Complementary medicine: how much does it cost and what are the most popular methods?

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Whether migraines, exhaustion or allergies - when conventional medicine doesn't work, complementary medicine or alternative medicine often helps. We describe the most popular methods, explain when they may help and which ones are paid for by health insurance.

Complementary/alternative medicine is increasingly seen as a supplement to conventional medicine. This is because unlike conventional medicine,  it views the person holistically. It tries to activate self-healing powers in order to harmonize the body, soul and mind. This involves a variety of specialists such as doctors or alternative practitioners who apply different techniques for diagnosis, treatment and therapy.

Complementary medicine can be successfully employed in many areas. However, it isn't a suitable choice for acute health problems such as broken bones or appendicitis.

Based on the number of therapists, the following are the five most popular methods of complementary/alternative medicine in Switzerland:

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

Traditional Chinese medicine aims to promote the flow of qi life energy. It does so by identifying blockages on its meridians and removing them through manual tuina or acupuncture therapy.

Apart from acupuncture which is a well-known method, herbal medicine and detoxification methods also play an important role. Detoxification involves alternative medicine methods that help detoxify and cleanse body fluids. Cupping, for example, uses glass cups to create a vacuum for stimulating blood flow and other benefits. With Qi Gong and Tai Chi, patients themselves are active and harmonize their qi through meditation and movement.

Naturopathic therapies

Doctors practicing naturopathic therapies rely on nature's powers and heal using plant substances (phytotherapy). This practice is one of the most important methods of complementary/alternative medicine. The aim is to eliminate a harmful imbalance that has arisen, for instance, through an unhealthy lifestyle. They use purging procedures to cleanse the body. Hydrotherapy is also popular: (steam) baths or compresses stimulate the metabolism and circulation.

Craniosacral therapy

Craniosacral therapy is also a form of complementary medicine. This gentle body therapy harmonizes the pulses of the cerebrospinal fluid through gentle hand movements on the head and spine. This releases tension, stabilizes circulation and strengthens the immune system. This therapy has been proven to help infants and toddlers (e.g. colic) but also adults suffering from pain, stress and exhaustion.

Did you know?

Around half of the Swiss have already tried alternative medicine once or use it regularly.

In this regard, complementary medicine covers a variety of therapies, such as the methods mentioned in this blog. Some lesser known forms include Dorn therapy and Rolfing.


Osteopathy is a manual therapy that involves passive and active techniques and exercises. This means that blocked or restricted joints are first mobilized, then stabilized through individual exercises. The aim is to identify tensions and mobilize the joints as a way of activating the body's self-healing powers.

As a result, not only are joints treated, but also internal organs such as heart, liver or kidneys and connective tissues. Osteopathy can help with a variety of ailments, such as migraines, tinnitus and allergies.


Kinesiology is a healing method that uses both Western and Asian healing approaches. Therapists use muscle tests to help their patients localize energy blockages. These can be carried out with exercises to help patients relax and concentrate. Posture problems, burnout and learning difficulties can also be treated using this method.

The cost is covered by basic and supplementary insurance.

Compulsory basic insurance only covers a limited number of treatment methods used in complementary medicine. The cost of five alternative medicine methods has been covered since 2012. The following two therapies are also among the most popular methods mentioned:

  • Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) 
  • Phytotherapy 

The other three methods covered by basic insurance are:

  • Anthroposophic medicine: treatment method based on the individual's spiritual and emotional needs 
  • Homeopathy: therapies with special homeopathic medicines 
  • Neural therapy: method for treating pain by injecting local anesthetics

The cost is only met if recognized doctors are used who have the appropriate training. Furthermore, benefits are only paid less the chosen deductible.

Those who would like to try other methods such as osteopathy can eitherpay the cost themselves or take out supplementary insurance. Supplementary insurance from AXA covers 75 percent of the cost of complementary therapies that are not met by basic insurance. Depending on the level (ACTIF/COMPLET health), supplementary insurance refunds up to CHF 1,000 or CHF 3,000 p.a.

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