Complementary and Alternative Medicine Usage by Intercollegiate Athletes

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The purpose of this study is to determine the prevalence and types of provider-delivered complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) used by intercollegiate student athletes attending a Division I NCAA University.

Design and Setting

Survey methodology within a group of intercollegiate student athletes at a Division I NCAA university during the fall semester of 2004.


All incoming and returning intercollegiate student athletes were invited to participate. Surveys were completed by 309 (122 women, 187 men) of 482 (64.1%) student athletes representing 20 sports (11 women's, 9 men's teams).

Main Outcome Measurements

A 28-item reliable and valid survey instrument that measured the use of provider delivered CAM and allopathic medical care was administered. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics, χ2 tests, and logistic regressions.


Fifty-six percent of subjects reported using CAM within the past 12 months, including a significantly higher percentage of women (67%) than men (49%) (P<0.01). Massage was the most commonly used type (38%), followed by chiropractic (29%), Lomilomi (14%), and acupuncture (12%). CAM usage overall did not differ significantly by sport, year in college, nor ethnicity. Hawaiian, Samoan, and Tongan subjects were more likely to use the Hawaiian-originated forms of CAM. Sixty percent of respondents have a regular medical doctor, eighty percent of which are family practitioners. Forty-two percent of subjects were referred to a medical specialist within the previous three years.


CAM usage is common among collegiate student athletes and rates are higher than in adults nationwide and within the state of Hawai′i. This study and future investigations will increase the awareness of CAM use patterns by collegiate athletes, and hopefully improve allopathic physicians’ abilities to provide optimal athletic health care.

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