Objective: To compare needle acupuncture, medication (tenoxicam with ranitidine), and spinal manipulation for managing chronic (>13 weeks duration) spinal pain syndromes.
Design: Prospective, randomized, independently assessed preintervention and postintervention clinical pilot trial.
Setting: Specialized spinal pain syndrome out-patient unit at Townsville General Hospital, Queensland, Australia.
Subjects: Seventy-seven patients (without contraindication to manipulation or medication) were recruited.
Interventions: One of three separate, clearly defined intervention protocols: needle acupuncture, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication, or chiropractic spinal manipulation.
Main outcome measures: Main outcome measures were changes (4 weeks vs. initial visit) in the scores of the (1) Oswestry Back Pain Disability Index, (2) Neck Disability Index, and (3) three visual analogue scales of local pain intensity.
Results: Randomization was successful. After a median intervention period of 30 days, spinal manipulation was the only intervention that achieved statistically significant improvements (all expressed as percentages of the original scores) with (1) a reduction of 30.7% on the Oswestry scale, (2) an improvement of 25% on the neck disability index, and (3) reductions on the visual analogue scale of 50% for low back pain, 46% for upper back pain, and 33% for neck pain (all P<.001). Neither of the other interventions showed any significant improvement on any of the outcome measures.
Conclusions: The consistency of the results provides, in spite of several discussed shortcomings of this pilot study, evidence that in patients with chronic spinal pain syndromes spinal manipulation, if not contraindicated, results in greater improvement than acupuncture and medicine.