Complementary Therapies

What is complementary medicine?

Complementary therapies are used along with, and not instead of, your child’s current treatment plan. Communication between you, your child’s healthcare provider and complementary medical practitioner is key to a safe and positive experience with complementary therapies.

Complementary medicine is:

  • any kind of medical practice or product that is outside of what mainstream healthcare professionals provide
  • used by conventional medical practitioners to complement or use together with other more conventional therapies

Many complementary therapies have become incorporated into pediatric healthcare in the last decade.

Complementary therapies may be suggested as a way to help

  • alleviate symptoms
  • relax and alleviate stress
  • help control side effects of other medications

Complementary medicine can be found all over the world and some therapies have been used for thousands of years to treat and heal disease. It is interesting to know that practices and products that we consider complementary in our Western culture are actually used as conventional or mainstream practices in other Eastern cultures.

There are few studies of complementary therapies in children so it can be easy to believe the personal stories of people claiming to have had good results with one complementary therapy or another. Keep in mind that these testimonials are not evidence or proof. It is important that you discuss any complementary therapy you are considering for your child with his or her doctor.

Communication between you, your child’s healthcare provider and complementary medical practitioner is necessary for a safe, successful and positive experience with complementary medicine.

Frequently Asked Questions

What's the difference between complementary and alternative medicine?

Complementary medicine works together with your child’s conventional treatment plan

Alternative medicine is a medical practice or product that is used instead or in place of a conventional treatment plan.

What are some examples of alternative therapies?

Examples of complementary therapies include:

  • Herbal Supplements
    These can include the leaves, flower and seeds of a plant used for scent, flavor or therapeutic benefits. Also known as botanicals.
  • Dietary Supplements
    These can include vitamins, minerals, herbs, and amino acids. Fish oil and probiotics are two more common complementary dietary supplements.
  • Massage
    Massage therapists manipulate the muscles and other soft tissues of the body using different techniques with their hands, fingers, and elbows.
  • Acupuncture
    Acupuncture involves penetrating the skin with thin, metallic needles along various pathways along the body. The acupuncturist can manipulate the needles with his hands or with electricity.
  • Ayurveda
    Ayurvedic treatment is tailored specifically to each patient’s needs. An ayurvedic practitioner uses herbs, oils, spices, dietary and lifestyle changes with the aim of restoring the body’s sense of balance and harmony.
  • Naturopathy
    Or Naturopathic Medicine focuses on supporting health as opposed to fighting disease. Naturopaths use natural, non-invasive treatments such as hydrotherapy, dietary changes, exercise and fresh air with the aim of allowing the body to heal itself.
  • Homeopathy
    Or Homeopathic Medicine centers on the idea that ‘like cures like’. This theory believes that ingesting a substance that produces similar symptoms of the disease can cure the disease.
Are they safe for kids?

Complementary therapies can, and are, used by children. There are important things to consider before deciding to use a complementary therapy with your child.

Right now, most complementary therapies have not been well researched in children so it is hard to know which, if any, complementary therapies really work.

Children are not small adults and because of this, complementary therapies that have good results for adults with IBD may have different results in children with Pedi IBD.

It is also important to know that a complementary therapy may interact with medications your child is currently taking or cause bleeding-related complications with surgery or other procedures.

That is why it is important to let your child’s healthcare providers know if you are considering using one or more complementary therapies for your child’s Pedi IBD.

Are they right for kids with IBD?

It has been suggested that the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on inflammation may be helpful to some patients with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis when used along with standard therapy. Several studies have been conducted in this area.

At this time, the results of these studies do not give a clear answer one way or another. For this reason, further research is needed.

It is known that high doses of omega-3 fatty acids may have harmful effects such as an increased risk of bleeding when taken along with Pedi IBD meds such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs(NSAIDS) including – ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), naproxen (Naprosyn, Aleve).

Before making the decision to work with a complementary medicine practitioner, be sure to ask about his or her:

  • licensing (states often have licensing requirements for chiropractors, naturopaths, massage therapists and acupuncturists)
  • education and training
  • experience with providing care to children
  • experience with providing care to children with Pedi IBD
  • willingness to communicate with your child’s healthcare provider on a regular basis
Internet Research?

With so many web sites giving information about health issues it can be confusing and difficult to know if you can trust what you read.

Look for the following basic information clearly stated on a health information web site

  • who runs the web site
  • who pays for the site
  • what is the purpose of the site
  • where was information collected from
  • do facts and figures include references
  • who reviews the information on this site
  • how up to date is the information
  • are privacy policy and terms of use clearly outlined
  • does the site collect information about you and if so why

Knowing the answers to the questions above will help you to decide whether or not a health information web site provides reliable, accurate and up to date information. 

Who pays for complementary medicine?

Most complementary therapies are paid for as out of pocket expenses. In some cases you may find that your insurance provider covers partial payment of visits and diagnostic treatments or a limited number of visits.

It is important to check with your insurance provider about their policy coverage of a specific complementary therapy and practitioner before beginning treatment.

Because you will either be paying the costs of the therapy yourself either in part or in full or will be asked to itemize the cost of services by your insurance company, it is important to ask the following questions before deciding to begin a complementary therapy with your child

  • What does the first appointment cost?
  • The first appointment is often higher or lower than the follow up visits
  • What do follow up appointments cost?
  • Let the practitioner know if you think you cannot afford the total cost of the treatment visits. Many offer a sliding pay scale or will allow you to purchase visits ahead of time at a discount.
  • How many appointments does a child with Pedi IBD usually need? 
  • Find out what the expected timeframe and approximate end date are for the treatment
  • What additional costs can I expect to pay?
  • Complementary therapies can often involve costs other than just office visits. Diagnostic/follow up testing and additional items like supplements or equipment can quickly raise the cost of the therapy significantly.

If your family’s healthcare is provided through the United States government, your coverage can include the following complementary therapies:

  • Department of Veterans’ Affairs – covers acupuncture, chiropractic
  • Medicare – covers chiropractic care
Should I talk to my pediatrician?

Parents sometimes look for and try complementary therapies for their children:

  • because of dissatisfaction with conventional medical treatments
  • because they want to take a more active role in their child’s treatment
  • to gain a sense of control over their child’s illness
  • to improve their child’s quality of life

Parents of children with chronic or potentially disabling disease like Pedi IBD are more likely to research or find complementary therapies to use with their child because of these reasons.

Because there are very few scientific studies about complementary therapies in children, it can be easy to believe the personal stories of people claiming to have had good results with one complementary therapy or another. Keep in mind that these testimonials are not evidence or proof.

Your child’s healthcare provider can often be a good resource for information about a specific complementary therapy. Make sure to ask your child’s physician:

  • what he or she knows about a therapy
  • whether they think that it works
  • if it safe for children

To make sure that your child’s experience with a complementary therapy is as safe and successful as possible, remember to always discuss any complementary therapy you are considering for your child with his or her doctor.

When to call the doctor?

If your child experiences an effect from a CAM therapy that concerns you, contact your child’s health care provider.

Remember, you know your child best. Trust your judgment. If your child is experiencing something that you are not sure about or that makes you feel uncomfortable, let your healthcare provider know right away.

Still have questions?