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Half of chronic pain patients have tried alternative therapy

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Most patients with chronic pain use complementary and alternative therapies, but many keep it a secret from clinicians, suggests US research.

More than half of chronic pain patients in a managed care setting reported using chiropractic care or acupuncture or both.

“We need to ask them about the alternative and complementary approaches they are using”

Charles Elder

However, many of these patients did not discuss this care with their primary care providers, according to study results published in the American Journal of Managed Care.

Researchers surveyed more than 6,000 patients in the states of Oregon and Washington who had three or more outpatient visits for chronic pain within 18 months.

They found that 58% of these patients had used chiropractic care or acupuncture or both.

The majority shared information about CAM therapies with their primary care provider, but 35% of patients who had acupuncture only and 42% who had chiropractic care did not talk to their providers about this care.

Lead study author Dr Charles Elder, from the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research, said the study confirmed that most patients with chronic pain were seeking complementary treatments to “supplement” their normal care.

Half of chronic pain patients have tried alternative therapy

Half of chronic pain patients have tried alternative therapy

“The problem is that too often, doctors don’t ask about this treatment, and patients don’t volunteer the information,” he said.

He added: “We need to ask them about the alternative and complementary approaches they are using. If we know what’s working and what’s not working, we can do a better job advising patients.”

The majority, 71%, of the patients were women, and the mean age was 61. Common complaints included back pain, joint pain, arthritis, extremity, neck and muscle pain, and headache.

Patients completed the survey online or by mail. It included 17 questions about the type of pain patients experienced, and their use of acupuncture, chiropractic care, and other alternative and complementary therapies.

The survey was administered as part of a study called RELIEF, which is comparing outcomes among chronic pain patients who receive chiropractic care and acupuncture, and those who do not.

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Readers' comments (3)

  • Well, of course we keep it a secret! We don't want to be either ridiculed or nagged by supercilious doctors.

    I don't suffer back pain but I've tried alternative therapies. When I was in my mid-30s, I was suddenly hit out of the blue by a crippling attack of rheumatoid arthritis that affected nearly all my joints. Some days I couldn't even get out of bed. Not fancying my GP's suggestion of going on steroids for a few weeks, I sought help from a homeopathic rheumatologist. (Who was also a fully-paid-up doctor.) After six months of treatment and some excellent dietary advice, my symptoms cleared up completely.

    One day, when visiting my GP for something unrelated, I showed her what I'd taken for the arthritis. She totally ridiculed me for believing in such mumbo-jumbo, particularly as a nurse, pointing out that it was all just water. Then she noticed that one of the ingredients was a dilution of strychnine and lambasted me yet again for risking my health by taking poison! Logical, no?

    Oh, and 35 years later I still take the same combination of homeopathic remedies for my very occasional minor flare-ups - and it still works.

    One thing I learned from the experience was never again to discuss alternative therapies with doctors.

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  • In our trust we run weekly Acupunctre clinics for chronic pain patients and have done for approx 9 yrs.

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  • in uk all hcpc registered practitioners must inform gp or specialist at start of treatment

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