Acupuncture Relieves Chronic Neck Pain

Did You Know…that Acupuncture Can Significantly Relieve Chronic Neck Pain?

Chronic neck pain is extremely difficult to treat, and single interventions rarely provide long-term benefits. However, a recent study examined two non-drug therapies—the Alexander Technique and acupuncture—and found that both can significantly relieve chronic neck pain. Not only did these interventions relieve pain, but they also reduced disability over 12 months compared with usual care.

About the Interventions

Alexander Technique involves hands-on lessons for self-care in everyday activities, aimed at reducing poor posture, excess muscle tension, poor coordination, stress, or pain.

Acupuncture is a system of complementary medicine that involves pricking the skin or tissues with needles. It is used to alleviate pain and to treat various physical, mental, and emotional conditions. Originating in ancient China, acupuncture is now widely practiced in the West.

A Groundbreaking Study 

This large-scale study was conducted by researchers at the University of York and published in November in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The researchers recruited 517 patients and randomly divided them into 3 groups: 

  The first group was offered up to 20 half-hour lessons with teachers from the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique, plus usual care.

 The second group received up to 12 sessions of 50 minutes of acupuncture based on traditional Chinese medical theory with practitioners of the British Acupuncture Council, plus usual care.

 The third group received only usual care (prescribed medications and visits to general practitioners, physiotherapists, and other healthcare professionals).

At 12 months, pain was reduced by 32% for the acupuncture group and 31% for the Alexander Technique group (25% is a clinically significant reduction).  Furthermore, these reductions were dramatically significant when compared to usual care alone.  Plus, patients in these 2 groups were more able to reduce their pain levels without resorting to medication.  No serious adverse events occurred in either intervention group, according to the study authors.

Dr. Hugh MacPherson, a Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Health Sciences at York, said: “Our key finding is that there are significant reductions in neck pain associated with Alexander Technique lessons and acupuncture at 12 months. This is an important finding because for the first time we now have clear evidence that these 2 interventions provide longer-term benefits for chronic neck pain.”

Patient, Heal Thyself 

Researchers believe that acupuncture and Alexander Technique probably work differently to reduce pain.  However, one benefit they may have in common is that of helping patients change past behaviors and improve coping strategies and self-care.

“No other single treatment is known to provide long-term benefits,” MacPherson says.  “However, there is evidence that manual therapy when combined with a tailored exercise program can provide similar long-term benefits.”

Experts recommend seeking licensed or registered practitioners for these therapies.