Neck pain is the third most common form of chronic pain, and it affects more than 25 percent of Americans at some point, according to the American Osteopathic Association. It can be recurring for months or even years at a time and lead to headaches, insomnia, and quality of life issues. Unfortunately, most of the standard medical methods of treatment are simply not very effective. But now, there is some good news for those with neck pain. New research suggests that there are two natural techniques that may lessen the symptoms considerably.
The study, which took place at the University of York in the United Kingdom, found that sessions of either acupuncture or Alexander Technique provide notable pain relief to patients suffering from chronic neck pain, and the results are long lasting.1 MacPherson, Hugh; et al. “Alexander Technique Lessons or Acupuncture Sessions for Persons With Chronic Neck Pain: A Randomized Trial.” Annals of Internal Medicine. 3 November 2015. Accessed 8 November 2015. http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=2467961 The subjects were 517 adults who had been experiencing neck pain for a minimum of three months, but most had dealt with it for significantly longer as the average duration of pain had been six years. They answered surveys that included rating their pain levels as the trial began and again after three months, six months, and one year.
The participants were randomly divided into three groups. One of the groups was provided with 12 50-minute sessions of acupuncture. A second group received 20 30-minute lessons in the Alexander Technique. The third group had a standard care regimen, treated as many patients presenting with neck pain would be with a prescription for a pain medication, physical therapy, and follow-up visits to the physician.
All of the methods of treatment were completed between four and five months after the investigation began. Interestingly, when the volunteers answered their questionnaires at the 12-month point, those in both the acupuncture and Alexander Technique groups reported maintaining a reduction in pain symptoms by more than 30 percent from the start of the study. What’s more, most of them didn’t even finish their allotted courses of treatment, with the acupuncture subjects attending an average of 10 of their 12 sessions and the Alexander Technique subjects attending a mere 14 of their lessons on average. Yet these methods were still more effective than a combination of pharmaceutical drugs and physical therapy.
Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese form of medical treatment based on balancing the body’s energy flow through the insertion of very fine needles. Alexander Technique is a movement intervention that involves teaching patients ways to improve posture, reduce muscle tension, and increase coordination, which all contribute to a decrease in painful symptoms. Practitioners of both of these modalities are licensed and/or registered in many states; so to locate someone in your vicinity, you might want to start by checking out their respective associations.
While it is possible that some of the benefits experienced by the study participants were due to a placebo effect gained simply from doing something to take charge of their pain, the fact that the results were maintained months after the treatments were completed suggests that these methods offered true benefits. Since poor posture such as leaning forward or hanging the head down toward the chest (a major problem as this is a natural position for looking at our smart phones!) and muscle strain are contributors to chronic neck pain in many patients, it would appear that both acupuncture and Alexander Technique can–in their own distinct ways–relax the muscles of the neck and improve posture and habits enough to help those experiencing this problem find relief.
Even better, not a single volunteer in either the acupuncture or Alexander Technique group had any serious adverse events related to their treatment since these are both safe, natural methods. In contrast, when you take pharmaceutical pain relievers or muscle relaxants, you are at risk for side effects that include drowsiness, nausea, dizziness, and the potential for addiction. So if you’ve been dealing with neck pain that hasn’t resolved after a few weeks, stop hoping it will go away and give acupuncture or the Alexander Technique a try.
And it should be noted that this study did not include either chiropractic2 Langenfeld A, Humphreys BK, Swanenburg J, Peterson CK. “Prognostic Factors for Recurrences in Neck Pain Patients Up to 1 Year After Chiropractic Care.” J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2015 Sep;38(7):458-64. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26385743 or herbal deep tissue oils, both of which have proven efficacy.
|↑1||MacPherson, Hugh; et al. “Alexander Technique Lessons or Acupuncture Sessions for Persons With Chronic Neck Pain: A Randomized Trial.” Annals of Internal Medicine. 3 November 2015. Accessed 8 November 2015. http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=2467961|
|↑2||Langenfeld A, Humphreys BK, Swanenburg J, Peterson CK. “Prognostic Factors for Recurrences in Neck Pain Patients Up to 1 Year After Chiropractic Care.” J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2015 Sep;38(7):458-64. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26385743|