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It is estimated that Australians spend over one billion dollars annually on alternative and complementary medicine. Both here and overseas, the market appears to be growing at around 30% each year. Alternative medical practitioners may include naturopaths, chiropractors, osteopaths, kinesiologists and reflexologists.

Alternative to Western Medicine

Most alternative medicines originated in Eastern cultures, and have been effectively practiced for many centuries. They are thought of as alternative because they were not originally developed from the western scientific method as was traditional western medicine. They are also believed to provide natural alternatives to pharmaceuticals for pain relief. It is not unusual to attend a health centre or sports injury clinic and be offered a range of different practitioners to treat your injury. In the same clinic, you could be offered the professional services of an osteopath, physiotherapist, masseuse, Chinese herbalist, life coach or even a Pilates class. If you are unsure as to which type of practitioner to see for your ailment, seek professional advice from the clinic as to which of these disciplines will treat your injury most effectively. The practitioners are also likely to be trained in more than one treatment, possibly from both traditional and alternative medicine.

Which treatment?

Alternative medicine is becoming more accepted as an option to complement or replace some of our more traditional methods of treatment. Due to their success, alternative medical treatments are becoming a common part of our health care treatment plan. The main differences lie in the methods of treatment and philosophies of the different practices. When you have an illness or injury, you want to make sure that you see the health care professional who is best suited to treat you and make you feel better in a manner that you are most comfortable with. Increasingly, traditional health care providers are looking for alternatives to drugs for pain relief and treatment.

Chiropractors, Osteopaths, and Physiotherapists

In Australia, Chiropractors, Osteopaths and Physiotherapists are all required to hold a science degree or a science-related degree and undergo years of training and study to obtain their formal qualifications. Chiropractors focus their treatment on the spine and the nervous system it protects. Osteopaths focus on how the body works and communicates as a whole. They work to restore a natural balance to help the body heal itself. The practice of physiotherapy is specifically concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of muscular disorders and pain, and the promotion of movement and health. All three practices treat physical and musculoskeletal injury.

Traditional Physiotherapy Evolving

Traditionally, physiotherapists are trained in exercise and movement, massage, manipulation and electrotherapy. Increasingly, they are also trained in and able to offer complementary or alternative treatments instead of traditional pain relief. These can include acupuncture, reflexology, reiki, hydrotherapy, different types of massage and manual therapy such as shiatsu, bowen technique treatments, cranio-sacral therapy and neurostructural integration. Many of these techniques are shared across the different disciplines.


Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine, which has become extremely popular in western treatment and uses tiny needles inserted into certain points in the body. It has been used effectively for thousands of years in China. Acupuncture is used to clear blockages and stimulate “qi” or “life energy” through the body. It is known to help with healing, provide drug-free pain relief and can be applied to a huge range of physical, mental and even emotional disorders.

Contact your physiotherapist or health professional for more information on the range of alternative treatments available and what is best for you.