The aim of this systematic review was to assess evidence from randomized controlled trials (RCTs) on the effectiveness and safety of acupuncture and electroacupuncture in patients with chronic neck pain. We searched nine databases including Chinese, Japanese and Korean databases through 30 July 2016. The participants were adults with chronic neck pain and were treated with acupuncture or electroacupuncture. Eligible trials were those with intervention groups receiving acupuncture and electroacupuncture with or without active control, and control groups receiving other conventional treatments such as physical therapy or medication. Outcomes included pain intensity, disability, quality of life (QoL) and adverse effects. For statistical pooling, the standardized mean difference (SMD) and its 95% confidence interval (CI) were calculated using a fixed-effects model. Sixteen RCTs were selected. The comparison of the sole acupuncture group and the active control group did not come out with a significant difference in pain (SMD 0.24, 95% CI [Formula: see text]0.27-0.75), disability (SMD 0.51, 95% CI [Formula: see text]0.01-1.02), or QoL (SMD [Formula: see text]0.37, 95% CI [Formula: see text]1.09-0.35), showing a similar effectiveness of acupuncture with active control. When acupuncture was added into the control group, the acupuncture add-on group showed significantly higher relief of pain in studies with unclear allocation concealment (SMD [Formula: see text]1.78, 95% CI [Formula: see text]2.08-[Formula: see text]1.48), but did not show significant relief of pain in studies with good allocation concealment (SMD [Formula: see text]0.07, 95% CI [Formula: see text]0.26-0.12). Significant relief of pain was observed when the sole electroacupuncture group was compared to the control group or electroacupuncture was added onto the active control group, but a lot of the results were evaluated to have low level of evidence, making it difficult to draw clear conclusions. In the result reporting adverse effects, no serious outcome of adverse event was confirmed. Acupuncture and conventional medicine for chronic neck pain have similar effectiveness on pain and disability when compared solely between the two of them. When acupuncture was added onto conventional treatment it relieved pain better, and electroacupuncture relieved pain even more. It is difficult to draw conclusion because the included studies have a high risk of bias and imprecision. Therefore better designed large-scale studies are needed in the future.
Keywords: Acupuncture; Effectiveness; Electroacupuncture; Meta-Analysis; Review; Safety; Systematic Review.