BACKGROUND: A comprehensive, but not systematic, review of the research on complementary and alternative treatments, specifically mind/body techniques, on musculoskeletal disease was conducted at Stanford University. The goals of the review were to establish a comprehensive literature review and provide a rationale for future research carrying the theme of "successful aging." METHODS: Computerized searches were conducted using MEDLINE, PsychInfo, Stanford Library, Dissertation Abstracts, Lexus-Nexus, the Internet as well as interviews conducted with practitioners and the elderly. Mind/body practices evaluated were: social support, cognitive-behavioral therapy, meditation, the placebo effect, imagery, visualization, spiritual/energy healing, music therapy, hypnosis, yoga, tai chi, and qigong. Studies published after 1990 were the priority, but when more recent literature was scarce, other controlled studies were included. RESULTS: Mind/body techniques were found to be efficacious primarily as complementary treatments for musculoskeletal disease and related disorders. Studies provided evidence for treatment efficacy but most apparent was the need for further controlled research. CONCLUSIONS: Reviewers found a dearth of randomized controlled research conducted in the US. There is a lack of studies with which to determine appropriate dosage and understand the mechanisms by which many of the practices work. Anecdotal evidence, some controlled research, clinical observation, as well as the cost effectiveness and lack of side effects of the mind/body treatments make further investigation a high priority.