A randomized trial comparing acupuncture and simulated acupuncture for subacute and chronic whiplash

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2011 Dec 15;36(26):E1659-65. doi: 10.1097/BRS.0b013e31821bf674.


Study design: A randomized controlled trial with 3 and 6 months follow-up.

Objective: To compare the effectiveness of acupuncture with simulated acupuncture in patients with subacute and chronic whiplash-associated disorders.

Summary of background data: Acupuncture is widely used for the treatment of neck and other musculoskeletal pain, and there is some evidence supporting its effectiveness for short-term pain relief. The effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of whiplash-associated disorders is not clear.

Methods: A total of 124 patients between 18 and 65 years with chronic (85%) or subacute whiplash-associated disorders (Grade I or II) were randomly allocated to real or simulated electroacupuncture treatment for 12 sessions during a 6-week period. Both treatments involved skin penetration with acupuncture needles and were provided by a single university-trained acupuncturist in a University Clinic in Sydney, Australia. Primary outcome measures were pain intensity (10-cm visual analog scale), disability (Neck Disability Index), and health-related quality of life (SF-36). Secondary outcomes were patient-specific activity scales, and the McGill Pain Rating Index.

Results: Mean initial pain intensity for all participants was 5.6 cm. Participants receiving the real electroacupuncture treatment had significantly greater reduction in pain intensity at 3 and 6 months, 0.9 cm (P = 0.05) and 1.3 cm (P = 0.007), respectively, in comparison to the sham electro-acupuncture group. After adjustment for baseline status, there was no significant reduction in disability, or improvement in health-related quality of life. There was an improvement in the activity scales of a similar size to the reduction in pain, but no difference in the McGill Index.

Conclusion: Real electroacupuncture was associated with a significant reduction in pain intensity over at least 6 months. This reduction was probably not clinically significant. There was no improvement in disability or quality of life.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Therapy*
  • Adult
  • Chronic Disease
  • Electroacupuncture / methods*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Musculoskeletal Pain / etiology
  • Musculoskeletal Pain / therapy*
  • Neck Pain / etiology
  • Neck Pain / therapy*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Whiplash Injuries / complications*