through proper diet and lifestyle habits. A chief aim of Ayurveda, which is designed to help people live long and healthy lives, is to cleanse the body of substances that cause disease.

Biofeedback is a technique that involves training the mind so that a person can improve his or her health by learning to control certain internal bodily processes that normally occur involuntarily such as heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension and skin temperature. These activities can be measured with electrodes and displayed on monitor, providing feedback to the participant about the internal workings of his or her body. The person is taught techniques to gain control over these involuntary activities.

Chiropractic is a form of diagnosing and treating ailments that affect the nerves, muscles, bones and joints of the body through manipulation. One of the oldest healing practices, spinal manipulation was first described by Hippocrates in ancient Greece. More recently, Daniel David Palmer founded the current field of chiropractic in 1895, when he cured a man of deafness and acute back pain by realigning a displaced vertebra in his back. Although the practice of chiropractic now includes other interventions, spinal manipulation remains the essence of chiropractic.

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices and products that are not generally considered to be part of conventional medicine such as acupuncture, massage therapy, herbal supplements, etc.

Craniosacral therapy is a manual therapeutic procedure used to remedy distortions in the structure and function of the craniosacral mechanism, the brain, the spinal cord, and the bones of the skull, the sacrum and interconnected membranes. The procedure is used to treat chronic pain, migraine headaches, temporomandibular joint diseases (TMJ) and a range of other conditions and is performed by licensed health practitioners.

Feldenkrais is a therapy that combines movement training, gentle touch and verbal dialogue to help create more efficient movement. In individual hands-on sessions, the practitioner's touch is used to address the student’s breathing and body alignment along with a series of slow, non-aerobic motions.

Feng shui is the ancient Chinese practice of configuring home or work environments to promote health, happiness and prosperity. Feng shui consultants advise clients to make adjustments in their surroundings from color selection to furniture placement to promote a healthy flow of qi, or vital energy.

Flower essences are intended to alleviate negative emotional states that may contribute to illness or hinder personal growth. Drops of a solution infused with the captured essence of a flower are placed under the tongue or in a beverage. The practitioner helps the client choose appropriate essences, focusing on the client’s emotional state rather than on a particular physical condition.

Guided imagery involves using mental images to promote physical healing or changes in attitudes or behavior. Practitioners may lead clients through specific visualization techniques or offer instruction in using imagery as a self-help tool. Guided imagery is used to alleviate stress and treat stress-related conditions such as insomnia and high blood pressure. The therapy is used by persons with cancer, AIDS, chronic fatigue and other disorders with the aim of enhancing the immune system.

Healing touch is used by nurses and other practitioners to accelerate wound healing, relieve pain, promote relaxation, prevent illness and ease the dying process. The practitioner uses gentle touch or works with his or her hands near the client’s body in an effort to restore balance to the client’s energy system.

Herbal medicine also called botanical medicine or phytomedicine, refers to the use of any plant seeds, berries, roots, leaves, bark or flowers for medicinal purposes. There is a rich heritage of other medicine and healing systems throughout the world. In addition, important drugs used in Western medicine such as digitalis, the cancer chemotherapy drug vincristine, and ephedrine have all been developed through research on herbal medicines.

Holistic medicine is a healing philosophy that views a patient as a whole person not just as a disease or a collection of symptoms. In the course of treatment, holistic medical practitioners may address a client's emotional and spiritual dimensions and the nutritional, environmental, and lifestyle factors that might contribute to illness.

Homeopathy is a medical system that uses minute doses of natural substances called remedies to stimulate a person’s immune and defense system. A remedy is chosen individually for a sick person based on its capacity to cause, if given an overdose, physical and psychological symptoms similar to those a patient is experiencing.

Hypnotherapy uses an altered, relaxed state of mind resembling sleep, but one in which a person can concentrate to help people change their awareness and intentions. Hypnotherapy is often used to help people to control bad habits, pain and stress.

Integrative medicine is a multi-disciplinary system of care that incorporates both biomedical and complementary therapies.

Magnetic therapy (also known as magnetic field therapy or biomagnetic therapy) involves using magnets, magnetic devices, or magnetic fields to treat a variety of physical and emotional conditions including circulatory problems, certain forms of arthritis, chronic pain, sleep disorders, and stress. Treatments may be applied by a practitioner or as part of a self-care program.

Massage therapy has been practiced as a healing therapy for centuries in nearly every culture in the world. It helps relieve muscle tension, reduce stress, and evoke feelings of calmness by using touch to influence the activity of the musculoskeletal, circulatory, lymphatic, and nervous systems.

Mind-body medicine is an approach to healing that uses the power of thoughts and emotions to positively influence physical health. As Hippocrates stated, “the natural healing force within each of us is the greatest force in getting well.”

Meditation refers to a myriad of practices that unlocks the body and calm the mind. In particular, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), an approach based on a Buddhist meditation practice, is now used widely to relieve stress and enhance well-being.

Naturopathic medicine emphasizes the curative power of nature and treats acute and chronic illnesses in all age groups. Naturopathic physicians work to restore and support the body’s own healing ability using a variety of modalities including nutrition, herbal medicine, homeopathic medicine and Asian medicine.

Qi gong is the traditional Chinese medicine practice that uses movement, affirmations, breath work, visualizations and meditation to improve the flow of chi or life force and to restore both external and internal harmony.

Reiki is an ancient Tibetan healing system that uses hand placements to channel healing energies to the recipient. Although practitioners may very widely in technique and philosophy, reiki commonly is used to treat emotional and mental distress, chronic and acute physical problems, and to assist the recipient in achieving spiritual focus and clarity.

Spiritual healing is practice by healers who often regard themselves as conductors of healing energy or sources in the spiritual realm. They may call on spiritual helpers such as the power of animals, angels, inner teachers, the client’s higher self or other spiritual forces. These forms of healing can be used as part of treatment for a range of emotional and physical illnesses.

Tai chi is a gentle exercise program derived from the martial arts. A traditional Chinese medicine practice, tai chi is composed of slow deliberate movements, meditation, and deep breathing, which enhances physical health and emotional well-being.

Therapeutic touch is practiced by registered nurses and others to relieve pain and stress. The practitioner assesses where the person’s energy field is weak or congested and then uses his or her hands to direct energy to the field to balance it.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a complete medical system that has been used to diagnose treat and prevent illnesses for more than 2000 years. TCM is based on a belief in yin and yang or opposing energies, such as male and female, winter and summer, and happiness or sadness. When yin and yang are in balance, the person is energized. Out of balance, however, yin and yang negatively affect health and well-being. In TCM, the state of balance is achieved through the use of multiple approaches including herbal medicines, acupuncture and qi gong.

Yoga is a spiritual practice that uses physical postures, breathing exercises and meditation to improve overall health. Yoga began nearly 6000 years ago in India as part of the classical healing science known Ayurveda.