Treating Neck Pain
Acupuncture Treatment For Neck Pain
Nearly everyone has suffered from neck pain at some point. Sitting too long in front of a computer, overwork at the gym, trauma such as a car accident: each of these and more may cause stiffness and pain ranging from mild discomfort to a chronic ache the sufferer decides to “just get used to.”
Whether temporary or ongoing, there are treatment options for neck pain. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin and ibuprofen may help alleviate pain, but they damage the body, especially the liver. A neck pain sufferer looking for organic, non-invasive relief often seek treatments such as acupuncture, but is it effective? Read on to find out!
Originating in China at least 2,500 years ago, acupuncture has recently gained traction in Western medicine as a means to treat neck and back pain and improve overall health. Acupuncture adherents believe that the body’s life force, or qi (pronounced “chee”), flows through 20 pathways called meridians, as well as over 2,000 connection points. When proper flow through these pathways is interrupted, pain and illness result. To correct this, acupuncturists insert hair-thin needles into specific points, restoring the patient’s qi.
Acupuncturists treat a variety of neck pain causes, including degenerative neck disorders such as cervical spondylosis and whiplash pain caused by trauma. Occasionally, the acupuncturist incorporates acupressure and herbal medicines into the treatment. Acupressure relieves neck pain and muscle spasms, while certain herbals reduce muscle contraction through improved blood flow and circulation.
Choosing Acupuncture to Treat Neck Pain
A study published in the British Medical Journal randomly assigned 177 chronic neck pain patients to treatment with either acupuncture, massage, or a placebo.
The acupuncture patients received treatment at local, remote, and ear acupoints, as well as myofascial trigger points. Massage patients received a variety of techniques, including effleurage, friction, tapotement, and vibration. The placebo group received sham “laser” acupuncture, with an inactive laser pen, using the same acupoints as used with the acupuncture group.
Citation: Irnich D, Behrens N, Molzen H, et al. Randomised trial of acupuncture compared with conventional massage and “sham” laser acupuncture for treatment of chronic neck pain. British Medical JournalJune 30, 2001;322:1-6.
Treatment effectiveness was assessed three times relative to the first and last treatments: baseline, immediately following, and three days after initial treatment; then, with the last treatment, immediately after, one week after, and three months after. Results were entered into a 100-point scale to measure data points such as pain and range of motion. Finally, patients completed a survey assessing their quality of life.
The results in those treated with acupuncture, including pain relief and range of motion tests, were more positive than in patients receiving massage therapy or in the group receiving the placebo treatment of inactive laser pens.
Another study published by the Annals of Internal Medicine assigned 517 people, all of whom had neck pain for at least three months (and sometimes many years), to the standard care for neck pain, which involves prescription medications and physical therapy. Some of the patients were assigned to also receive one of two extra treatments: a dozen 50-minute acupuncture sessions or 20 private Alexander Technique lessons—which focus on teaching people how to move their body to avoid or correct muscular pain.
A year after the start of the study, people in the groups doing acupuncture and the Alexander Technique had significant reductions in neck pain—pain was assessed by a questionnaire—compared to those who just got usual care. Both groups reported about 32% less pain than they had at the start of the study, which is far greater than the 9% typically associated with physical therapy and exercise. The interventions also gave people in the groups more self-efficacy, which were linked to better pain outcomes.
The Effectiveness of Acupuncture for Neck Pain
Researchers conducting the British Medical Journal study assessed results. Across the board, patients treated with acupuncture showed markedly better improvement than the massage patients did.