Acupuncture for Neck Pain:

A recent article in Time magazine has this byline: Acupuncture Actually Works for Neck Pain Pain, Study Says. Acupuncture Actually Works for Neck Pain

I love the qualifier “actually” in this context, as if, after 40 years of acupuncture in the USA, anyone would be surprised. When I began my acupuncture practice in San Diego 24 years ago, I routinely had to deal with questions like “does acupuncture really work,” to which I would respond, “acupuncture has worked for me on my back and neck pain.”  I also rountinely used to encounter patients whose MD’s would, at best, say condescending things like, “it probably won’t help, but try if you want.”

Things have changed. Every week now I get patients with back, neck, shoulder, elbow, knee and other kinds of pain like arthritis whose Rheumatologists and Orthopedic Surgeons are gung ho for them getting acupuncture. So it did not surprise me at all when this Time magazine article, reporting on a randomized trial done in the U.K., and published in the prestigious Annals of Internal Medicine, established in 1927 by the American College of Physicians, article here, that, not only did Acupuncture and the wonderful physical medicine called Alexander technique, reduce neck pain by 32%, but that in contrast, Physical Therapy, the standard western medicine treatment for mild neck pain that does not require surgery, only reduced pain by 9%.

A year after the start of the study, people in the groups doing acupuncture and the Alexander Technique had significant reductions in neck pain—pain was assessed by questionnaire—compared to those who just got usual care. Both groups reported about 32% less pain than they had at the start of the study, which is far greater than the 9% typically associated with physical therapy and exercise.

This does not surprise me at all, because the flaw, if you will, in the thinking of physical therapy as its practiced by less progessive P.T.’s, especially in the HMO type PT mills, is that they seem to always want to treat pain as due to weak muscles that should be strengthened, while seemingly ignoring the fact that pain is due to inflammation, and that

before you can strengthen a weak muscle, you have to reduce the pain so that the muscle fibers can be restored to their normal length, and the inflammation reduced. That is how acupuncture is so helpful for pain conditions.

Moreover, acupuncture needs to be tailored to the individual, and there are many different techniques. In my San Diego acupuncture clinic when treating neck and other kinds of pain, I most often use dry needling for neck and other kinds of muscular and fascia based pain. I find dry needling and other methods like cupping most effective for deactivating painful trigger points that cause the pain and cause the muscles to shorten. Dry needling breaks the vicious cycle of tight stiff shortened muscles that lead to sever pain and inflammation.  I dare say that the average length for the successful treatment of moderate neck pain in my clinic is more like 3-6 treatments….In any case, this is great news being made public. Thanks to the M.D.s in England who participated in this study on the use of Acupuncture for neck pain.

p.s. And the great thing about using acupuncture for neck pain is it is totally safe, there is absolutely no danger, compared to s therapy like chiropractic adjustment, which, while great, and something I have done myself, does have a small element of risk involved.

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