BACKGROUND: Chronic pain is a common problem affecting about half of the general population. This has implications for the utilization of both conventional and alternative health services.
OBJECTIVES: 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.
METHODS: 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. 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.
RESULTS: 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. Prescription medicines had been taken by 58.4%, non-prescription medicines by 57.4% and alternative medicines by 15.7% of individuals with chronic pain. The majority (67.0%) of individuals with chronic pain who sought alternative health care did so in conjunction with conventional health care. Differences in consultations with practitioners and consumption of medicines were found by age, sex, socio-economic status, site of pain and severity of pain.
CONCLUSIONS: Individuals with chronic pain consult their GP about their pain more than other practitioners and use conventional medicines more frequently than alternative medicines. 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.