The characteristics of those who use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), as an approach to chronic disease management, are poorly understood. They may however be important to nurses and other health professionals given that CAM is increasingly used by their patients with chronic disorders. In these contexts, the purpose of this study was to ascertain unique life chance population characteristics which significantly influence the use of Swedish massage therapy (SMT), a popular form of CAM, by older adults with chronic health dysfunctions. A multi-site and cross-sectional design was used, as well as a pre-tested postal questionnaire. One hundred forty-one (141) urban, non-institutionalized, English-speaking older persons participated, ranging in age from 60 to 94 years. Findings denote the essential role life chances have on individuals accessing alternative forms of care. © 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.