Acupuncture works better than massage as a treatment for chronic neck pain, but it may need to be combined with other therapies when used over long periods.That's the conclusion of one of the most rigorous trials into the effectiveness of the complementary medicine technique, which involves inserting needles into special sites in the nervous system.
The study compared 157 patients undergoing five treatments over a three week period of either acupuncture, massage or "sham" laser acupuncture (a dummy procedure to control for acupuncture).
Published in the latest British Medical Journal, it found the acupuncture group had a significantly greater improvement in motion-related pain compared with massage, but surprisingly, not with the "sham" acupuncture group. However, after three months follow-up, there were no significant differences in mobility and pain between the groups.
A related commentary in the journal points out that laser acupuncture was a good choice of control when the trial was designed because the patient undergoing treatment still thinks of themselves as receiving a valid form of acupuncture treatment.
But the small difference between the acupuncture group and the control group suggests the laser substitute might still be stimulating the nerves and so not controlling properly for the effect of needle insertion.