Acupuncture more effective than massage for chronic neck pain

June 28, 2001

Randomised trial of acupuncture compared with conventional massage and "sham" laser acupuncture for treatment of chronic neck pain

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Commentary: Controls for acupuncture - can we finally see the light?

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Acupuncture is an effective short term treatment for patients with chronic neck pain, but there is only limited evidence for its long term effects after five treatments, concludes research in this week's BMJ.

A total of 177 patients with chronic neck pain were randomly allocated to five treatments over three weeks. Fifty-six patients received needle acupuncture, 60 were given conventional massage, and 61 received "sham" laser acupuncture (a dummy procedure to control for acupuncture).

One week after treatments, the acupuncture group showed a significantly greater improvement in motion related pain compared with massage but, surprisingly, not compared with sham laser acupuncture. However, after three months follow up, there were no significant differences in mobility and pain between the groups. This is consistent with previous trials that show that a single treatment approach in chronic pain does not result in long term effects in the majority of cases, add the authors.

We conclude that acupuncture can be an effective and safe form of treatment for patients with chronic neck pain, say the authors. However, as neck pain may be a chronic condition, single forms of treatment may not always be adequate. Future research is necessary to evaluate the optimum number of acupuncture treatments for the management of these patients.

Dr Dominik Irnich, Research Fellow, Department of Anaesthesiology, Ludwig-Maximilians University, Munich, Germany

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