Complementary & Integrative Health

“Our studies have helped establish the evidence base for many ‘complementary therapies’ that Americans often use to treat chronic pain and other conditions. This helps ensure treatments are truly patient-centered.”

Karen J. Sherman, PhD, MPH
Senior Investigator, Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute

Research overview

Americans are increasingly using complementary and integrative medicine for pain and other health problems, according to national surveys. Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute (KPWHRI) has one of the nation's leading teams researching these approaches to healing. Team members use rigorous scientific methods to evaluate the effectiveness—including cost-effectiveness—of complementary and integrative therapies delivered in real-world practice.

Many KPWHRI studies concern musculoskeletal conditions such as back pain, which accounts for a large portion of visits to alternative providers. National guidelines for treating back pain now include six complementary and integrative approaches: four of them—acupuncture, massage, mindfulness, and yoga—on the strength of Kaiser Permanente research.

"Our research has shown that massage, yoga, acupuncture, mindfulness-based stress reduction, and to a lesser extent spinal manipulation help relieve chronic low back pain," says KPWHRI Senior Investigator Emeritus Dan Cherkin, PhD. "But the reasons why these treatments are helpful remain unclear."

The stress-reducing aspects of some treatments may be more important than the physical ones. Also, complementary and integrative practitioners often approach their patients with optimism, offer suggestions for ways they can achieve more balance in their lives, and coach them on becoming more involved in their own healing and self-care. “We’re very interested in self-care: things that people can do for themselves,” says Senior Investigator Karen Sherman, PhD. This has led to a new project in implementation science in which KPWHRI researchers are learning to optimize mindfulness training to work for a greater number of patients. Qualitative research is an important component of this research and Assistant Investigator Clarissa Hsu, PhD, has led these efforts for multiple projects.

"We are understanding better how the mind and body are intricately connected, with both important for healing to occur," Dr. Sherman says. "In primary care, we hope to harness the mind-body connection to enhance healing for various health problems that don't respond well to conventional treatments."

Projects embedded in the delivery system are also receiving increasing attention. Senior investigator Lynn DeBar, PhD, MPH, has led large, multisite projects that have included complementary and integrative health components. A recently completed pragmatic trial carried out in Kaiser Permanente clinics in Georgia, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington tested a primary care-based integrated behavioral health intervention that included a yoga-based adaptive movement component. A current Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute-funded project is evaluating the impact of an Oregon policy designed in part to lower barriers for Medicaid-insured patients with back or neck pain to access a range of complementary and integrative health treatments including acupuncture, chiropractic care, massage, and yoga, as well as other nonpharmacotherapy services.

Recent publications on Complementary and Integrative Health

Sherman KJ, Wellman RD, Jones SMW, Lewis CC. Interest in mindfulness training for chronic low-back pain: results from a vignette-driven, web-based survey of patients. J Integr Complement Med. 2022 Mar 23. doi: 10.1089/jicm.2021.0427. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed

Owen-Smith A, Black H, Emerson D, Cotner M, Smith H, Jackson D, Ford JD, DeBar L, DiClemente R, Hayat MJ. A pilot study to adapt a trauma-informed, mindfulness-based yoga intervention for justice-involved youth. Int J Yoga Therap. 2021 Dec 7. doi: 10.17761/2021-D-21-00032. Online ahead of print. PubMed

Figueroa Gray M, Coleman K, Walsh-Bailey C, Girard S, Lozano P. An expanded role for the medical assistant in primary care: evaluating a training pilot. Perm J. 2021 Nov 29;25:20.091. doi: 10.7812/TPP/20.091. PubMed

Marshall A, Joyce CT, Tseng B, Gerlovin H, Yeh GY, Sherman KJ, Saper RB, Roseen EJ. Changes in pain self-efficacy, coping skills and fear avoidance beliefs in a randomized controlled trial of yoga, physical therapy, and education for chronic low back pain. 2022 Apr 8;23(4):834-843. doi: 10.1093/pm/pnab318. PubMed

Colgan D, Green K, Eddy A, Brems C, Sherman KJ, Cramer H, Oken B, Christopher M. Translation, cross-cultural adaptation, and psychometric validation of the English version of the postural awareness scale. Pain Med. 2021 Nov 26;22(11):2686-2699. doi: 10.1093/pm/pnab200. PubMed

Researchers in Complementary and Integrative Health

Karen J. Sherman, PhD

Senior Investigator
206-287-2426
Karen.J.Sherman@kp.org

Curriculum vitae (CV)

Lynn DeBar, PhD

Senior Investigator
(206) 287-2942
Lynn.Debar@kp.org

Curriculum vitae (CV)

Katherine M. Newton, PhD

Senior Investigator (Emeritus)
206-287-2973
Katherine.M.Newton@kp.org

Curriculum vitae (CV)

Andrea J. Cook, PhD

Senior Biostatistics Investigator
206-287-4257
Andrea.J.Cook@kp.org

Curriculum vitae (CV)

Clarissa Hsu, PhD

Associate Investigator
206-287-4276
Clarissa.W.Hsu@kp.org

Curriculum vitae (CV)

Robert D. Wellman, MS

Senior Collaborative Biostatistician
206-287-2557
Robert.D.Wellman@kp.org

Curriculum vitae (CV)

Lorella Palazzo, PhD

Collaborative Scientist
206-287-2173
Lorella.G.Palazzo@kp.org

Curriculum vitae (CV)

Marlaine Gray, PhD

Assistant Investigator
206-287-2620
Marlaine.S.Figueroagray@kp.org

Curriculum vitae (CV)

Laurel Hansell, MA, MPH

Collaborative Scientist
laurel.d.hansell@kp.org

Curriculum vitae (CV)
 

Affiliate researcher

Susan D. Reed, MD, MPH

Harborview Medical Center; University of Washington (UW) Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology