What Works to Relieve Neck Pain?

SpineUniverse Study Shows Surprising Results

Woman rubbing her sore neckThis isn't your typical showdown, but like any good showdown, the stakes are high. On the line is how to deal with neck pain—what helps and what hurts. People with neck pain caused by various cervical spine conditions need to know what helps take the hurt away. Going head to head today: acupuncture and spinal injections.

Injections are part of the mega industry that is Western medicine. Thanks to major pharmaceutical companies and years of research, we've got an array of medications that can zero in on your pain. Injection therapies, part of pain management, are routinely prescribed by medical professionals; they're one of the trusted non-surgical treatments, a worthy option for patients who are not ready for surgery.

And then there is acupuncture. It's an ancient technique, refined through centuries of use in the East for pain relief and myriad other uses. In the West, though, it's been marginalized by mainstream medicine, discussed with a dismissive air by some in the medical community. That's primarily because there has been a relative lack of scientific research that the medical community has found convincing.

But here's a shocker in the acupuncture vs. injections showdown: According to a SpineUniverse survey, it seems that acupuncture is more helpful than injections for neck pain.

The Neck Pain Treatments Survey Set-up

SpineUniverse ran a survey, looking for a way to rank neck pain treatment options based on actual patients' satisfaction with what they tried. We presented patients with a list of treatment options, which included traditional and alternative treatments.

Using a scale ranging from Very Dissatisfied to Very Satisfied, patients were asked to rate their satisfaction with the outcome of each treatment they tried: Did it relieve their pain?

In the end, that's what patients are after—less pain and a better ability to enjoy life without being held back by their backs.

Full survey results appear at the end of this article, including what treatment option came in first for patient satisfaction. (Surprisingly, it's not spine surgery.)

Percentage of respondents satisfied or better with neck pain treatment option

Where This Gets Interesting

But one of the more intriguing survey results is patients' ratings of acupuncture and injections. 43.6% of acupuncture patients described themselves as being at least satisfied with their treatment. However, only 41.3% of injection therapy patients reported satisfaction with the treatment.

Look at that: after billions of dollars developing injections and millions of hours researching and formulating new medications to inject, injection therapies left patients less satisfied than acupuncture.

Now admittedly, both treatment options left more patients unsatisfied than satisfied; however, this does not diminish the fact that acupuncture outperformed injections.

(Side note: A "negative" rating shouldn't put you off trying a treatment option. With every one of these treatment options, some patients found relief. Always discuss your treatment options with your doctor.)

Comparing Acupuncture and Injections

Acupuncture and injections aren't usually associated with each other. They don't even approach pain and healing from the same starting point. Acupuncture comes from an Eastern understanding of medicine; injections fit into the Western model.

Briefly, Eastern medicine focuses on balancing the body and its systems, taking into account the emotional and spiritual components of pain. Western medicine focuses more on treating the symptoms through treatments such as medication and surgery.

Neither approach — Western or Eastern — is intrinsically better, but because we live in the West, we're more likely to accept the Western view of medicine. Injections fit into that view because they're supposed to eliminate the pain caused by a very specific problem. They're not treating the underlying condition, but as a pain management technique, injections are used to lessen neck pain — and therefore make daily life more bearable.

Generally, people are more cautious about trying acupuncture because it's not as well-understood as injections or other "traditional" treatments. It has, however, gained more widespread acceptance in recent years. A study published in the British Medical Journal in 2001 found that acupuncture is a good treatment option for chronic neck pain.

"Acupuncture is a safe treatment option for neck pain, and when done properly by a licensed acupuncturist, it can provide much-needed pain relief," says Laurie Morse, LAc, MTOM [Licensed Acupuncturist, Master of Traditional Oriental Medicine]. "Many people worry about all the needles, but they're actually much thinner (almost hair thin) than injection needles. Additionally, you can't possibly have a reaction to medication because no medication is used in acupuncture."

No medication — for some patients, that's a selling point. For example, people may have reactions to the steroid medications used in epidural injections.

Acupuncture and injections both use needles to bring neck pain relief — there is common ground between the East and West. And as the SpineUniverse survey showed, you may want to consider turning to the East to find a solution to your neck pain.

Full Neck Pain Survey Results

310 people responded to the neck pain treatment options survey, generating the following results:

Neck Pain Treatment Option Very Dissatisfied Dissatisfied Satisfied Very
Satisfied

Acupuncture/Acupressure

21

32

29

12

Chiropractic

59

50

54

31

Exercise

31

85

94

39

Herbal Remedies

27

44

23

7

Injections

37

47

35

24

Massages

21

54

101

56

Over-the-counter Pain Medication

75

106

64

15

Prescription Pain Medication

18

81

112

40

Physical Therapy

34

88

86

36

Surgery

20

22

26

31

Weight Loss

18

51

55

12


Neck Pain Treatment Option Didn't Try This Did Try This

Acupuncture/Acupressure

217

94

Chiropractic

117

194

Exercise

62

249

Herbal Remedies

210

101

Injections

168

143

Massages

79

232

Over-the-counter Pain Medication

69

260

Prescription Pain Medication

60

251

Physical Therapy

67

244

Surgery

212

99

Weight Loss

174

136


Type of Treatment for Back Pain % satisfied or better

Herbal Remedies

29.7%

Over-the-Counter Pain Medication

30.4%

Injections

41.3%

Acupuncture/Acupressure

43.6%

Chiropractic

43.8%

Weight Loss

49.3%

Physical Therapy

50.0%

Exercise

53.4%

Surgery

57.6%

Prescription Pain Medication

60.6%

Massages

67.7%

Percentage of respondents satisfied or better with neck pain treatment option

Type of Treatment
for Neck Pain
% Dissatisfied or Worse

Herbal Remedies

70.3%

Over-the-Counter Pain Medication

69.6%

Injections

58.7%

Acupuncture/Acupressure

56.4%

Chiropractic

56.2%

Weight Loss

50.7%

Physical Therapy

50.0%

Exercise

46.6%

Surgery

42.4%

Prescription Pain Medication

39.4%

Massages

32.3%

Percentage of respondents dissatisfied or worse with neck pain treatment option

 

Updated on: 03/08/16
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