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Neck Pain: Can Complementary Therapy Give You Relief?

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Thereís a reason the phrase ďa pain in the neckĒ is used to convey a constant annoyance. Chronic neck pain is often difficult to treat: Current therapies either fail to bring adequate relief oróas in the case of narcotic, or opioid, painkillersóare highly effective but also present added risks. Thatís why people turn to complementary or alternative treatments, although there isn't much data on long-term outcomes.

Complementary options

In the November 2015 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine, U.K. researchers from the University of York sought to provide more data by comparing conventional care for chronic nonspecific neck pain with two complementary practices for relief: acupuncture and the Alexander technique. Acupuncture involves penetrating the skin at specific points with ultra-thin metallic needles that are gently manipulated by hand to alleviate pain. The Alexander technique is a treatment that consists of a series of therapist-guided movements designed to relieve excess tension in the head, neck and spine, which can alleviate musculoskeletal pain.

Researchers studied 517 adults (average age, 53) who had neck pain over an average duration of six years. Participants were put into groups receiving one of the following: standard care, consisting of pain medications and physical therapy; up to 12 acupuncture sessions once a week or once every two weeks, totaling 600 minutes, in addition to usual care (the sessions included lifestyle advice and guidance to help patients cope with neck pain); the Alexander technique, receiving usual care and being offered up to 20 one-on-one lessons once or twice a week or every other week, totaling 600 minutes (patients were taught to improve habits associated with poor posture, muscle tension, poor coordination, stress and pain). The interventions for each group lasted six months. Twenty percent of patients in the acupuncture group and 9 percent of Alexander technique patients chose to take additional sessions at their own cost.

The results showed that those assigned to the acupuncture sessions or Alexander lessons experienced a significant, though not dramatic, decrease in neck pain compared with those who received usual care, even when they didnít take advantage of attending every session. (Average attendance was 10 acupuncture sessions and 14 Alexander lessons.)

Using a standardized questionnaire to assess neck pain and disability, researchers found that the acupuncture and Alexander groups experienced a 32 percent and 31 percent reduction in pain, respectively, at 12 months. For context, physical therapy and exercise typically provide up to a 9 percent reduction in pain. Participants continued benefiting through the end of the one-year follow-up period; the researchers surmise that the self-care taught during both interventions partly contributed to the positive long-term outcomes.

Adverse effects considered related to the two complementary interventions were minor. Some acupuncture patients reported bruising, swelling or numbness; muscle spasms; and pain. Some Alexander technique patients reported pain and incapacity, knee injury and muscle spasms.

Should you try either therapy?

There arenít any serious adverse effects associated with either treatment, although both practices are usually best for those motivated to engage in their own care. Thatís because youíll need to invest time in visiting the acupuncturist (about an hour per session) or learning the Alexander technique (30 to 60 minutes per lesson) and applying it.

Insurance may not cover treatments, which can be expensive. Costs vary by provider but can range from $45 to $120 a visit. Still, costs for ongoing doctorsí appointments, drugs and other conventional treatments can add up, too. And you might find increased costs worthwhile if your pain is relieved or better controlled.

The researchers noted some study limitations. Participants were predominantly white, some had treatments outside the study, and practitioners were from only two U.K.-based professional associations. The researchers suggested that future studies should include a more diverse sample of participants and providers and be designed to investigate longer-term outcomes.†

Posted in Back Pain on February 19, 2016


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Health After 50 Alerts registered users may post comments and share experiences here at their own discretion. We regret that questions on individual health concerns to the editors cannot be answered in this space.

The views expressed here do not constitute medical advice, and do not represent the position of Scientific American Health After 50 or Remedy Health Media, LLC, which has no responsibility for any comments posted on this site.


Article and research is a good start. Motor vehicle accidents are the cause of lengthy and lifetime upper body, muscle and bone pains. In my own experience prescriptions medication short of opiods, cold light laser therapy, chiropractor various and overall adjustments, physical therapy, decompression therapy by machine or weight/hanging, magnets worn in areas that have pain, pulsed electric magnetic therapy pads, targeted pin point muscle injections and combinations of therapies performed by medical doctors, chiropractors and other well trained medical professional can all be beneficial for slight relief. The long range goal is long term relief with reasonable hours of home exercises and care, cold, heat, rest and warm up exercises are being valuable. THE AUTO INSURANCE INDUSTRY SHOULD BE LEADING THE RESEARCH TO ASSIST THEIR INSURED, CLIENTS, CUSTOMERS TO LIVE WITH LESS PAIN IN THE FUTURE, FROM ACCIDENTS THAT ESPECIALLY WERE NOT THEIR FAULT, BUT AN ACCIDENT CAUSED BY ANOTHER DRIVER.

Posted by: 1234ZALE | February 20, 2016 5:37 PM

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