Abdominal acupuncture, a non-conventional approach introduced for clinical practice over 20 years ago, was found to be effective for treating neck pain, as well as improving the neck's range of motion, a study jointly conducted by The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) and Pok Oi Hospital finds.

Safe, painless or only generates mild pain

Abdominal acupuncture is a system of healing that utilises the abdomen to regulate the function of the zangfu organ to treat the whole body. It has a lower risk as the acupuncture points are on the abdomen instead of the neck. Abdominal acupuncture also generates less or no pain.

In order to discuss the efficacy of abdominal acupuncture in clinical practice, the School of Chinese Medicine of the Faculty of Medicine at CUHK and Chinese Medicine Services of Pok Oi Hospital collaborated in a clinical controlled trial. 

The research was conducted between November 2014 and March 2016, with a total of 154 participants aged 20 to 62 who were suffering from neck pain. They were randomly assigned to receive ‘abdominal acupuncture’ or non-penetrating ‘sham acupuncture’ (the control group). Each participant was administered treatment over six sessions. Each session lasted for 30 minutes. There were 3 a week, and they were finished within two weeks. All treatments were conducted at the Pok Oi Hospital ─ The Chinese University of Hong Kong Chinese Medicine Centre for Training and Research (Shatin). The standard protocol for ‘abdominal acupuncture’ included these acupuncture points: ‘Zhong wan’, ‘Shang qu’, ‘Hua rou men' and ‘Guanyuan’.

The study uses a standard protocol for treatment, including acupuncture points: ‘Zhong wan’, ‘Shang qu’, ‘Hua rou men’ and ‘Guanyuan’. Photo credit: CUHK
The study uses a standard protocol for treatment, including acupuncture points: ‘Zhong wan’, ‘Shang qu’, ‘Hua rou men’ and ‘Guanyuan’. Photo credit: CUHK

‘Neck pain is a common but challenging health problem. There are many ways to treat it. The approach suggested in this study selects specific acupuncture points scattered over the abdomen to regulate the zangfu function and meridian system. Most people are suited to abdominal acupuncture because it’s safe, painless or generates only mild pain. However, pregnant women, patients with blood clotting disorders, abdominal pain or skin scratches and itchy skin on the stomach are not suited to this approach,' said Prof Yuanqi Guo, Chief of Chinese Medicine Services at Pok Oi Hospital.

Treatment outcome

Northwick Park Neck Pain Questionnaire (NPQ), Visual Analog Scale (VAS) and Short Form 36v2 (SF-36v2) Health Survey were the three tools used to evaluate the treatment outcomes. Patients from both groups were accessed before treatment, right after the last treatment, and also 4 weeks after treatment ends. For the abdominal group, they were further accessed randomly at 12 weeks after treatment ends to understand if the approach carried continuous effectiveness.



Evaluation results showed the ‘abdominal group’ voiced a greater improvement in both NPQ and VAS scores than the ‘sham group’ and data proved the non-conventional acupuncture still carried effect to patients 12 weeks after treatment. The results of SF-36v2, a survey that monitors 8 physiological and psychological indicators, also showed improvement in patients’ quality of life. During the trial, 924 sessions of abdominal acupuncture were conducted and no major adverse events occurred.

Miss Yim has been suffering from neck pain since 8 years ago. She has tried taking pain killers and changing pillows for relief but effect was not satisfactory. First tried abdominal acupuncture in 2015, she said the treatment was easy to accept compared to other acupuncture methods. She felt no pain during the procedure and the pain was reduced after treatment. Photo credit: CUHK
Miss Yim has been suffering from neck pain since 8 years ago. She has tried taking pain killers and changing pillows for relief but effect was not satisfactory. First tried abdominal acupuncture in 2015, she said the treatment was easy to accept compared to other acupuncture methods. She felt no pain during the procedure and the pain was reduced after treatment. Photo credit: CUHK

"This clinical trial studying and comparing the efficacy between abdominal and sham acupuncture for treating neck pain suggested that the former one outperformed its rival in improving the functional performance and health-related quality of life, and providing pain relief," concludes Prof Zhi Xiu Lin.

The team’s work has been published in the international scientific journal PLOS ONE. MIMS

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