Alternative health care is used most commonly in addition to conventional health care, although a small number of individuals with chronic pain use alternative care exclusively.The use of alternative health care amongst those with chronic pain is higher than previously estimated and suggests that the use of these services may be increasing amongst those with chronic pain.The main outcome measures were the number and frequency of self-reported consultations with GPs, hospital specialists, physical therapists and alternative therapists, and the consumption of prescription, non-prescription and alternative medicines amongst those with chronic pain. Of the 840 individuals reporting chronic pain, 67.2% had seen their GP, 34.0% a hospital specialist, 25.9% a physical therapist and 18.2% an alternative therapist in the preceding year.
This has implications for the utilization of both conventional and alternative health services. The aim of this study was to determine the use of conventional and alternative practitioners and medicines amongst individuals with chronic pain in the community. A total of 2422 individuals from a previous population-based survey in the Grampian region of the UK, who agreed to participate in further research, were sent a postal questionnaire.
The questionnaire enquired about the presence, type and severity of chronic pain, socio-demographic details, consultations with conventional and alternative practitioners, and the consumption of conventional and alternative medicines.
No reason was given for 64 of the individuals excluded. Non-responders were sent a reminder with a replacement questionnaire at 2 and 4 weeks.
The International Association for the Study of Pain defines chronic pain as “pain that persists beyond normal tissue healing time, which is assumed to be 3 months”.
A total of 3605 (82.3%) individuals returned their questionnaires, of which 2422 (67.2%) agreed to participate in further research.
Before sending out new questionnaires to these individuals, their GPs were asked to exclude anyone whom they felt should not be contacted again.
The use of complementary medicine in the general population is widespread and increasing, with osteopathy, chiropractic, homeopathy, acupuncture and herbalism among the most popular therapies.
A survey in 1993 estimated that 33% of the general population in the UK had used some form of complementary medicine in the past and that The clinical efficacy of many alternative therapies in chronic pain is controversial, but some have been shown to have beneficial effects in particular disorders, such as chiropractic therapy for low back pain.
It is unknown whether this is true for patients with chronic pain, who may be more inclined to seek alternatives therapies when conventional medicine is unlikely to provide a cure.