A recent study suggests that acupuncture may substantially relieve pain for whiplash patients. Although there’s been a number of studies on acupuncture for neck pain, there’s been little research into the effects of the treatment for whiplash-associated disorder.
The study included 124 patients who had been injured in the previous month. Half of the patients received real electroacupuncture, a type of acupuncture in which gentle electric frequencies are sent through a needle to certain points of the body. A professional acupuncturist applied needles to patients neck area, wrist, and ankle, and the needles were connected to an electroacupuncture machine. The other half of patients received a simulated electroacupuncture treatment that looked the same but the needles were not delivering electric currents.
At the 3 and 6 month check-up, the patients in the real acupuncture group had significantly lower pain scores than patients in the simulated group. The real acupuncture patients also received lower scores on a test that measured their restriction of daily activities; in other words, they were better able to perform normal movements. Although these changes were statistically significant, they did not reach the threshold for clinical significance.
Additionally these improvements did not transfer to their performance on a disability test. Real acupuncture patients did not experience a greater reduction in disability or a greater improvement in quality of life than the simulated acupuncture group.
Despite these mixed results, the improvements in pain scores did lead researchers to conclude that acupuncture could still form an important treatment method for many whiplash patients. They argued for further research and larger sample sizes to fully understand the efficacy of acupuncture for whiplash treatment.
Cameron, ID, Wang E , Sindhusake D. A Randomized Trial Comparing Acupuncture and Simulated Acupuncture for Subacute and Chronic Whiplash. Spine 2011;36 (26): E1659–E1665.