What a pain in the neck!  For many, this is less a metaphor than a real issue undermining active living — not to mention sound sleep.  Fortunately, an ancient Chinese medicine may offer modern relief.  An estimated 3 million Americans a year receive acupuncture, which uses hair-thin needles on various “energy” points to treat a variety of ailments. Regarded skeptically by many traditional doctors, devotees swear by the results. So where’s the sticking point?

Scientists weighed the evidence in a multi-author, multi-institutional review of nearly 30 trials involving nearly 18,000 patients, with discomfort from neck, back, shoulder aches as well as migraines and osteoarthritis.  Those receiving acupuncture reported statistically significant lower pain levels than those who received placebo treatment (needles used but at random locations) or no treatment at all.  The fact that many of the patients were using pain medication during the trials makes the findings all the more notable. While the exact mechanism behind acupuncture’s effectiveness remains mysterious, some research suggests the practice may stimulate release of natural pain killing endorphins.

If you’re coping with chronic pain, a couple of other alternative therapies deserve investigation.  Tai Chi was found to decrease joint pain more than simple stretching. Regular massage also offers therapeutic benefits, while yoga may help improve sleep and emotional imbalance.

Published September 1, 2013