Background: Neck pain is one of the three most frequently reported complaints of the musculoskeletal system. Treatments for neck pain are varied, as are the perceptions of benefits. Acupuncture has been used as an alternative to more traditional treatments for musculoskeletal pain. This review summarizes the most current scientific evidence on the effectiveness of acupuncture for acute, subacute and chronic neck pain.
Objectives: To determine the effects of acupuncture for individuals with neck pain.
Search strategy: We searched CENTRAL (2006, issue 1) and MEDLINE, EMBASE, MANTIS, CINAHL from their beginning to February 2006. We searched reference lists and the acupuncture database TCMLARS in China.
Selection criteria: Any published trial using randomized (RCT) or quasi-randomized (quasi-RCT) assignment to the intervention groups, either in full text or abstract form, were included.
Data collection and analysis: Two reviewers made independent decisions for each step of the review: article inclusion, data abstraction and assessment of trial methodological quality. Study quality was assessed using the Jadad criteria. Consensus was used to resolve disagreements. When clinical heterogeneity was absent, we combined studies using random-effects meta-analysis models.
Main results: We did not find any trials that examined the effects of acupuncture for acute or subacute pain, but we found 10 trials that examined acupuncture treatments for chronic neck pain. Overall, methodological quality had a mean of 2.3/5 on the Jadad Scale. For chronic mechanical neck disorders, there was moderate evidence that acupuncture was more effective for pain relief than some types of sham controls, measured immediately post-treatment. There was moderate evidence that acupuncture was more effective than inactive, sham treatments measured immediately post-treatment and at short-term follow-up (pooled standardized mean difference (SMD) -0.37, 95% confidence interval (CI) -0.61 to -0.12). There was limited evidence that acupuncture was more effective than massage at short-term follow-up. For chronic neck disorders with radicular symptoms, there was moderate evidence that acupuncture was more effective than a wait-list control at short-term follow-up.
Authors' conclusions: There is moderate evidence that acupuncture relieves pain better than some sham treatments, measured at the end of the treatment. There is moderate evidence that those who received acupuncture reported less pain at short term follow-up than those on a waiting list. There is also moderate evidence that acupuncture is more effective than inactive treatments for relieving pain post-treatment and this is maintained at short-term follow-up.