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Massage Today
August, 2004, Vol. 04, Issue 08

Survey Shows CAM Use on the Rise

By Editorial Staff

In May, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the National Center for Health Statistics (part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) released the most comprehensive findings to date on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) use in the United States.

According to the Summer 2004 NCCAM newsletter,1 the data came from responses to CAM-related questions that were included on the annual National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), in which thousands of Americans are questioned on their health-related experiences.

"This survey is unique in that it combines an in-depth survey of CAM use with an in-depth survey of demographics, health status, health care utilization and health behaviors," remarked NCCAM's Senior Advisor for Scientific Coordination and Outreach, Richard L. Nahin, PhD, MPH, also one of the study's authors. "This combination of data allows researchers, policymakers and third-party payers, such as insurers, to make informed decisions concerning CAM."1

More than 31,000 U.S. adults were surveyed about their use of several forms of CAM, including massage, acupuncture, chiropractic, yoga, meditation and others. The survey also evaluated prayer (for health reasons) and vitamin use.


When prayer was included, the survey found that nearly 75 percent of respondents had used some form of CAM at some point in their lives, while 62 percent reported having used CAM therapies in the past 12 months. When the results were adjusted to exclude prayer for health reasons, 50 percent had used CAM at some point in their lives; 36 percent had used it in the past 12 months. Interestingly, only 12 percent of survey respondents used CAM therapies provided by practitioners, indicating that a large majority had self-treated using CAM. Among other characteristics of CAM users, the survey found:

  • Women were more likely than men to use CAM.
  • CAM use increased with age.
  • CAM use increased as education level increased.
  • Individuals who had been hospitalized in the past year were more likely to use CAM than those who had not.1

The top 10 CAM therapies most commonly used in the past year included:

  • Prayer for one's own health - 43%
  • Prayer by others for one's own health - 24.4%
  • Natural products - 18.9%
  • Deep-breathing exercises - 11.6%
  • Participation in prayer group for one's own health - 9.6%
  • Meditation - 7.6%
  • Chiropractic - 7.5%
  • Yoga - 5.1%
  • Massage - 5.0%
  • Diet therapies - 3.5%

According to the survey findings, respondents sought CAM for the following primary conditions:

Condition Percentage Who Used CAM
Back pain or problem 16.8%
Head or chest cold 9.5%
Neck pain or problem 6.6%
Joint pain or stiffness 4.9%
Arthritis, gout, lupus or fibromyalgia 4.9%
Anxiety/depression 4.5%
Stomach or intestinal illness 3.7%
Severe headache or migraine 3.1%
Recurring pain 2.4%
Insomnia or trouble sleeping 2.2%

Survey participants were also questioned about their reasons for seeking CAM. More than half of the respondents (55%) said they believed the combination of CAM and conventional medical treatment would improve their health. Other reasons included the following:

CAM would be interesting to try - 50%
Conventional medicine would not help - 28%
A conventional medical professional suggested CAM - 26%
Conventional treatments are too expensive - 13%

Respondents also reported on the specific CAM therapies they used and why: 2*
Therapy Conventional Medicine Wouldn't Help Conventional Treatments Too Expensive CAM/Conventional Medicine Combination Would Help
Suggested by Medical Professional
CAM Would be Interesting to Try
Acupuncture 44.2% 7.4% 56.2% 24.8% 51.6%
Biofeedback 22.9% 8.0% 61.0% 62.7% 45.5%
Chiropractic 39.6% 9.5% 52.9% 20.2% 31.8%
Energy Healing/Reiki 46.5% 22.9% 60.6% 18.0% 50.4%
Homeopathy 36.7% 19.4% 43.1% 14.2% 45.8%
Massage 33.9% 12.6% 59.6% 33.4% 44.1%
Megavitamin Therapy 27.5% 13.5% 55.0% 38.3% 37.7%
Naturopathy 53.1% 28.3% 62.4% 16.5% 43.9%
Yoga, tai chi, chigong 30.9% 14.4% 52.3% 21.0% 59.2%

As these survey results indicate, the tide is turning in the world of complementary and alternative medicine. As patients continue to seek alternative forms of treatment outside the realm of conventional health care, massage therapists have a golden opportunity to educate their clients on the benefits of regular massage treatment and other forms of CAM to maximize health and wellness.


  1. A new portrait of CAM use in the United States. NCCAM Newsletter, Summer 2004; Vol XI, No. 3.
  2. Barnes PM, Powell-Griner E, et al. Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use Among Adults: United States, 2002. Advanced Data from Vital and Health Statistics. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NCHS. May 27, 2004. No. 343.

*Partial list. For complete list of CAM therapies, please consult the NCHS study.


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