DOI: 10.3390/medicina59122141 ISSN: 1648-9144

Acupuncture for Japanese Katakori (Chronic Neck Pain): A Randomized Placebo-Controlled Double-Blind Study

Nobuari Takakura, Miho Takayama, Akiko Kawase, Ted J. Kaptchuk, Jian Kong, Mark Vangel, Hiroyoshi Yajima
  • General Medicine

Background and Objectives: Although acupuncture is listed as a beneficial treatment for neck/shoulder stiffness, which has increased with the spread of information technology, to date, evidence of its efficacy under double-blind conditions has not been shown. This study aimed to assess whether acupuncture treatment with superficial skin piercing is superior to placebo treatment. Materials and Methods: A randomized, double-blind (practitioner–patient) placebo-controlled trial was performed at a single center with four arms (ISRCTN76896018). Four hundred patients with essential neck/shoulder stiffness were randomly assigned to penetrating needle treatment (acupuncture ritual and skin penetration), skin-touch needle treatment (acupuncture ritual and skin touch), no-touch needle treatment (acupuncture ritual alone), and no-treatment control. Each of the six acupuncturists applied a needle to each of the four acupoints in the neck/shoulder of 50 patients. Results: Each of the three treatments significantly (p = 0.01) improved neck/shoulder stiffness compared with the no-treatment control immediately and 24 h after treatment. There was a significant improvement in penetrating needle treatment over no-touch needle treatment 24 h later. However, there was no significant difference between the penetrating and skin-touch and skin-touch vs. no-touch. Conclusions: All treatments that received the ritual of acupuncture were better than the no-treatment control. Only genuine acupuncture involves the specific effects of needle insertion into the body. The acupuncture ritual had a significant impact on the subjective improvement of neck/shoulder stiffness; however, improvement with ritual alone versions of placebo acupuncture was not maintained as with superficial skin piercing. Our study provides important evidence of acupuncture efficacy and information regarding inert no-touch placebo control in acupuncture research.

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