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Acupuncture for Neck Pain: Does It Work?

Chronic neck pain is one of the most common pain issues faced by students and office workers. Oftentimes, spending hours at a desk each day, combined with poor postural habits, is the root cause of the pain. However, for some, sports injuries, whiplash, and the wrong bed mattress or pillow can set off the pain. Regardless of what caused the neck pain to begin, many people find relief with acupuncture when seemingly nothing else helped. Scientific researchers and clinicians have been conducting clinical trials on the use of acupuncture for neck pain since the 1980’s, and most of these studies have confirmed that acupuncture is safe and effective.

One recent pilot study (published October 30, 2013 in the British Medical Journal) conducted at the Kyunghee University Medical Center in Seoul, Korea found that acupuncture three times per week was as effective as 80 mg of NSAIDs taken daily for chronic neck pain.

A meta-analysis of studies including 17,922 patients, published in Complementary & Alternative Medicine, found acupuncture to be effective for the treatment of back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, and chronic headaches. Patients receiving acupuncture had remarkably better results than patients receiving “sham” acupuncture. Those patients who had the worst baseline mental status and worst baseline pain scores also experienced the most benefit from acupuncture.

A rather intriguing study published in the Australian Journal of Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine tested the effectiveness of acupressure on distal acupoints on the hands for the treatment of chronic neck pain in the gallbladder and bladder meridians. There were a total of 60 patients in the study (30 in the treatment group and 30 controls who received acupressure on sham points), and those in the treatment group experienced dramatic pain relief over the 3-week treatment period. The control group did not report significant improvement.

One large study conducted in Germany and published in the Journal of the International Association for the Study of Pain found that patients with chronic neck pain lasting more than six months experienced considerable long-term relief with acupuncture, in comparison to a control group receiving conventional medical care and no acupuncture. A total of 14, 161 patients participated in the study, and there were 10, 395 patients who chose to receive acupuncture treatment (non-randomized). In addition, 1880 patients were randomized to receive acupuncture, and 1886 were randomized to the control group. The acupuncture groups were treated up to fifteen times in three months with acupuncture; the control group received conventional medical care. The non-randomized acupuncture group experienced more severe pain at the beginning of the study. Both acupuncture groups reported greater pain relief than the control group six months after the initiation of the study.

While the numerous scientific studies on the efficacy and safety of acupuncture have varied in methodology and number of patients recruited – and none of the studies have been flawless in design – the findings consistently support the use of acupuncture for longterm relief from chronic neck pain. Since acupuncture is a cost-effective treatment modality that is relatively free of side effects, it would be prudent for medical professionals to recommend acupuncture to patients with neck pain before prescribing potentially addictive pharmaceutical drugs and risky surgical procedures.


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