Workplace Wellness - Complementary and Alternative Medicine
By Jennifer Koslo, PhD, RD, CSSD, CPT
Adjunct Professor, Kaplan University School of Health Sciences

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM, 2011), the number of Americans who use some form of complementary or alternative medicine (CAM) continues to rise. Just what does CAM encompass? This article will provide an overview of the many types of CAM practices and focus on one modality that could be incorporated into a worksite wellness program.
The field of CAM is very broad and includes practices that are not generally offered under the umbrella of traditional or Western medicine. More than likely you have used one or more practices or products that are considered as CAM but did not label it as such. By definition, “complementary” refers to the use of CAM together with conventional medicine, and “alternative” refers to the use of CAM in place of conventional medicine (NCCAM, 2011).

Types of CAM Practices

If you have ever taken a dietary supplement, you have used CAM. The use of herbal medicines like Echinacea to prevent a cold, fish oil/omega 3 for heart health, probiotics for digestive health, calcium and vitamin D for bone health, and multivitamins for overall wellness are all examples of supplements that are considered to be complementary to traditional medicine and therefore a part of CAM.

CAM also includes mind and body practices that focus on the interaction of your thoughts and feelings and how they affect your behavior and overall health. Meditation and yoga are two of the most common mind and body practices used by Americans to promote wellness. Both of these modalities include postures and breathing techniques that are used to cope with stress and illness and enhance overall well-being. Acupuncture is another mind-body practice that is used less frequently in the U.S. but one that can provide tremendous benefits for a number of illnesses and imbalances in the body. Acupuncture is a key component of traditional Chinese medicine and should only be performed by a licensed practitioner.

Manipulative and body-based practices are another category of CAM which includes spinal manipulation (e.g., chiropractic) and massage. You may have taken a Pilates class at your local gym. This is also considered to be a part of CAM and described as a movement therapy that is used to promote physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. The use of Tai chi particularly in older adults is growing as this practice can improve posture and balance which is so important for fall prevention in this population group. Lastly, Ayurvedic (Indian) and Chinese medicine are considered to be part of CAM.

CAM in the Workplace

While the list above is not exhaustive, in terms of worksite wellness, chair massage is something that more and more companies are offering to employees not only as a perk but also to increase the morale and productivity of employees. Massage therapy has a long history of use in many different cultures. Loosely defined, massage therapy involves a therapist pressing, rubbing, and manipulating the muscles and soft tissue of the body. The therapist uses his or her hands and fingers but can also sometimes use elbows and forearms to work out those “knots” that clients may have.
Now your first reaction to the thought of massage at work may conjure up images of your coworkers lining up to get undressed and rubbed with oil in the employee lounge. Or maybe you are thinking about what it will do to your hair or what your husband/wife will think. While these are rational concerns, corporate massage generally involves the use of an odd-looking, padded, chair-like contraption.

Chair massage is a fully clothed massaged performed by a therapist in a chair specifically designed for massage. The massage is usually given in a public space and if you don’t want your hair messed up, you just have to ask the therapist not to massage your head. All of the benefits of massages, including stress and injury reduction, are realized but in a manner that is accessible during the work day. The length of the massage will vary and is a detail that your employer can specify along with the compensation agreement with the therapist...

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