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Open Access Research article

CAM therapies among primary care patients using opioid therapy for chronic pain

Sara Fleming1*, David P Rabago2, Marlon P Mundt2 and Michael F Fleming2

Author Affiliations

1 ND candidate June 2007, Bastyr University, Seattle, Washington 98122, USA

2 Department of Family Medicine, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin 53715, USA

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BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2007, 7:15  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-7-15

Published: 16 May 2007

Abstract

Background

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is an increasingly common therapy used to treat chronic pain syndromes. However; there is limited information on the utilization and efficacy of CAM therapy in primary care patients receiving long-term opioid therapy.

Method

A survey of CAM therapy was conducted with a systematic sample of 908 primary care patients receiving opioids as a primary treatment method for chronic pain. Subjects completed a questionnaire designed to assess utilization, efficacy and costs of CAM therapies in this population.

Results

Patients were treated for a variety of pain problems including low back pain (38.4%), headaches (9.9%), and knee pain (6.5%); the average duration of pain was 16 years. The median morphine equivalent opioid dose was 41 mg/day, and the mean dose was 92 mg/day. Forty-four percent of the sample reported CAM therapy use in the past 12 months. Therapies utilized included massage therapy (27.3%, n = 248), chiropractic treatment (17.8%, n = 162), acupuncture (7.6%, n = 69), yoga (6.1%, n = 55), herbs and supplements (6.8%, n = 62), and prolotherapy (5.9%, n = 54). CAM utilization was significantly related to age female gender, pain severity income pain diagnosis of neck and upper back pain, and illicit drug use. Medical insurance covered chiropractic treatment (81.8%) and prolotherapy (87.7%), whereas patients primarily paid for other CAM therapies. Over half the sample reported that one or more of the CAM therapies were helpful.

Conclusion

This study suggests CAM therapy is widely used by patients receiving opioids for chronic pain. Whether opioids can be reduced by introducing such therapies remains to be studied.