Are you always shimmying your shoulders, popping pills or tilting your head out of joint to ease neck pain? You’re not alone.
In fact 40% of adults in the UK will sadly struggle with chronic neck pain at some point in their lives. Neck pain is defined as chronic when the condition has persisted for more than three months.
For most, treatment means strong painkillers and regular trips to the physio, but new research has shown that a more holistic approach could provide lasting benefits.
A long-term study, carried out over three years and funded by Arthritis Research UK, has found that Alexander Technique lessons or acupuncture could do a huge amount to improve neck pain and recovery rates.
Published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the report outlines how 517 patients with dodgy necks were divided into three groups.
One lot received twenty 30 minute Alexander Technique lessons; another experienced twelve 50 minute sessions of acupuncture. The final group continued with their regular treatment.
The results were extremely positive. Those not in the third group showed a noticeable improvement in their neck problems.
Dr Hugh MacPherson, who led the study, said: “Patients with chronic conditions were found on average to have benefited from a single intervention, either from Alexander Technique lessons or acupuncture.
“This is the first trial that followed up patients at one year, well after the end of the intervention period, and provides new evidence that there are long-term benefits,” he added.
What causes chronic neck pain?
Sleeping awkwardly, whiplash, bad posture, muscle strain and being stuck in front of a screen for hours can all contribute to neck pain.
What is the Alexander Technique?
Developed by the Australian actor Frederick Matthias Alexander, born in 1889, the Alexander Technique aims to help a person move fluidly, free from tension and without placing stress on the muscles. It isn’t a form of exercise. Rather, classes hope to retrain the way a person carries out everyday activities, from sitting and standing to breathing and swimming. The fact it is also relaxing is simply a happy by-product.
How it can help: Dr Julia Woodman, who coordinated the teachers providing the Alexander Technique lessons for the study, said: “We can't always control the world around us, but we can learn how to have more choice over the way we react to it.
“The Alexander Technique shows us how, so that an individual living with chronic neck pain can begin to break out of the vicious circle of muscle tension, stress and pain.”
What is acupuncture?
Not as niche as it once was - apparently it’s all the rage to get your snoring problem sorted with a few needles - acupuncture is a form of ancient Chinese medicine where superfine needles are inserted into muscles in specific areas of the body. The treatment is accepted as a way of stimulating certain tissues, which can help the body’s energy flow and boost health and wellbeing.
How it can help: Harriet Lansdown, who supervised the practitioners who provided acupuncture sessions during the study, explained that: “Acupuncture can relieve pain by diverting or changing the painful sensations that are sent to your brain from damaged tissues, and by stimulating your body’s own pain relieving and self-healing functions.
“This study showed that regular ongoing treatments can bring long-term benefit long after the end of treatment.”
Dr Stephen Simpson, director of research and programmes at Arthritis Research UK, hopes these results will provide some hope and relief for sufferers: “Our study is among the first of its kind to carefully analyse the effect these approaches have on alleviating chronic neck pain. We hope the findings will give patients the confidence to consider using them alongside their usual medical treatment and we recommend they discuss these options with their GP.”
Find out more at www.arthritisresearchuk.org.
Do you suffer from chronic neck pain? How do you manage it? Let us know in the Comments section.