Short-term effects of acupuncture and stretching on myofascial trigger point pain of the neck: a blinded, placebo-controlled RCT

Complement Ther Med. 2014 Oct;22(5):835-41. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2014.09.001. Epub 2014 Sep 16.


Objectives: This trial aimed to evaluate the short-term effectiveness of acupuncture plus stretching to reduce pain and improve range of motion in patients afflicted by cervical myofascial pain syndrome.

Design: Randomized, blinded, placebo-controlled crossover study.

Intervention: Nineteen patients (11 females, eight males, 33 ± 14 years) with myofascial neck pain in randomized order received the following treatments with one week washout between: acupuncture, acupuncture plus stretching, and placebo laser acupuncture.

Main outcome measures: Mechanical pain threshold (MPT, measured with a pressure algometer) represented the primary outcome. Secondary outcomes were motion-related pain (Visual Analogue Scale, VAS) and cervical range of motion (ROM, recorded by means of an ultrasonic 3D movement analysis system). Outcomes were assessed immediately prior as well as 5, 15 and 30 min post treatment. Friedman tests with post hoc Bonferroni-Holm correction were applied to compare differences between treatments.

Results: Both acupuncture as well as acupuncture plus stretching increased MPT by five, respectively, 11 percent post treatment. However, only acupuncture in combination with stretching was superior to placebo (p<0.05). There were no significant differences between interventions at 15 and 30 min post treatment. VAS did not differ between treatments at any measurement. Five minutes after application of acupuncture plus stretching, ROM was significantly increased in the frontal and the transversal plane compared to placebo (p<0.05).

Conclusions: The combination of acupuncture and stretching could represent a suitable treatment option to improve cervical movement behavior and reduce trigger point pain in the short-term. However, additional studies further discriminating the placebo effects are still warranted.

Keywords: Acupuncture; Myofascial trigger points; Neck pain; Stretching.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Therapy*
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle Stretching Exercises*
  • Myofascial Pain Syndromes / therapy*
  • Neck Pain / therapy*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Placebo Effect
  • Range of Motion, Articular / physiology*
  • Young Adult