Use of complementary and alternative medicine among patients with arthritis

Prev Chronic Dis. 2009 Apr;6(2):A44. Epub 2009 Mar 16.


Introduction: Previous studies suggest that people with arthritis have high rates of using complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) approaches for managing their arthritis, in addition to conventional treatments such as prescription medications. However, little is known about the use of CAM by diagnosis, or which forms of CAM are most frequently used by people with arthritis. This study was designed to provide detailed information about use of CAM for symptoms associated with arthritis in patients followed in primary care and specialty clinics in North Carolina.

Methods: Using a cross-sectional design, we drew our sample from primary care (n = 1,077) and specialist (n = 1,063) physician offices. Summary statistics were used to calculate differences within and between diagnostic groups, practice settings, and other characteristics. Logistic regression models clustered at the site level were used to determine the effect of patient characteristics on ever and current use of 9 CAM categories and an overall category of "any use."

Results: Most of the participants followed by specialists (90.5%) and a slightly smaller percentage of those in the primary care sample (82.8%) had tried at least 1 complementary therapy for arthritis symptoms. Participants with fibromyalgia used complementary therapies more often than those with rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, or chronic joint symptoms. More than 50% of patients in both samples used over-the-counter topical pain relievers, more than 25% used meditation or drew on religious or spiritual beliefs, and more than 19% used a chiropractor. Women and participants with higher levels of education were more likely to report current use of alternative therapies.

Conclusion: Most arthritis patients in both primary care and specialty settings have used CAM for their arthritis symptoms. Health care providers (especially musculoskeletal specialists) should discuss these therapies with all arthritis patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Arthritis / drug therapy*
  • Complementary Therapies / statistics & numerical data*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Data Collection
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Surveys and Questionnaires