Paying a "Complement" to Other Health Providers
Where do people get help when they have back pain? In any given year, one-third of all adults have at least one episode of back pain. Back pain is the second leading cause of visits to the doctor in the United States. Notably, only about 12 percent of adults with back pain see their medical doctor.

How are other people handling their back pain? Chiropractic care, massage therapy, and relaxation techniques are the three top choices. In fact, one-third of all adult back and neck pain patients get help outside the medical world.

Other health care services such as chiropractic, yoga, massage, homeopathy, and acupuncture are called complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies. Chiropractic care is the most commonly used CAM. Twenty-five percent of back and neck pain patients combine medical care along with CAM therapies.

Patients most likely to use CAM are women with pain in more than one area of the neck and back. Level of education, income, and general health don't seem to influence who seeks help from CAM. Most patients rate CAM as "very helpful." The effectiveness of these therapies remains unknown.

It appears from this study that only a small number of patients seek care just from a medical doctor. Also, people tend to combine CAM with care from their medical doctor. Future studies are being planned to look at the cost, harms, and benefits of CAM therapies.
Peter M. Wolsko, MD, MPH, et al. Patterns and Perceptions of Care for Treatment of Back and Neck Pain. Results of a National Survey. In Spine. January 1, 2003. Vol. 28. No. 3. Pp. 292-298.