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Massage Therapy the most commonly recommended complementary health approach by U.S. physicians


  • Massage therapy (30.4 percent) was the most commonly recommended complementary health approach, followed by chiropractic/osteopathic manipulation (27.1 percent), herbs/nonvitamin supplements (26.5 percent), yoga (25.6 percent), and acupuncture (22.4 percent). 
  • The most commonly recommended approaches by general/family practice physicians were chiropractic/osteopathic manipulation (54 percent) and massage therapy (52.6 percent). The least recommended approach by general/family practice physicians was mind-body therapies (27.8 percent).
  • More than half of psychiatrists (53.1 percent) recommended mind-body therapies.
  • Pediatricians recommended herbs/other nonvitamin supplements most (27.2 percent) and acupuncture least (13.1 percent).
  • Psychiatrists, obstetricians/gynecologists, and pediatricians were less likely to recommend chiropractic/osteopathic manipulation than general and family practitioners.
  • Of all U.S. physicians, 53.1 percent recommended at least one complementary health approach to their patients during the previous 12 months.

A new study has shown that more than half (53.1%) of office-based physicians in the U.S., across specialty areas, recommended at least one complementary health approach (CHA) to their patients during the previous 12 months, with female physicians (63.2%) more likely to recommend a CHA than male physicians (49.3%). This unique study, which found physician’s sex, race, specialty, and U.S. region to be significant predictors of CHA recommendation, is published in JACM, The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, a peer-reviewed publication from Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers, dedicated to paradigm, practice, and policy advancing integrative health. Click here to read the article free on the JACM website through January 2, 2020.

The article entitled “U.S. Physician Recommendations to Their Patients About the Use of Complementary Health Approaches” was coauthored by Barbara Stussman and Richard Nahin, PhD, MPH, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, and Patricia Barnes and Brian Ward, PhD, National Center for Health Statistics, Hyattsville, MD. The data are based on the 2012 Physician Induction Interview of the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS PII).

The researchers analyzed recommendations by physicians to their patients for any CHA and for individual approaches, including massage therapy, herbs/nonvitamin supplements, chiropractic/osteopathic manipulation, yoga, acupuncture, and mind-body therapies. Overall, massage therapy was the most commonly recommended CHA, followed by chiropractic/osteopathic manipulation, herbs/nonvitamin supplements, yoga, and acupuncture. The analysis also looked at physician specialty area, including general/family practice physicians, psychiatrists, OB/GYNs, and pediatricians, and their likelihood of recommending any or a specific CHA. The authors anticipate that their findings will “enable consumers, physicians, and medical schools to better understand potential differences in use of CHAs with patients.”


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