What Are Complementary and Alternative Medicines and Therapies?

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2022. | Last updated: August 2022

People with chronic diseases like psoriatic arthritis (PsA) often turn to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to help them manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

What is alternative medicine?

Alternative medicine is a term that means any medicinal products or practices that are not part of mainstream medicine given by medical doctors and other health professionals like nurses or physical therapists. Alternative medicine is also defined by its use as an alternative to traditional medical care.

What is complementary medicine?

Complementary medicine is used in combination with traditional medicine. There have been research studies on many alternative and complementary medicine practices to determine their effectiveness.1,2

Complementary and alternative medicine approaches for psoriatic arthritis


Massage is a general term that describes using touch to press, rub, or manipulate the skin, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Massage is used for a variety of health conditions. It has many health benefits, including reducing stress, pain, and muscle tension. Many people find massage also produces feelings of caring, comfort, and connection.3


Acupuncture is the use of thin needles inserted through the skin at strategic points on the body. It is a key part of traditional Chinese medicine and is most often used to treat pain.3


Like acupuncture, acupressure targets strategic points on the body defined by Chinese medicine. Acupressure uses gentle pressure on these points rather than the needles used in acupuncture.3

Herbal remedies

Herbal remedies refer to the use of plant and plant extracts. There are some herbal remedies that are used on the skin. These include aloe vera, tea tree oil, Oregon grape, capsaicin, and neem oil. Others are taken by mouth. These include Turmeric, willow bark, and traditional Chinese medicine. Apple cider vinegar is often used on the skin for psoriasis and can be taken by mouth for other uses.1,3

Stress management

Stress has many negative effects on health. Stress weakens the immune system and makes physical ailments worse. Over time, it also leads to mental health challenges. When dealing with a chronic disease like psoriatic arthritis, stress management becomes even more important.1

Arthritis jewelry and accessories

Some people with arthritis wear jewelry and accessories. This includes magnetic or copper bracelets to ease pain. Others use arthritis gloves, which provide compression and help reduce the swelling caused by arthritis.4

Smoking cessation

There have been several research studies looking at the effects of smoking on people with PsA. Treatment guidelines for PsA encourage smoking cessation. If you are interested in quitting smoking, you can talk to your doctor about smoking cessation aids and programs.5

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