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What Are Complementary and Alternative Medicines and Therapies?

Patients with chronic diseases like psoriatic arthritis frequently 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 allied health professionals, such as 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 in treating a range of conditions. Patients are encouraged to talk to their doctor about all therapies and practices they are using to manage their symptoms.1,2

Complementary and alternative medicine approaches for psoriatic arthritis include:

  • Massage
  • Acupuncture
  • Acupressure
  • Stress management
  • Herbal remedies
  • Arthritis jewelry and accessories


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 and provides many health benefits, including reducing stress, pain, and muscle tension. In addition to the health benefits, many people find massage 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 component 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 topically, including aloe vera, tea tree oil, mahonia aquifolium (Oregon grape), capsaicin, and neem oil. Others are taken orally, including turmeric, willow bark and traditional Chinese medicine. Apple cider vinegar is used topically for psoriasis and can be taken orally for other uses.1,3

Stress management

Stress can have negative effects on health, weakening the immune system, worsening physical ailments, and over time, leading 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 magnetic or copper bracelets to ease their 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 that have looked at what the effects of smoking is on psoriatic arthritis patients. Treatment guidelines for psoriatic arthritis encourage smoking cessation. If you are interested in quitting smoking, you can talk to your doctor about smoking cessation aids and programs.5

Written by: Emily Downward | Last reviewed: June 2019.
  1. National Psoriasis Foundation. Accessed online on 6/2/16 at
  2. Complementary and integrative medicine, MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. Accessed online on 6/2/16 at
  3. Mayo Clinic. Accessed online on 6/2/16 at
  4. Arthritis Foundation. Accessed online on 6/2/16 at
  5. 2018 American College of Rheumatology/National Psoriasis Foundation Guideline for the Treatment of Psoriatic Arthritis. November 30, 2018. Accessed online at