A new study reveals a major increase in the use of complementary health approaches like yoga, meditation and massage therapy among American adults over the past two decades.
Analysis by the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health shows 36.7% of U.S. adults reported using at least one complementary approach in 2022, up significantly from 19.2% in 2002.
The research, published in JAMA, analyzed data from the 2002, 2012 and 2022 National Health Interview Surveys. It looked at usage trends for seven specific approaches: yoga, meditation, massage, chiropractic care, acupuncture, naturopathy and guided imagery/progressive muscle relaxation.
Yoga and Meditation See Huge Increases
Of all the complementary health approaches, yoga and meditation saw the biggest jumps in adoption from 2002 to 2022.
The percentage of adults practicing yoga surged from just 5% in 2002 to 15.8% twenty years later. Meditation rose from 7.5% to 17.3% over the same period, making it the most commonly used approach among U.S. adults today.
Massage therapy also gained popularity, with use rising from 5.3% in 2002 to 12.8% in 2022. And acupuncture, covered more widely now by insurance plans, increased from 1% to 2.2%.
“We’ve seen an explosion of interest in holistic health approaches over the past two decades, especially yoga and meditation,” said Dr. Richard Nahin of NCCIH, lead author of the study. “Integrative medicine clinics are popping up all over, and techniques like massage and acupuncture are shedding their ‘alternative’ image.”
More Using Complementary Methods for Pain
Alongside the overall rise in adoption, the study revealed increasing use of complementary approaches specifically to manage pain.
In 2002, 42.3% of adults using any complementary method cited pain reduction as a reason. By 2022, that figure grew to 49.2% as these approaches gained recognition for pain relief.
Research shows techniques like yoga, acupuncture, massage and chiropractic adjustments can effectively complement conventional pain medications and physical therapy. This growing evidence base has led medical groups to include these therapies in official guidelines for chronic pain treatment.
Insurance coverage has also expanded over the past twenty years. More plans now offer some reimbursement for approaches with strong clinical support, like acupuncture. This widening access removes cost barriers for patients.
Holistic Health Enters the Mainstream
Experts cite several reasons for surging patient interest in complementary health techniques:
- High quality studies demonstrating safety and effectiveness, especially for chronic pain. This boosts credibility among both patients and providers.
- Increased integration of evidence-based complementary practices into mainstream healthcare and medical education.
- Greater insurance coverage reduces out-of-pocket costs for patients.
- Rising consumer preference for natural options with fewer side effects.
While considered “alternative” in the past, yoga, meditation, massage and acupuncture are now commonplace components of integrative medicine. Their growth mirrors patients’ desire for holistic tools to prevent and self-manage health conditions.
“Our healthcare system needs to adapt to meet patient demand for evidence-based complementary options,” said Dr. Nahin. “We have an opportunity to create truly integrative models that combine the best of both conventional medicine and holistic health.”