The doctor is in. So is the yogi.
A sharp shift in health care is taking place as more than one-third of American adults now supplement or substitute mainstream medical care with acupuncture, meditation, yoga and other therapies long considered alternative.
In 2022, 37 percent of adult pain patients used nontraditional medical care, a marked rise from 19 percent in 2002, according to research published this week in JAMA. The change has been propelled by growing insurance reimbursement for clinical alternatives, more scientific evidence of their effectiveness and an increasing acceptance among patients.
“It’s become part of the culture of the United States,” said Richard Nahin, the paper’s lead author and an epidemiologist at the National Center of Complementary and Integrative Health, a division of the National Institutes of Health. “We’re talking about the use for general wellness, stress management use, sleep, energy, immune health.”
And for pain management. The use of yoga to manage pain rose to 29 percent in 2022 from 11 percent in 2002, an increase that Dr. Nahin said reflected in part efforts by patients to find alternatives to opiates, and the influence of media and social media.
“It’s in the public domain so much,” he said. “People hear acupuncture, meditation, yoga. They start to learn.”
The change is impacting medical practitioners as well. Dr. Sean Mackey, chief of the pain medicine division at Stanford Medicine, said that a growing number of studies have validated alternative therapies, providing even traditional clinics like Stanford’s with more mind-body therapies and other nonpharmaceutical tools. He said the acceptance of those ideas has grown among younger people in particular, whereas patients of earlier generations may have seen these options as too out there.