Acupuncture for Neck Pain
TREATMENT FOR NECK PAIN
R E S C U R
While the risks of health complications due to acupuncture are low, side effects are possible. These can include:
- Soreness – After acupuncture, soreness, minor bleeding and bruising at needles sites may occur.
- Organ Injury – If needles are pushed too deeply, they can perforate internal organs such as the lung, however such instances are extremely rare.
- Infections – Acupuncturists are required to be licensed and to use sterile and disposable needles.
- Pregnancy – Acupuncture can sometimes stimulate labor, resulting in a premature pregnancy.
Based on our review of the risks, acupuncture appears to be a safe treatment if used properly.
Lao, Lixing; Hamilton, Gayle R; Fu, Jianping; Berman, Brian M. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine 9.1(Jan/Feb 2003): 72-83.
How effective is acupuncture for neck pain? There is evidence it helps, but the evidence is conflicting. This is because there are a variety of providers who use acupuncture, and variations in how it is performed. In addition, the studies done to date have sometimes been too small to make firm conclusions one way or the other.
According to the National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health (https://nccih.nih.gov/health/acupuncture/introduction#hed3):
“Results from a number of studies suggest that acupuncture may help ease types of pain that are often chronic such as low-back pain, neck pain, and osteoarthritis/knee pain. It also may help reduce the frequency of tension headaches and prevent migraine headaches. Therefore, acupuncture appears to be a reasonable option for people with chronic pain to consider. However, clinical practice guidelines are inconsistent in recommendations about acupuncture.
The effects of acupuncture on the brain and body and how best to measure them are only beginning to be understood. Current evidence suggests that many factors—like expectation and belief—that are unrelated to acupuncture needling may play important roles in the beneficial effects of acupuncture on pain.”
They also reported:
- A 2009 analysis found that actual acupuncture was more helpful for neck pain than simulated acupuncture, but the analysis was based on a small amount of evidence (only three studies with small study populations).
- A large German study with more than 14,000 participants evaluated adding acupuncture to usual care for neck pain. The researchers found that participants reported greater pain relief than those who didn’t receive it; the researchers didn’t test actual acupuncture against simulated acupuncture.
A 2007 study concluded that acupuncture was more effective than sham (mock) treatments or inactive treatments. (Trinh K, Graham N, Gross A, Goldsmith C, Wang E, Cameron I, Kay T. Acupuncture for neck disorders. Spine. 2007 Jan 15;32(2):236-43.)
A 2009 study by Fu which reviewed a number of studies concluded there was evidence that acupuncture was effective for neck pain in the short term. (Fu LM1, Li JT, Wu WS J Altern Complement Med. 2009 Feb;15(2):133-45.)
A more recent (2015) study found that acupuncture was more effective than usual care (medication and physical therapy) for chronic neck pain.
(MacPherson H, Tilbrook H, Richmond S, Woodman J, Ballard K, Atkin K, et al. Alexander Technique Lessons or Acupuncture Sessions for Persons With Chronic Neck Pain: A Randomized Trial. Ann Intern Med. 2015;163:653–662.)
Based on the less than definitive evidence and flaws with some studies, balanced with better studies more recently, we give acupuncture 3/5 hearts.
SELF CARE: 1/5
While it may be possible to self-administer acupuncture, we believe that is unlikely. Thus there are very limited options for self-care.
Generally, acupuncture appears to be a fairly inexpensive treatment. Individual acupuncture sessions can cost anywhere from $75 to $95, with regular visits $50 to $70. Prices are similar nationwide and do not differ greatly whether the service is by a clinic or private practitioner.
USEFULNESS (overall rating): 4/5
Overall acupuncture is safe, reasonably inexpensive and has reasonable evidence of effectiveness, and while not the first treatment most guidelines would recommend, it is a reasonable alternative.
Acupuncture for Neck Pain Overview
Traditionally a healing practice of Eastern cultures, acupuncture is used to treat lower back and neck pain and a variety of diseases and conditions. This is primarily done by inserting extremely fine needles through the skin at various points that stimulate nerves, muscles and other connective tissues. While considered by some to still be exotic, acupuncture has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for certain conditions and is widely used in the US.
Acupuncture is performed using a variety of different styles and approaches that often blend both Eastern and Western approaches to medicine. In order to determine the appropriate acupuncture treatment, an acupuncture practitioner may inquire about the patient’s symptoms, behaviors and lifestyle. In addition, the practitioner may use examinations of the tongue, eyes and pulses to determine the necessity for care.
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