What Does Therapeutic Mean?

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Therapeutic is an adjective that refers to healing, such as a medicine or therapy that has a healing or curative capability for treatment of disease or disability.

It is used for both physical health and mental health, ranging from a drug or substance that is used to cure a disease to an attitude or activity that supports the healing of one's mental or emotional health.

  • Pronunciation: thare-a-PYOU-tik
  • Synonyms: curative, beneficial, restorative, remedial, ameliorative
  • Antonyms: harmful, damaging, untherapeutic
  • Examples: Heat may be therapeutic when applied to aching muscles. A mother's calming, loving voice may be therapeutic to her crying baby.

When you see the word therapeutic, it means that something intended to provide a positive effect on a disease or condition.

  • The therapeutic effect may address the root cause of the disease, such as an antibiotic killing a germ in an infection. In this case, it is the cure for the disease.
  • The therapeutic effect may target symptoms of the disease, such as aspirin reducing the fever caused by an infection. It doesn't cure the underlying disease but it relieves one of the symptoms that may be painful or cause further damage.
  • The therapeutic effect may be temporary, such as an analgesic gel providing temporary pain relief for an arthritic knee. It doesn't cure arthritis, but it relieves the pain for a time.
  • The therapeutic effect may be permanent, as in amputating a gangrenous toe. The gangrene is stopped by the treatment.
  • The therapeutic treatment may address a mental or emotional condition, such as therapeutic recreational activities or a therapeutic pet for people with post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Therapeutic agents may be drugs applied as pills, injections, intravenous solutions or topical agents such as creams or gels.
  • Therapeutic treatments may be procedures such as surgery or manipulation.
  • Therapeutic treatments may be verbal, especially in mental health therapies.
  • Therapeutic treatments can involve physical therapy, massage, exercise, stretching to address physical or mental conditions.

Palliative vs. Curative - are Both Therapeutic?

A palliative treatment relieves pain or other bothersome symptoms rather than being aimed at curing a disease. Both could be considered therapeutic, but some people reserve the word therapeutic for treatments that will improve the condition itself rather than relieving pain.


A non-therapeutic medical procedure is one performed when there is no medical need. It may also be called not medically necessary. This may occur in research studies, especially if performed on animals rather than humans. Another example is a live donor for a kidney. The removal of the kidney is non-therapeutic for the donor, although receiving it is very therapeutic for the recipient.


The term sub-therapeutic is often used in relation to drug dosage.

If the dose is not enough to produce the desired effect, it is a sub-therapeutic dose.

Therapeutic Claims

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers products to be drugs if they make therapeutic claims. This means that the label, product information or advertising says that it treats or prevents a disease or has an effect on the structure or function of the body. If the FDA determines that therapeutic claims are being made, the product may be restricted from import or must go through FDA drug approval to be marketed.

In order to avoid making a therapeutic claim, products and practitioners often use terms such as "supports natural healing," or "supports liver health," "supports eye health," etc.

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