Use of complementary and alternative medicine practitioners by people with physical disabilities: estimates from a National US Survey

Matthew J Carlson, Gloria Krahn
Disability and Rehabilitation 2006 April 30, 28 (8): 505-13

PURPOSE: To estimate the prevalence of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practitioner use, assess the reasons for use, and determine the symptoms for which CAM practitioners were consulted in a national US sample of insured adults with physical disabilities.

METHODS: Data for this study come from a longitudinal survey conducted in 2000 and 2001 on a national sample of 830 adults with health insurance who had one of four disabling conditions: multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury, and arthritis. Estimates of annual prevalence and reasons and symptoms for which CAM practitioners were consulted are derived from cross-sectional analysis of the 2001 survey data. Prior use of CAM was assessed using the 2000 survey.

RESULTS: CAM practitioners were consulted by 19% of the sample, a rate similar to, or higher than the general population. CAM use was more prevalent among women than men (24 vs. 10%), in the Western US (30%) compared to the Midwest (20%) Northeast (14%), and South (10%) and among prior users (62%) compared to non-users (8%). There were no significant differences in CAM use by condition, although individuals with spinal cord injury reported the lowest use (14%). Common symptoms treated were pain (80%), decreased functioning (43%), and lack of energy (24%). Common reasons for using CAM practitioners included lifestyle choice (67%) and because they are perceived to be more effective than conventional medicine (44%).

CONCLUSIONS: Evidence from the current survey suggests that a significant proportion of people with physical disabilities consult CAM practitioners. Many of those who use CAM do so because it fits their lifestyle and because they perceive it to be more effective than conventional medicine for treating common symptoms including pain and decreased functioning.

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