Data on Veterans’ Use of Complementary Health Therapies

participants in a yoga class

A new study published in Women’s Health Issues reports the results of an analysis of the use of complementary health therapies by 468,806 U.S. veterans with chronic musculoskeletal pain.

Elizabeth Evans, PhD of the Veterans Administration Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System and University of Massachusetts School of Public Health and Health Sciences led the research project. She and her colleagues from the RAND Corporation, the University of California at Los Angeles, and Stanford University examined the medical records of veterans between the ages 18 to 54 who received care from the Veterans Health Administration (VA) between 2010 and 2013. The research team looked for any use of meditation, yoga, tai chi, acupuncture, chiropractic care, biofeedback, guided imagery, therapeutic massage, or hypnosis during that time frame, therapies that the VA is offering because research has found them to be beneficial for some types of chronic pain and mental conditions that can accompany pain.

Evans and her colleagues found that 36 percent of the women used complementary and integrative health (CIH) therapies, compared to 26 percent of the men, but patterns differed by race/ethnicity. Non-Hispanic Black women of all age groups were less likely than non-Hispanic White women to use CIH therapies, whereas non-Hispanic Black men were more likely than non-Hispanic White men. For both genders, Hispanic veterans were more likely than non-Hispanic White veterans to use CIH therapies.

“[I]t is especially concerning that Black women veterans with chronic musculoskeletal pain are the least likely of women veterans with this condition to use CIH therapies,” Evans and her co-authors write. “Black women veterans may have significant unmet needs for pain relief services, which could elevate their risk for opioid and other substance use disorders.”

“The opioid crisis has drawn attention to the importance of assuring access to non-pharmacologic therapies for chronic pain,” said Amita Vyas, PhD, MHS, Editor-in-Chief of Women's Health Issues and Associate Professor of Prevention and Community Health at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH). “This study’s findings can help VA and other providers identify and address barriers to CIH therapies that disproportionately affect patients by race and gender, and work toward a future where all patients have multiple effective options for pain treatment.”

Gender Differences in Use of Complementary and Integrative Health by U.S. Military Veterans with Chronic Musculoskeletal Pain” is published in the September/October issue of Women’s Health Issues. Women’s Health Issues is the official journal of the Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health based in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Milken Institute SPH.