A Randomized Trial Comparing Acupuncture and Simulated Acupuncture for Subacute and Chronic Whiplash

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Abstract

Study Design.

A randomized controlled trial with 3 and 6 months follow-up.

Objective.

To compare the effectiveness of acupuncture with simulated acupuncture in patients with subacute and chronic whiplash-associated disorders.

Summary of Background Data.

Acupuncture is widely used for the treatment of neck and other musculoskeletal pain, and there is some evidence supporting its effectiveness for short-term pain relief. The effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of whiplash-associated disorders is not clear.

Methods.

A total of 124 patients between 18 and 65 years with chronic (85%) or subacute whiplash-associated disorders (Grade I or II) were randomly allocated to real or simulated electroacupuncture treatment for 12 sessions during a 6-week period. Both treatments involved skin penetration with acupuncture needles and were provided by a single university-trained acupuncturist in a University Clinic in Sydney, Australia. Primary outcome measures were pain intensity (10-cm visual analog scale), disability (Neck Disability Index), and health-related quality of life (SF-36). Secondary outcomes were patient-specific activity scales, and the McGill Pain Rating Index.

Results.

Mean initial pain intensity for all participants was 5.6 cm. Participants receiving the real electroacupuncture treatment had significantly greater reduction in pain intensity at 3 and 6 months, 0.9 cm (P = 0.05) and 1.3 cm (P = 0.007), respectively, in comparison to the sham electro-acupuncture group. After adjustment for baseline status, there was no significant reduction in disability, or improvement in health-related quality of life. There was an improvement in the activity scales of a similar size to the reduction in pain, but no difference in the McGill Index.

Conclusion.

Real electroacupuncture was associated with a significant reduction in pain intensity over at least 6 months. This reduction was probably not clinically significant. There was no improvement in disability or quality of life.

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