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J Am Board Fam Med. 2010 May-Jun;23(3):354-62. doi: 10.3122/jabfm.2010.03.080252.

Perceived benefit of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) for back pain: a national survey.

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Division for Research and Education in Complementary and Integrative Medical Therapies, Harvard Medical School Osher Research Center, Boston.



Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is commonly used to treat back pain, but little is known about factors associated with improvement.


We used data from the 2002 National Health Interview Survey to examine the associations between the perceived helpfulness of various CAM therapies for back pain.


Approximately 6% of the US population used CAM to treat their back pain in 2002. Sixty percent of respondents who used CAM for back pain perceived a "great deal" of benefit. Using multivariable logistic regression, the factor associated with perceived benefit from CAM modalities was reporting that a reason for using CAM was that "conventional medical treatment would not help" (odds ratio [OR], 1.46; 95% CI, 1.14-1.86). The 2 factors associated with less perceived benefit from CAM modalities were fair to poor self-reported health status (OR, 0.58; 95% CI, 0.41-0.82) and referral by a conventional medical practitioner for CAM (OR, 0.7; 95% CI, 0.54-0.92). Using chiropractic as a reference, massage (OR, 0.62; 95% CI, 0.46-0.83), relaxation techniques (OR, 0.25; 95% CI, 0.14-0.45), and herbal therapy (OR, 0.3; 95% CI, 0.19-0.46) were all associated with less perceived benefit whereas those with similar perceived benefit included yoga/tai chi/qi gong (OR, 0.71; 95% CI, 0.41-1.22) and acupuncture (OR, 0.71; 95% CI, 0.37-1.38).


The majority of respondents who used CAM for back pain perceived benefit. Specific factors and therapies associated with perceived benefit warrant further investigation.

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