In an article in last month’s “National Health Statistics Reports,” federal researchers found that in 2012, the most recent data available, close to 42% of adults with a musculoskeletal pain disorder used at least one alternative health approach, and 50% of people with neck pain did.  That’s much higher than the 24% of people without a pain disorder who report using complementary medicine such as acupuncture, massage therapy, meditation and yoga.

Using the 2012 National Health Interview Survey, this report examined the use of complementary health approaches among U.S. adults aged 18 and over who had a musculoskeletal pain disorder. Prevalence of use among this population subgroup is compared with use by persons without a musculoskeletal disorder. Use for any reason, as well as specifically to treat musculoskeletal pain disorders, is examined.

Musculoskeletal pain disorders included lower back pain, sciatica, neck pain, joint pain or related conditions, arthritic conditions, and other musculoskeletal pain disorders not included in any of the previous categories.

In 2012, 54.5% of U.S. adults had a musculoskeletal pain disorder.

Conventional medical treatment for chronic musculoskeletal pain (e.g., nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and surgery) and use of opioids often lack long-term benefit or subject patients to other risks. Consequently, some persons with these conditions may seek alternative treatment options. Alternative health care interventions (e.g., chiropractic and osteopathic medicine), products (e.g., herbs and natural products), or practices (e.g., massage therapy and yoga) not generally considered part of conventional medicine are generally referred to as complementary health approaches.

Researchers looked at use of natural products (including special diets and supplements), practitioner-based practices (such as massage therapy), mind and body approaches (hypnosis and meditation), and whole medical systems (such as Ayurveda and acupuncture). The use of natural products was most common, followed by mind and body therapies.

The high level of use of practitioner-based approaches identified in this report adds to previous research that has shown that some U.S. adults use complementary health approaches for treatment despite a lack of health insurance coverage for their complementary health practitioner visits.                                                                                                                                                                                               Policy makers should consider using the information in this report in order to best determine the types of complementary health approaches most frequently used for musculoskeletal pain management, as this may be of great assistance in implementing the 2016 National Pain Strategy, which lays out a plan for better addressing pain issues in the United States.

And if conventional therapies don’t work, and complementary therapies cease to complement anything, then maybe, just maybe, we start to face failure.  And add that reality to the National Pain Strategy. 

The first step to finding something that works.


National Health Statistics Reports  Number 98  October 12, 2016

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