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J Spinal Cord Med. 2001 Spring;24(1):54-62.

The use of complementary and alternative therapies for chronic pain following spinal cord injury: a pilot survey.

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Department of Psychiatry, New Jersey Medical School, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Newark 07107, USA.



The purpose of this study was to determine the patterns and reasons for the use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) as a treatment for chronic pain among individuals with spinal cord injuries (SCI).


Telephone surveys were conducted in a sample of 77 people with SCI and chronic pain.


Of those surveyed, 40.3% had used at least one CAM technique to manage chronic pain. The most common reason was dissatisfaction with conventional medicine. Acupuncture was the most frequently used modality, followed by massage, chiropractic manipulation, and herbal medicine. Acupuncture was rated lowest for satisfaction with pain relief, and massage was rated highest. Individuals not using conventional pain medication or who desired greater control over their health care practices tended to use more CAM techniques than others. Income, insurance coverage, and duration of pain were related to use of CAM. In general, CAM methods were effective for some and totally ineffective for others, indicating selective utility in this population.


Despite this small opportunistic sample, the prevalence of CAM among individuals with SCI appears similar to that in the general population. A placebo-controlled trial is needed to evaluate the efficacy of various therapies in the SCI population. The fact that the most effective therapy, massage, was not frequently used suggests the need for more awareness of and research into this technique.

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