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Abdominal acupuncture effective for treating neck pain

Dr. Joseph Delano Fule Robles
10 Nov 2017
Prof Zhi Xiu Lin (left), Prof Yuanqi Guo (right)

Results of a study conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) in collaboration with Pok Oi Hospital, Hong Kong, demonstrated that abdominal acupuncture can provide symptomatic relief and improve quality of life (QoL) of patients experiencing neck pain.

In a randomized, double-blind, sham-controlled trial of 154 patients with neck pain (mean age, 45.02 years), abdominal acupuncture was associated with improvement of neck pain as assessed by the validated Chinese versions of the Northwick Park Neck Pain Questionnaire (NPQ), Visual Analog Scale (VAS), and Short Form 36 Health Survey (SF-36). [PLoS One 2017;12:e0181360]

Patients who received abdominal acupuncture showed greater improvement in NPQ scores vs those who received sham treatment at both 2 weeks (intergroup mean differences [IMD], -5.75; p=0.008) and 6 weeks (IMD, -8.65; p<0.001) from baseline.

The study, performed from November 2014 to March 2016, also showed improvement in mean VAS scores in the acupuncture vs sham control group at both 2 weeks (IMD, -1.79; p<0.001) and 6 weeks (IMD, -1.80; p<0.001) from baseline.

Abdominal acupuncture also significantly improved health-related QoL measures for physical functioning (p=0.003), role-physical (p=0.012), bodily pain (p=0.022), general health (p=0.001), social functioning (p=0.018), and physical component summary (p=0.002) vs patients who received sham acupuncture.

The NPQ and VAS scores, along with all QoL measures, continued to improve at 14 weeks relative to baseline values.

“The approach suggested in this study [for managing neck pain] selects specific acupuncture points scattered over the abdomen to regulate the zangfu function and meridian system. Abdominal acupuncture is safe, painless or only mildly painful,” said investigator Professor Yuanqi Guo of Pok Oi Hospital, Hong Kong.

Around 14 percent of the participants experienced transient bruising at the site of needle insertion. None of them, however, sought medical treatment for this adverse effect.

“Abdominal acupuncture improved functional performance and health-related QoL, and provided pain relief among patients with neck pain. We are planning to conduct similar studies to provide more objective scientific data advocating the standardization of Chinese medicine,” commented investigator Professor Zhi Xiu Lin of the School of Chinese Medicine, CUHK.

Participants of the study received 30-minute standardized treatments three times per week for 2 weeks. The standard protocol employed abdominal acupuncture in these points: Zhong wan, Shang qu, Hua rou men and Guanyuan.

Neck pain has an average prevalence of 48.5 percent in the lifetime of an individual, with an even higher prevalence documented in Hong Kong (64.6 percent). [Eur Spine J 2006;15:834-848; Hong Kong Med J 2012;18:13-15]

Systematic reviews have suggested that abdominal acupuncture is effective for treatment of neck pain. The findings of the study bear similarity to a previous trial reporting improvement in VAS scores in patients with cervical spondylosis who received abdominal acupuncture. [Zhen Ci Yan Jiu 2011;36:137-144; Zhonghua Zhongyiyao Za Zhi 2012;27:319-323; Zhongguo Zhen Jiu 2007;27:652-656] 

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