Chronic neck pain is a major public health problem with very few evidence-based complementary treatment options. This study aimed to test the efficacy of 12 weeks of a partner-delivered home-based cupping massage, compared to the same period of progressive muscle relaxation in patients with chronic non-specific neck pain. Patients were randomly assigned to self-directed cupping massage or progressive muscle relaxation. They were trained and asked to undertake the assigned treatment twice weekly for 12 weeks. Primary outcome measure was the current neck pain intensity (0-100 mm visual analog scale; VAS) after 12 weeks. Secondary outcome measures included pain on motion, affective pain perception, functional disability, psychological distress, wellbeing, health-related quality of life, pressure pain thresholds and adverse events. Sixty one patients (54.1±12.7 years; 73.8%female) were randomized to cupping massage (n = 30) or progressive muscle relaxation (n = 31). After treatment, both groups showed significantly less pain compared to baseline however without significant group differences. Significant effects in favor of cupping massage were only found for wellbeing and pressure pain thresholds. In conclusion, cupping massage is no more effective than progressive muscle relaxation in reducing chronic non-specific neck pain. Both therapies can be easily used at home and can reduce pain to a minimal clinically relevant extent. Cupping massage may however be better than PMR in improving well-being and decreasing pressure pain sensitivity but more studies with larger samples and longer follow-up periods are needed to confirm these results.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01500330.