This study set out to evaluate acupuncture’s effectiveness in relieving chronic neck pain, and also to assess nonspecific effects of treatment. Specific effects of acupunture generally entail the alleviation of pain by needling a specific site of the body; nonspecific effects encompass the patient’s expectations, beliefs, and experience with acupuncture treatment.
36 patients were involved in the study and received 14 treatments in a twelve-week period. The patients were devided into three groups: Relevant Acupuncture, Irrelevant Acupuncture, and Medication Control. The “Relevant” patients received real acupuncture treatment, while the “Irrelevant” received acupuncture at sites not relevant to the symptoms. The medication control group received only the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug Trilisate. It should be noted that in the acupuncture sessions, the patients were also subject to heat lamps and IP cords in addition to needling for treatment purposes.
The researchers witnessed significant reductions in chronic neck pain in the relevant acupuncture group at the follow-up evaluation-leading the authors to believe that it is more effective than medication alone or irrelevant acupuncture. The patients in the first group reported lower pain rating scores than the other two groups.
The authors found that previous experience with acupuncture had a direct correlation to treatment efficacy-80% who found the current treatment helpful had previous experience with acupuncture. As well, the authors also observed a relationship between a patient’s confidence in treatment and the outcome of treatment:
“It is also unclear whether confidence that acupuncture can alleviate pain was influenced more by the efficacy of treatment or by prior beliefs about acupuncture. Pretreatment confidence in an intervention has been shown to correlate with a positive outcome;2 however, postreatment confidence most likely reflects efficacy.”
The authors suggest future studies should focus on the individual components of their treatment (acupuncture, heat lamps, and IP cords) and include a larger number of subjects.
- Birch S, Jamison R. Controlled trial of Japanese acupuncture for chronic myofascial neck pain: assessment of specific and nonspecific effects of treatment. The Clinical Journal of Pain 1998; 14:248-255.
- Roberts AH. The powerful placebo revisited: magnitude of nonspecific effects. Mind/Body Medicine 1995; 1:35-43.