The diagnosis and treatment of chronic back pain by acupuncturists, chiropractors, and massage therapists

Karen J. Sherman, Daniel C. Cherkin, Richard A. Deyo, Janet H. Erro, Andrea Hrbek, Roger B. Davis, David M. Eisenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVES: To describe the diagnostic and therapeutic content of visits for chronic back pain to acupuncturists, chiropractors, and massage therapists. METHODS: Randomly selected acupuncturists, chiropractors, and massage therapists in two states were surveyed, and then eligible providers collected data on consecutive patient visits. The authors analyzed information on diagnosis, treatment, and self-care recommendations for chronic back pain patients collected during consecutive patient visits to these complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) providers. RESULTS: Back pain was the most common reason for visits to each of these providers, with chronic back pain representing about 10% of visits to acupuncturists, 20% of visits to chiropractors, and 12% of visits to massage therapists. Diagnosis by acupuncturists included traditional questioning and inspecting the patient as well as pulse and tongue assessment and palpation of the acupuncture meridians. Treatments usually included acupuncture needling, heat of some sort, and other modalities, such as East Asian massage, herbs, and/or cupping (application of suction cups to the skin). Lifestyle recommendations were common, particularly exercise and dietary counseling. Visits to chiropractors usually included spinal and muscle/soft tissue examinations and spinal manipulation. Soft tissue techniques (eg, "active release"), stretch or strength training, and home exercise recommendations were much less common. Massage therapists usually performed a tissue assessment and commonly assessed range of motion. They emphasized Swedish, deep tissue, and trigger point massage techniques and usually made self-care recommendations, particularly increased water intake, hot/cold therapy, exercise, and body awareness. CONCLUSION: Information on the care patients routinely receive from CAM providers will help physicians better understand these increasingly popular forms of care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)227-234
Number of pages8
JournalClinical Journal of Pain
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Acupuncture
  • Chiropractic
  • Low back pain
  • Massage
  • Office visits


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