As a general rule, acupuncture is great for treating most kinds of aches and pains, and as you can imagine, neck pain is something I see a lot of in my Bristol acupuncture clinic.
Why Does Acupuncture Work For Neck Pain?
According to Chinese medicine theory all kinds of pain, stiffness and discomfort are due to stagnation – as the saying goes ‘where there is pain, there is no free flow, where there is free flow, there is no pain’. To simplify, there are 2 main kinds of pain:
- BLOOD STAGNATION pain is sharp, stabbing, severe and in a fixed location
- QI STAGNATION pain is more dull, stiff, achy, tight and comes and goes, or moves around
Of course, you can have both at the same time, and the situation can be complicated by Heat (red and inflammed, pain is worse when hot) or Cold (pain worse in the cold and better for heat) or other factors.
Acupuncture works by stimulating movement and clearing blockages and stagnation, so it’s ideally suited for treating pain. It’s very good for reducing aches pains and discomfort, breaking down knots and restoring movement. In my clinic, I normally combine it with some tui na (Chinese massage) as the 2 in combination have a really powerful effect.
Research On Acupuncture For Neck Pain
There have been many studies on the effect of acupuncture in treating neck pain.
For instance, a review of ten different trials by the Cochrane Collaboration has concluded that there is evidence that acupuncture can relieve chronic neck pain. Different trials found that i. Acupuncture offered better pain relief than sham Tens or sham laser or sham acupuncture (needles inserted in unsuitable locations), ii. Acupuncture provided better pain relief than just waiting, and iii. Acupuncture provided better pain relief than massage. (Trinh KV et al. Acupuncture for neck disorders. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2006, Issue 3. Art. No. CD004870).
A different secondary analysis of the data (from the Acupuncture Trialists’ Collaboration) looked at acupuncture for all kinds of chronic pain and found that acupuncture is significantly superior to control, irrespective of the type of control used. (PLoS One. 2014 Apr 4;9(4):e93739)
And there are plenty of studies look at more specific scenarios for neck pain. For example:
A study in Laryngoscope found that at acupuncture is useful to patients suffering from neck and shoulder pain following surgical treatment. Italian clinicians randomly assigned 48 patients with chronic pain or dysfunction attributed to neck dissection to either weekly acupuncture or usual care (physical therapy, analgesia, and/or anti-inflammatory drugs) for five consecutive weeks. Shoulder pain and function scores improved more in the acupuncture group, and a statistically significant improvement in quality of life was also reported following acupuncture. (Laryngoscope. 2016 Mar 24. doi: 10.1002/lary.2592)
And just one session of acupuncture treatment can result in improvement in pain sensitivity for patients with chronic whiplash, according to a Belgian study. In a randomised crossover pilot trial with blinded assessors, 39 patients received two treatment sessions of identical duration, with acupuncture and relaxation therapy randomly crossed over. Local pressure pain sensitivity decreased more significantly following acupuncture than with relaxation (Eur J Pain. 2012 Sep 11. doi: 10.1002/j.1532-2149.2012.00215.x)
Few studies look at the long-term effects of treatment, but one small Norwegian study has found that acupuncture can result in a significant long term reduction in neck pain. 24 female office workers with chronic neck and shoulder pain were randomly assigned to receive acupuncture to either true points or to non-points (‘sham’ acupuncture). All received 10 treatments over a 3-week period. The pain intensity had fallen by 70% in the true acupuncture group after treatment and remained at about half of its original severity 3 years later. The pain in the sham acupuncture group fell slightly by the end of treatment, whilst 3 years later they actually reported more severe pain than at original assessment. The true acupuncture group also showed a reduction in associated headaches which also lasted for 3 years. (Pain, July 2004; 109(3):299-307).
So, if you know anyone with neck pain, whether due to bad posture, whiplash, curvature of the spine, sports injury or any other cause, acupuncture is definitely worth a try!
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