Open Access Open Badges Research article

Racial differences in symptom management approaches among persons with radiographic knee osteoarthritis

Shibing Yang1*, Rachel Jawahar1, Timothy E McAlindon2, Charles B Eaton34 and Kate L Lapane1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Epidemiology and Community Health, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA, USA

2 Department of Rheumatology, Tufts Medical Center, Boston, MA, USA

3 Departments of Family Medicine and Epidemiology, Warren Alpert Medical School, Brown University, Providence, RI, USA

4 Center for Primary Care and Prevention, Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island, Pawtucket, RI, USA

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BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2012, 12:86  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-12-86

Published: 6 July 2012



The extent to which racial differences exist in use of treatments for osteoarthritis (OA) is debatable. The purpose of this study was to describe the differences between African Americans (AA) and Caucasian Americans (CA) in using treatment approaches to manage symptoms among individuals with radiographic-confirmed knee OA.


A cross-sectional study was conducted. Using data from the Osteoarthritis Initiative, we identified 508 AA and 2,075 CA with radiographic tibiofemoral OA in at least one knee. Trained interviewers asked questions relating to current OA treatments including seven CAM therapy categories—alternative medical systems, mind-body interventions, manipulation and body-based methods, energy therapies, and three types of biologically based therapies, as well as conventional medications. We categorized participants as: conventional medication only users, CAM only users, users of both and users of neither. Multinomial logistic regression models adjusting for sociodemographics and clinical/functional factors provided estimates of the association between race and treatment use.


Overall, 16.5% of AA and 24.2% of CA exclusively used CAM to treat OA, 25.0% of AA and 23.8% of CA used CAM in conjunction with conventional medications, and 24.8% of AA and 14.6% of CA exclusively used conventional medications. After control for sociodemographic and clinical factors, AA were less likely than CA to use CAM therapies alone (adjusted odds ratio (OR) of using CAM alone relative to no CAM or conventional treatments: 0.68, 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.48–0.96) or with conventional medications (adjusted OR relative to no CAM or conventional treatments: 0.59, 95%CI: 0.42–0.83). However, no differences in use of conventional medications alone were observed after adjustment of covariates.


CAM use is common among people with knee OA, but is less likely to be used by AA relative to CA. For effective CAM therapies, targeted outreach to underserved populations including education about benefits of various CAM treatments and providing accessible care may attenuate observed disparities in effective CAM use by race.

Osteoarthritis; Race; Pain; Complementary and alternative medicine