Association of complementary and alternative medicine use with symptoms and physical functional performance among adults with arthritis

Patricia A. Sharpe, Ph.D., M.P.H., Sara Wilcox, Ph.D., Danielle E. Schoffman, B.A., Brent Hutto, M.S.P.H., Andrew Ortaglia, Ph.D.

Disability and Health Journal, Vol. 9, Issue 1, p 37–45


Research shows high prevalence of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) use in individuals with arthritis. Little is known about CAM use and objectively measured physical functional performance.


The main objective was to determine if CAM use was associated with self-reported symptoms and physical functional performance in adults with arthritis. The secondary objectives were to describe the perceived helpfulness and correlates of CAM use.


We analyzed cross-sectional data from a self-administered questionnaire and objectively measured physical functional performance prior to randomization to a self-paced exercise program or control condition (n = 401). We used the Fisher’s exact test, analysis of variance, and general linear models to examine the association of CAM use with socio-demographic characteristics, symptoms and functional performance. Logistic regression computed the odds of perceiving CAM as helpful by level of use.


Most respondents had used CAM (76%). Dietary supplements were the most-used (53.1%). Female gender and college education predicted greater number of modalities used. Compared to non-users, use of any CAM was associated with greater fatigue and lower grip strength; relaxation techniques with lower walk distance and gait speed; dietary change with greater pain and stiffness and lower walk distance; and yoga with lower pain and stiffness, greater walk distance, chair stands, seated reach and gait, but lower grip strength. Perceived help was positively associated with the number of modalities used.


Associations between CAM and symptoms or functional performance were mixed. Only yoga showed positive associations; however, yoga practitioners were more physically active overall than non-practitioners.