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Massage Today
November, 2004, Vol. 04, Issue 11

Survey Shows CAM Popular Among Military Personnel

Massage Therapy Used Most Frequently

By Editorial Staff

In August, Massage Today reported that the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) released survey results relative to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) use in the United States.

The survey found that 75 percent of respondents had used some form of CAM at some point in their lives, while 62 percent reported using CAM in the previous 12 months (

The results of a similar survey published in the May 2004 issue of Military Medicine confirm the results of the NCCAM's survey, with the additional finding that military families are among those that routinely use CAM therapies. Topping the list of most frequently used therapies was massage.2


Researchers distributed 400 surveys to active and retired military personnel and their family members, ages 18 to 83, in four outpatient clinics in the northwest region of the U.S. Surveys were random, anonymous and self-administered, and asked questions related to the frequency of use and effectiveness of 18 CAM therapies: massage therapy, nutritional food supplements, herbal supplements, exercise therapy, chiropractic, music therapy, relaxation therapy, aromatherapy, meditation, magnet therapy, biofeedback, acupuncture, tai chi, yoga, naturopathy, homeopathy, qi gong, and hypnotherapy.

As part of the evaluation, the survey listed several medical conditions and asked respondents to report on whether they used CAM as a method of treatment for any of the ailments. These included lower back pain, stress, weight loss, neck pain, headaches, knee pain, upper back pain, shoulder pain, anxiety, health prevention [preventative medicine], depression, migraines, colds, hip pain, wrist pain, stomach pain, chronic fatigue syndrome, pelvic pain, sinus pain, viral conditions, and fibromyalgia.


Of the 400 surveys distributed, 291 patients responded. The average survey respondent was 39-years-old; 54 percent were men and 46 percent were women. Forty-six percent of the respondents were on active military duty, while 18 percent were retired and 36 percent were family members. Of the total number of respondents, 235 used at least one form of CAM (81 percent). Additionally, CAM users reported they believed treatment was effective between 81 percent and 98 percent of the time, except when treatment included qi gong, magnets and hypnotherapy, which were reported to be effective between 60 percent and 67 percent of the time.

Massage therapy, nutritional supplements and exercise rounded out the top three most frequently used therapies. Table 1 reflects the complete findings.

Table 1

CAM Therapy Used Therapy Thought therapy was effective Thought therapy was ineffective
Massage therapy 41% 40% 1%
Nutritional food supplement 38% 34% 3%
Exercise therapy 36% 34% 4%
Herbal supplement 36% 33% 4%
Chiropractic 30% 27% 3%
Music therapy 21% 19% 1%
Relaxation therapy 20% 19% 1%
Meditation 17% 15% 2%
Aroma therapy 16% 15% 1%
Magnets 12% 8% 4%
Biofeedback 10% 8% 2%
Yoga 9% 8% 1%
Acupuncture 8% 7% 1%
Tai chi 7% 6% 1%
Homeopathy 6% 5% 1%
Naturopathy 6% 5% 1%
Qi gong 2% 1% 1%

The study then asked respondents to rate their use of CAM for several conditions; these results appear in Table 2.

Table 2

Medical Condition Used CAM to treat condition
Lower back pain 33%
Stress 30%
Weight loss
Neck pain 20%
Knee pain
Shoulder pain 17%
Upper back pain 17%
Health prevention 15%
Depression 14%
Colds 13%
Wrist pain
Sinus pain 7%
Stomach pain 7%
Chronic fatigue syndrome
Pelvic pain
Fibromyalgia 1%
Viral syndrome 1%

When asked whether patients wanted military medical treatment facilities to offer CAM and if they would be willing to pay for CAM services, 69 percent said they would like CAM services offered, but only 24 percent of those would be willing to pay for them. Ten percent of the patients would not want CAM offered, 31 percent of which would not pay for CAM treatment. Lastly, 21 percent and 44 percent of the respondents were undecided as to whether they wanted CAM offered and if they would pay for CAM services, respectively.


The report notes four limitations to the study, including: 1) "the level of past exposure, experience, or influence that each respondent has had with CAM therapies, which may influence their response to the questionnaire"; 2) "... only certain medical conditions were listed on the survey, which limited the patient's choice response"; 3) "... the region in which the survey was taken may have influenced the proportion of CAM use ... there [is] generally a higher use of CAM in the western region of the United States compared with the east, and this survey was conducted in an area that nationally has a higher percentage of CAM providers"; and 4) "CAM users are usually found to be predominantly in higher income brackets, have higher levels of education and are of middle age ... income and education was not measured."2

Study limitations notwithstanding, these survey results clearly show that CAM, especially massage therapy, has made a positive impact on military personnel and their families.

"Active duty soldiers, retirees, and their family members are turning increasingly toward CAM therapies," the authors note. "It is equally clear that in spite of cost (out-of-pocket or subsidized), they would prefer that these services be offered within the military treatment facility...which may clearly reflect a desire by the patient for better continuity of care.

"The need to further investigate CAM therapies and to consider integrating these practices at military treatment facilities should be further evaluated," the report concluded.2


  1. Survey shows CAM use on the rise. Massage Today. August 2004.
  2. McPherson F, Schwenka MA. Use of complementary and alternative therapies among active duty soldiers, military retirees, and family members at a military hospital. Military Medicine. May 2004; (169): 354-357.


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