Physical therapies

Physical therapies aim to achieve feelings of well-being by working on the body. Some work the body and mind together. There are different therapies available to try.

Western medical acupuncture is based on current medical knowledge and evidence-based medicine. It is very similar to traditional acupuncture. It involves inserting sterile needles into certain ’trigger points‘ just below the skin. This is thought to stimulate the nerves and cause the release of natural chemicals in the body. These chemicals can give you a feeling of well-being.

Some types of physical activity work the body and the mind. They include yoga, tai chi and qi gong. These therapies use gentle, controlled, low-impact movements combined with breathing exercises. People of all ages and varying levels of fitness can do these activities.

It’s a good idea to speak to your doctor before using any complementary therapies.

What are physical therapies?

Physical therapies are complementary therapies that work directly on your body, whether by a therapist or by yourself.


Some acupuncture originates from Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is based on there being a system of energy channels in the body.

Traditional therapists believe that needles inserted into the skin release a flow of energy and restore a healthy balance to the body. Traditional therapists are not usually registered health professionals.

Western medical acupuncture

This is based on current medical knowledge and evidence-based medicine. It is sometimes available on the NHS.

During an acupuncture session, the therapist inserts fine, sterile needles just below the skin. The needles are put in specific places thought to affect the nerves in the skin and muscle. This can send messages to the brain. Stimulating the nerves in this way may release natural chemicals in the body, such as endorphins. Endorphins are substances that give you a feeling of well-being.

An acupuncturist may be a member of a team working in a pain clinic or part of a palliative care (symptom control) team. Some doctors, nurses and physiotherapists are trained in western medical acupuncture.

Some studies show that acupuncture may:

  • reduce menopausal symptoms, such as hot flushes, in women with breast cancer
  • reduce sickness in people who have had chemotherapy.

When carried out by a trained professional, acupuncture is generally safe.

It is advisable to check with your doctor about having acupuncture if you are having treatment, such as chemotherapy, that could affect your blood count. The chemotherapy may result in a lower than normal number of white blood cells, which increases your risk of infection.

You should also avoid acupuncture if you have a very low number of platelets (blood cells that help blood to clot), or you bruise easily. This can increase your risk of bleeding.

If you have, or are at risk of, lymphoedema (if you have had some or all of your lymph nodes removed, for example) you should avoid having acupuncture in the limb that is affected or at risk. Lymphoedema is swelling to part of the body caused by damage to the lymphatic system and is hard to reverse. Check with your doctor if you are thinking about having acupuncture.

Physical activity

Some types of physical activity, such as yoga, tai chi and qi gong, are designed to work both the body and the mind. They mostly use gentle, controlled, low-impact movements, with breathing exercises. They can be done by people of all ages and of varying fitness levels.


There are different types of yoga. They all involve different body positions, breathing exercises and some form of meditation or relaxation.

Some types of yoga use very gentle stretching, movement and meditation. Others may involve more vigorous physical movement and dietary changes.

Yoga is generally safe, but people with some types of cancer may need to adapt some of the positions so they are easier to do.

Some people who have cancer find that yoga helps them cope with their illness and feel better generally. Some studies have found that people who followed a four-week yoga course after they completed their cancer treatment had fewer problems sleeping and felt less tired.

Some small studies have shown that yoga may also help to relieve menopausal symptoms, such as hot flushes and joint pains, but more research is needed. Some hospitals offer yoga classes.

See our organisations database for more information on how to find a yoga class near you.

Tai chi and qi gong

Tai chi and qi gong (sometimes spelt chi kung) come from Chinese medical traditions. They include parts of mind-body therapies, energy-based therapies and physical therapies.

Both tai chi and qi gong focus on building strength, balance and flexibility through slow, fluid movements. They also use mental imagery and deep breathing.

Together, the physical and mental exercises can help to improve general health and create a feeling of well-being.

You can get more information about tai chi or qi gong from the complementary therapy organisations in our database.