11:54am Wednesday 16 October 2019

Research to help tackle chronic neck pain

Arthritis Research UK

Chronic (long-term) neck pain is a common health problem in the UK, second only to back pain, and is estimated to cost the nation one per cent of total health costs.

Although acupuncture and Alexander Technique lessons are frequently used by people with chronic neck pain, neither is widely available on the NHS.

Acupuncture involves the insertion of fine needles to facilitate self-healing, which in the case of neck pain, can lead to the easing of stiffness, tension and pain. Alexander lessons help people to improve their postural muscle activity, coordination and balance, while reducing unwanted responses which can cause or aggravate pain and stress.

Both interventions have been shown to improve back pain and offer value for money over the long-term, and acupuncture is recommended for chronic back pain by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).

Our research will provide further data which will help patients, practitioners, providers and policy-makers make informed choices about care

Dr Hugh MacPherson

In a three-year Arthritis Research UK-funded trial, 450 people with chronic neck pain will help researchers compare the clinical and cost effectiveness of acupuncture and Alexander Technique lessons with the conventional care provided by GPs. Patients will be recruited from around 20 GP practices in York, Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester and their progress will be followed over a 12 month-period. They will be asked about pain levels and for their opinions on the care received.

The £719,000 study, which will address clinical and cost effectiveness as well as safety issues, will be led by Dr Hugh MacPherson from the University’s Department of Health Sciences.

Senior Research Fellow Dr MacPherson said: “Despite decades of research, few advances have been made in treating chronic neck pain. While there is already some evidence suggesting that acupuncture and Alexander Technique lessons might benefit patients, it is insufficient for a definite conclusion.

“Our research will provide further data which will help patients, practitioners, providers and policy-makers make informed choices about care. If the evidence from the new trial justifies it, then both interventions should be offered routinely as referral options to patients within the NHS, which would mean that patients would no longer have to pay for these interventions themselves.”

Notes to editors:

  • In a UK-wide survey led by researchers from the University of Keele, 18 per cent of respondents reported neck pain, with over half still in pain 12 months later.
  • For further information on the University of York’s Department of Health Sciences visit www.york.ac.uk/healthsciences.
  • Arthritis Research UK is the UK’s fourth-largest medical research charity. For further information visit www.arthritisresearchuk.org.

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