An integrative review of complementary and alternative medicine use for back pain: A focus on prevalence, reasons for use, influential factors, self-perceived effectiveness, and communication

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Spine Journal, 2015, 15 (8), pp. 1870 - 1883
Issue Date:
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© 2015 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. Background context Back pain is the most prevalent of musculoskeletal conditions, and back pain sufferers have been identified as high users of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Despite lacking evidence, CAM treatments (eg, acupuncture, chiropractic, and massage) and CAM products (eg, vitamins, supplements, and aromatherapy oils) for back pain care have become widely available internationally, and CAM use by back pain sufferers has become a significant health service issue. However, to date, there has been no integrative review on CAM use for back pain. Purpose This study aims to conduct an integrative review on CAM use for back pain focusing on prevalence of use, commonly used CAM, characteristics of users, factors influencing decision making, self-perceived effectiveness, and communication with health-care providers. Study design/setting The study is based on an integrative literature review. Methods A comprehensive search of international literature from 2000 to 2014 in MEDLINE, CINHAL, AMED, DARE, EMBASE, ExceptaMedica, psycINFO, and SCOPUS databases was conducted. The search was limited to peer-reviewed articles published in English language and reporting empirical research findings on CAM use for back pain. Results The review reveals a considerable variation in prevalences of CAM use for back pain internationally. Acupuncture, chiropractic, osteopathy, and massage therapy are the commonly used CAM treatments besides a range of self-prescribed CAM, and back pain sufferers use CAM alongside conventional medical treatments. Female gender, chronicity of back pain, and previous exposure to CAM are key predictors of CAM use for back pain as highlighted from the reviewed literature. Family, friends, and recommendation by doctors appear to influence decision making on CAM use for back pain. The review reveals that users of CAM for back pain tend to report CAM as beneficial, but there is little knowledge on communication between CAM users with back pain and health-care providers about such use. Existing literature is largely based on the research investigating CAM use for back pain among a range of other health conditions. Further rigorous research is needed to investigate the use of a wider range of CAM treatments, particularly self-prescribed CAM for back pain. Conclusions The review findings provide insights for health-care providers and policy makers on the range of CAM treatments used by back pain sufferers. Conventional medical and CAM practitioners should be aware of back pain sufferers' decision making regarding a range of CAM treatments and be prepared to communicate with patients on safe and effective CAM treatments for back pain.
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