'Alternative' Medicine Use on the Rise in Military

Press Contact:Samueli Institute-703-299-4800communications@samueliinstitute.org

Alexandria, Va. - January  31, 2013

Active duty military members’ overall use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is higher than that in comparable civilian surveys, according to a recent study in the January issue of The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. The study, titled “Military Report More Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use than Civilians,” was written by researchers at Samueli Institute in Alexandria, Va.; along with Palmer College of Chiropractic, Davenport, Iowa; Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, S.C.; Finch & King, Inc., Minneapolis, Minn.; Research Triangle Institute, Research Triangle Park, N.C.; TRICARE Management Activities, Falls Church, Va.; and Abt Associates Inc., Cambridge, Mass.

The global survey asked more than 16,000 active duty participants about CAM use in the past year. The sample included Service members in military bases across the country. Participants were sorted by gender, service, region and pay grade. The analysis included prevalence of CAM use of a variety of types as well as demographic and lifestyle characteristics. The survey asked about use of 13 different CAM modalities including acupuncture, biofeedback, chiropractic, diet therapy, energy healing, folk remedies, guided imagery, massage therapy, herbal medicine, high-dose megavitamins, homeopathy, hypnosis, relaxation techniques and spiritual healing by others. 

Approximately 45 percent of respondents reported using at least one type of CAM therapy in the previous year. The most commonly used therapies were massage (14.1 percent) and relaxation techniques (10.8 percent). After adjusting to the 2000 U.S. census, overall CAM use in the military (44.5 percent) was higher than that in comparable civilian surveys (36 percent and 38.3 percent).

“Studies continue to find that conventional medicine alone is not considered sufficient by many to address both the visible and invisible wounds in our Warfighters,” said Samueli Institute President and CEO, LTC (Ret.) Wayne B. Jonas, MD, “Increasingly, research shows that integrative medicine—a coordinated combination of conventional and alternative approaches—is working to enhance healing for these Service members. The general public and the military have already moved in that direction and it is time the medical profession begins to catch up.”

Military personnel used nine CAM types significantly more than civilians. Civilians used only chiropractic, diet therapy and herbal medicine more than the military. Only two percent of civilians used guided imagery therapy, three percent used relaxation techniques and five to eight percent reported using massage therapy. In contrast, these CAM therapies are estimated to be three of the most commonly used therapies by military personnel. These three therapies are often used to help with stress and pain management, two condition of high prevalence in the military. 

The study found participants who were older and more educated were more likely to use CAM. Researchers said this may reflect a more mature desire to resolve persistent health problems, and the income level to do so.
The study in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine was authored by Christine Goertz, DC, PhD; Bernadette P. Marriott, PhD; Michael D. Finch, PhD; Robert M. Bray, PhD; Thomas V. Williams, PhD; Laurel L. Hourani, PhD; Louise S. Hadden, BA; Heather L. Colleran, PhD; and Wayne B. Jonas, MD.

The study was supported by the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command under Award No. W81XWH-06-2-0009. The views, opinions and/or findings contained in this report are those of the author(s) and should not be construed as an official Department of the Army position, policy or decision unless so designated by other documentation.

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