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Ann Intern Med. 2004 Dec 21;141(12):911-9.

Acupuncture versus placebo for the treatment of chronic mechanical neck pain: a randomized, controlled trial.

Author information

  • 1Complementary Medicine Research Unit, Mail Primary Medical Care, University of Southampton, Aldermoor Health Centre, Southampton, United Kingdom. pjw1@soton.ac.uk

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Despite substantial increases in its popularity and use, the efficacy of acupuncture for chronic mechanical neck pain remains unproved.

OBJECTIVE:

To compare acupuncture and placebo for neck pain.

DESIGN:

A randomized, single-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-arm trial with 1-year follow-up.

SETTING:

The outpatient departments of 2 major hospitals in the United Kingdom, 1999 to 2001.

PATIENTS:

135 patients 18 to 80 years of age who had chronic mechanical neck pain. Eleven patients withdrew from treatment, and 124 completed the primary end point.

MEASUREMENTS:

The primary outcome was pain 1 week after treatment, according to a visual analogue scale. Secondary outcomes were pain at other time points, score on the Neck Disability Index and the Short Form-36, and use of analgesic medications.

INTERVENTIONS:

Patients were randomly assigned to receive, over 4 weeks, 8 treatments with acupuncture or with mock transcutaneous electrical stimulation of acupuncture points using a decommissioned electroacupuncture stimulation unit.

RESULTS:

Both groups improved statistically from baseline, and acupuncture and placebo had similar credibility. For the primary outcome (weeks 1 to 5), a statistically significant difference in visual analogue scale score in favor of acupuncture (6.3 mm [95% CI, 1.4 to 11.3 mm]; P = 0.01) was observed between the 2 study groups, after adjustment for baseline pain and other covariates. However, this difference was not clinically significant because it demonstrated only a 12% (CI, 3% to 21%) difference between acupuncture and placebo. Secondary outcomes showed a similar pattern.

LIMITATIONS:

All treatments were provided by 1 practitioner. Although the control was credible, it did not mimic the process of needling. A nonintervention group was not present to control for regression to the mean.

CONCLUSIONS:

Acupuncture reduced neck pain and produced a statistically, but not clinically, significant effect compared with placebo. The beneficial effects of acupuncture for pain may be due to both nonspecific and specific effects.

Comment in

PMID:
15611488
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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