Some neck pain has a simple underlying cause that fully resolves either on its own or with treatment. Other cases can be more complex and perhaps related to an underlying condition such as osteoarthritis, postural changes, an injury such as whiplash, or even post surgery. This can become a chronic and persistent condition requiring ongoing management. ‘Arthritis Research UK’ recently funded a study to find out just what treatment provided the best long-term change for chronic neck pain. The study found that either Acupuncture or Alexander technique (a posture awareness method) was the most effective for chronic neck pain (1).
The randomized trial assigned patients with neck pain that had lasted for more than 3 months (and an average duration of six years) into three groups: usual care only (doctors visits, medication, physical therapy), or usual care plus acupuncture (average 10 treatments), or usual care plus Alexander technique (average14 sessions). Treatments occurred over 5 months. The study found Acupuncture or Alexander technique more effective than usual care alone for chronic neck pain, with pain reduction of 30 percent in each group, with the benefit lasting for 12 months from the start of the study.
The lead researcher, Professor Hugh MacPherson, attributed the success of these treatments to helping patients increase their “self-efficacy,” that is, their ability to reduce their pain levels using self-care methods that do not involve medication. The long duration of improvement from a single therapy is unusual with Prof McPherson noting that “No other single treatment is known to provide long-term benefits.” Other research found acupuncture to be likely cost effective for chronic neck pain (including neck pain) (2), with the effects persisting for up to 12 months in some cases (3).
It seems who administers acupuncture is important too as Prof MacPherson advises to ensure people receive acupuncture treatment from a registered acupuncturist (1). In Australia you can check if your acupuncturist is registered by searching the online register of the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) https://www.ahpra.gov.au/. All of the clinics acupuncturists are registered and able to help with both acute and chronic neck pain.
(1) 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. doi: 10.7326/M15-0667 http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=2467961
(2) Essex H, Parrott S, Atkin K, Ballard K, Bland M, Eldred J, et al. (2017) An economic evaluation of Alexander Technique lessons or acupuncture sessions for patients with chronic neck pain: A randomized trial (ATLAS). PLoS ONE 12(12): e0178918. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0178918
(3) Vickers, Andrew et al. Acupuncture for Chronic Pain: Update of an Individual Patient Data Meta-Analysis.The Journal of Pain , In Press 2018