Australian-first study explores complementary medicine for complex pain conditions in veterans

Published 30 July 2020
War veteran NCNM

Southern Cross University’s National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine (NCNM) researchers are conducting the first comprehensive examination of integrative healthcare in military populations in Australia – a study that hopes to highlight the potential benefits of this approach to the management of chronic pain.

This week is National Pain Week (July 27 to August 2), which champions the needs of many Australians living with chronic pain. Australian veterans are affected by complex pain conditions at a disproportionately higher rate than the general population.

With musculoskeletal and nervous system conditions representing the top 10 health conditions suffered by Australian military personnel, these conditions are often inter-related, with chronic pain experienced by nearly half of this population.

This pragmatic randomised clinical trial, funded by the Defence Health Foundation, aims to measure the success of integrative approaches in military personnel and veterans with chronic pain.

Professor Jon Wardle, Professor of Public Health and Director of the National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine, is leading the trial and said many armed forces across the world now recommend integrative medicine, but Australia had not yet followed suit.

“It is helping to bring to patients the potential benefits of an integrative approach that has been proven useful elsewhere but has had problems being adopted into the Australian landscape.

“We are examining whether integrating complementary medicine in real-world military and veteran clinical settings offers clinical improvements, resource or cost-savings or other benefits to individual patients or healthcare organisations,” Professor Wardle said.

The trial integrates acupuncture/Chinese medicine, naturopathy, massage therapy and yoga classes alongside usual care, comparing the effects of usual care to an integrated model of complementary medicine alongside usual care.

“We are analysing these complementary therapies against markers such as pain intensity, quality of life, cost effectiveness and safety – among others,” said Professor Wardle.    

The trial is currently being conducted at the largest veteran health clinic in Australia, GO2 Health at Everton Park in Brisbane’s north.

Andy McLintock, a naturopath and veteran himself, is coordinating the trial at GO2 Health.

“GO2 Health provides a suite of therapies, including GP, allied health and complementary therapies - it really puts the veteran at the centre of the care. With the client base and number of veterans going through the clinic, it really makes it the ideal location to host this study,” Mr McLinktock said.

“We are about half-way through patient recruitment, so at the moment we are still looking for veterans in the South-East Queensland area who have chronic pain to participate in the study.”

Professor Wardle is optimistic of the study’s outcomes and what this could mean for the future of military and veteran health care in Australia.

“We already know the benefits of complementary medicine in managing chronic pain. Overseas military organisations like NATO and the US Department of Defence recommend inclusion of some complementary medicines in military care on this basis. Now we are building the evidence base to help inform future policy around military and veteran care here in Australia,” Professor Wardle said.

If you live in South-East Queensland and are a veteran living with chronic pain, you could be eligible to participate in this study. To find out more email

This research has obtained approvals from ethics committees: ETH19-3448 (UTS) and 141-19 (DDVA HREC).

Media contact: Caitlin Zillman, Marketing and Communications Manager at National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine 0424 632 177 or