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Americans Spend $34 Billion on Alternative Medicine

11% of Out-of-Pocket Health Care Spending Goes to CAM
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Acupuncture In, Energy Healing Out continued...

With that caveat in mind, the data suggest that adults in the U.S. made half as many visits to CAM practitioners in 2007 as they did in 1997, a decline from roughly three visits for every 1,000 adults to 1.5 visits.

Energy-healing therapists and therapists teaching relaxation techniques saw the largest reduction in patient visits.

“Together, the drop in visits to these two groups of practitioners accounted for about half of the total decrease in 2007 from 10 years earlier,” the report noted.

A big exception to the decline was acupuncture. Visits to acupuncturists increased from 27 visits per 1,000 adults in 1997 to 79 visits per 1,000 adults in 2007.

“The increase for acupuncture may be in part due to the greater number of states that license this practice and a corresponding increase in the number of licensed practitioners in 2007, compared with 1997, as well as increased insurance coverage for these therapies,” the report noted.

It is not clear if visits to chiropractors have increased or decreased over the past decade, the NCCAM’s Richard L. Nahin, PhD, told reporters.

Back Pain Big Reason for CAM Use

Chronic pain, especially back pain, is by far the biggest reason that people turn to alternative treatments, Briggs said.

She cited previously released data from the 2007 survey showing that of the top 20 conditions for which CAM treatments are used, nine involve chronic pain.

“Americans turn to treatments like acupuncture, chiropractic care, and massage therapy to deal with these painful conditions,” she said, adding that groups like the American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society are on record as endorsing these therapies as useful options for the treatment of chronic back pain.

Briggs said assessing the safety and effectiveness of these and other alternative therapies used to treat chronic pain is a major focus of NCCAM’s research efforts.

“I think everyone would agree that we don’t know as much as we should, and need to know more, about how to manage back pain,” she said.

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