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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Use of complementary and alternative medicine by mid-age women with back pain: a national cross-sectional survey

Alex F Broom1, Emma R Kirby1*, David W Sibbritt2, Jon Adams12 and Kathryn M Refshauge3

Author Affiliations

1 School of Social Science, University of Queensland, St Lucia, QLD, 4072, Australia

2 School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health, University of Technology Sydney, Ultimo, NSW, 2007, Australia

3 Faculty of Health, University of Sydney, Lidcome, NSW, 2141, Australia

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BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2012, 12:98  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-12-98

Published: 18 July 2012

Abstract

Background

The use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) has increased significantly in Australia over the past decade. Back pain represents a common context for CAM use, with increasing utilisation of a wide range of therapies provided within and outside conventional medical facilities. We examine the relationship between back pain and use of CAM and conventional medicine in a national cohort of mid-aged Australian women.

Methods

Data is taken from a cross-sectional survey (n = 10492) of the mid-aged cohort of the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health, surveyed in 2007. The main outcome measures were: incidence of back pain the previous 12 months, and frequency of use of conventional or CAM treatments in the previous 12 months.

Results

Back pain was experienced by 77% (n = 8063) of the cohort in the previous twelve month period. The majority of women with back pain only consulted with a conventional care provider (51.3%), 44.2% of women with back pain consulted with both a conventional care provider and a CAM practitioner. Women with more frequent back pain were more likely to consult a CAM practitioner, as well as seek conventional care. The most commonly utilised CAM practitioners were massage therapy (26.5% of those with back pain) and chiropractic (16.1% of those with back pain). Only 1.7% of women with back pain consulted with a CAM practitioner exclusively.

Conclusions

Mid-aged women with back pain utilise a range of conventional and CAM treatments. Consultation with CAM practitioners or self-prescribed CAM was predominantly in addition to, rather than a replacement for, conventional care. It is important that health professionals are aware of potential multiple practitioner usage in the context of back pain and are prepared to discuss such behaviours and practices with their patients.

Keywords:
Back pain; Complementary medicine; Survey