Neck pain is one of the three most frequently reported complaints of the musculoskeletal system. Treatments for neck pain are varied, as are perceptions of benefit. Acupuncture has been used as an alternative to more conventional treatment for musculoskeletal pain. This review summarises the most current scientific evidence on the effectiveness of acupuncture for acute, subacute and chronic neck pain. This update replaces our 2006 Cochrane review update on this topic.
To determine the effects of acupuncture for adults with neck pain, with focus on pain relief, disability or functional measures, patient satisfaction and global perceived effect.
We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE, EMBASE, the Manual, Alternative and Natural Therapy Index System (MANTIS), the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL) and the Index to Chiropractic Literature (ICL) from their beginning to August 2015. We searched reference lists, two trial registers and the acupuncture database Traditional Chinese Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System (TCMLARS) in China to 2005.
We included published trials that used random assignment to intervention groups, in full text or abstract form. We excluded quasi-randomised controlled trials (RCTs).
Two review authors made independent decisions for each step of the review: article inclusion, data abstraction and assessment of quality of trial methods. We assessed study quality by using the Cochrane Back Review Group 'Risk of bias' tool. We used consensus to resolve disagreements, and when clinical heterogeneity was absent, we combined studies by using random-effects meta-analysis models.
Of the 27 included studies, three represented individuals with whiplash-associated disorders (WADs) ranging from acute to chronic (205 participants), five explored chronic myofascial neck pain (186 participants), five chronic pain due to arthritic changes (542 participants), six chronic non-specific neck pain (4011 participants), two neck pain with radicular signs (43 participants) and six subacute or chronic mechanical neck pain (5111 participants).For mechanical neck pain, we found that acupuncture is beneficial at immediate-term follow-up compared with sham acupuncture for pain intensity; at short-term follow-up compared with sham or inactive treatment for pain intensity; at short-term follow-up compared with sham treatment for disability; and at short-term follow-up compared with wait-list control for pain intensity and neck disability improvement. Statistical pooling was appropriate for acupuncture compared with sham for short-term outcomes due to statistical homogeneity (P value = 0.83; I(2) = 20%). Results of the meta-analysis favoured acupuncture (standardised mean difference (SMD) -0.23, 95% confidence interval (CI) -0.20 to -0.07; P value = 0.0006). This effect does not seem sustainable over the long term. Whether subsequent repeated sessions would be successful was not examined by investigators in our primary studies.Acupuncture appears to be a safe treatment modality, as adverse effects are minor. Reported adverse effects include increased pain, bruising, fainting, worsening of symptoms, local swelling and dizziness. These studies reported no life-threatening adverse effects and found that acupuncture treatments were cost-effective.Since the time of our previous review, the quality of RCTs has improved, and we have assessed many of them as having low risk of bias. However, few large trials have provided high-quality evidence.
Moderate-quality evidence suggests that acupuncture relieves pain better than sham acupuncture, as measured at completion of treatment and at short-term follow-up, and that those who received acupuncture report less pain and disability at short-term follow-up than those on a wait-list. Moderate-quality evidence also indicates that acupuncture is more effective than inactive treatment for relieving pain at short-term follow-up.