A new study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Public Health has reported that headaches, back pain and other vexing conditions have made people turn to alternative forms of treatment. The findings revealed that women and those with higher education use complementary and alternative medicine more often than others.

The study charted the use of complementary and alternative medicine in Europe. It found that complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is being used in connection with various health problems, particularly in situations where help provided by conventional medicine is considered to be inadequate.

Researchers from the Universities of Helsinki, Tampere and Turku collected the data from >20 countries, with approximately 40,000 respondents participating in a study. Four treatment types were examined. The study concentrated on the use of complementary and alternative medicine in Europe based on European Social Survey data (Round 7), collected in 2014.

Treatment types include: traditional Asian treatments (Chinese medicine, acupuncture, acupressure), alternative medicine (homoeopathy, herbal remedies), manual therapies (massage, chiropractic, osteopathy, reflexology), and mind-body therapies (hypnosis and spiritual healing).

The findings showed that one in four subjects in the study population had used complementary and alternative treatments in the past year. The most commonly used forms of treatment were massage (12%), homoeopathy (6%), osteopathy (5%) and herbal remedies (5%). Most subjects had experienced only one treatment form.

Teemu Kemppainen, a researcher at the University of Helsinki said the study found that alternative and complementary medicine was used primarily in a complementary manner, or together with conventional medicine. This should be kept in mind both in practical patient care and public discourse, where these treatments are often framed as an alternative to conventional medicine.

The frequency of treatments varied greatly between the countries in the study. In Germany, approximately 40% of the study population had used complementary and alternative forms of treatment, whereas in Hungary the corresponding share was 10%. In Finland and Estonia, 35% of respondents had used these forms of treatment.

The differences are partly explained by the fact that in some countries CAM treatments are covered by insurance. Some countries also train general practitioners in complementary medicine. The study findings revealed the health-related and sociodemographic determinants of the use of different complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments in Europe and reported differences in CAM use in various European countries.