Researchers find acupuncture effective for the relief of cervical spinal syndrome. This condition involves irritation of the spinal nerves located in the neck. Spinal nerves transmit sensory, motor, and autonomic nervous system signals between the spinal cord and the body. Inflammation and impingement present in cervical spinal syndrome results in head, neck, chest, shoulder, or arm pain and dysfunction. The results of the research demonstrates that acupuncture plus moxibustion yields a high total recovery rate. In addition, nearly every patient receiving acupuncture plus moxibustion demonstrated significant improvements.
Researchers from the Hubei Hongan Traditional Chinese Medicine Hospital examined 200 cervical syndrome patients in a controlled investigation. The research team discovered that targeted acupuncture treatments produce an extremely high total effective rate and a high complete recovery rate. Targeting involved the application of a primary acupuncture point prescription for all patients plus an additional set of secondary acupuncture points based upon diagnostic variations in clinical presentations. Using this semi-protocolized targeted approach to patient care, the research team achieved a 97% total effective rate across all tiers of improvement. The breakdown into levels of efficaciousness produced surprising results. The total recovery rate was 64%, the significant improvement rate was 17%, the minimal improvement rate was 16%, and 3% had no improvement.
Dr. Ruth Jackson, MD, notes, “The nerve roots leave the spinal cord at an angle which approximates a right angle, and they fill fairly snugly the foramina through which they pass. This makes them very vulnerable to irritation from any mechanical derangement of the cervical spine.” Cervical syndrome is often triggered by a small event, such as leaning over a sink while brushing teeth or turning the head. However, the initial cause may have been prior, including whiplash injuries, mechanical deformities, or other chronic irritations. The tight spacing of the intervertebral foramina (IVF) through which the nerves pass is easily encroached by both chronic and acute conditions that produce inflammation and morphological changes.
A primary set of acupoints was administered to all patients in this acupuncture continuing education study. A total of 3 – 4 acupoints from the primary set were applied during each acupuncture session. Each acupoint, including customized secondary acupoints, were needled with standard manual acupuncture protocols for insertion and manipulation. Total needle retention time during each acupuncture session was 20 minutes. One acupuncture session was applied daily for a total of 10 days, followed by a two day break and then another 10 days of acupuncture therapy. For moxibustion, a moxa cigar was used to warm the cervical Jiaji acupoints for 30 minutes per day. One 30 minute moxibustion treatment was conducted daily for 10 consecutive days. The next treatment cycle of an additional 10 days of moxibustion care commenced after a 2 day break from treatment. The primary acupoints were selected from the following selection:
Ashi (located beside spinous processes)
Secondary acupoints were selected based on the type of cervical syndrome presentation for each patient. For nerve root compression cervical syndrome affecting the shoulders and arms, the following points were applied:
For vertebral artery related cervical syndrome, the following acupoints were applied:
For sympathicus cervical syndrome involving excess stimulation of the sympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system, the following acupoints were applied:
Patients were evaluated before and after the treatment course of care. The treatment efficacy for each patient was categorized into 1 of 4 tiers:
Recovery: Complete recovery of neck function. Complete absence of clinical symptoms.
Significantly effective: Alleviation of localized pain. Clinical symptoms largely absent.
Effective: Localized pain present. Basic physiological function achieved. Main clinical symptoms absent.
Not effective: No improvement.
The total treatment effective rate was derived as the percentage of patients who achieved at least an effective tier. The data shows that acupuncture combined with moxibustion benefits nearly every cervical syndrome patient to some degree, with a 97% total effective rate across all tiers of improvement. The 64% complete recovery rate is equally important.
The researchers gave a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) background to the treatment of cervical syndrome, often manifesting as cervical spondylosis. According to TCM, cervical syndrome is common starting in middle-aged individuals and older. Often, cervical nerve impingement is due to osteoarthritis and cervical disc protrusions or extrusions. Radiculitis is common in all cases. According to TCM principles, left untreated, cervical syndrome is a degenerative disorder. Calcification of related ligaments due to chronic strain and inflammation may lead to oppression of the cervical vertebrae, nerve roots, and blood vessels. There may also be pressure onto the spinal cord in more serious cases. These conditions lead to cervical dysfunction and pain.
In TCM, cervical syndrome is often categorized in the class of Bi Zheng. External pernicious influences giving rise to cervical syndrome include external injury, exhaustion, wind, cold, and dampness. Zang-Fu and deficiency related conditions include deficiency of the liver and kidneys or tendon and bone malnutrition. The aforementioned conditions result in poor qi and blood circulation in the Taiyang meridians and imbalances of the Ying and Wei. Symptoms such as severe neck pain, shoulder pain, numbness, headache, dizziness, and nausea ensue as a result of the condition. The results of the research demonstrates that acupuncture combined with moxibustion is effective for the relief of cervical syndrome.
Li HX & Zhao L. (2013). Efficacy observation on treating 200 cases of cervical syndrome with acupuncture and moxibustion. Clinical Journal of Chinese Medicine. 5(3).
Jackson, Ruth. “The Classic: The Cervical Syndrome.” Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research. 468, no. 7 (2010): 1739-1745.