Pain Reporter: The ATLAS Trial in the UK: Acupuncture and the Alexander Technique for Chronic Neck Pain

A recent Daily Dose described the ATLAS—Alexander Technique Lessons or Acupuncture Sessions—trial for chronic neck pain. It’s the first randomized controlled trial assessing the addition of acupuncture or lessons in Alexander Technique to usual care (including medications and physical therapy) for patients with chronic neck pain. Lead researcher Hugh MacPherson, BSc, PhD, Department of Health Sciences at the University of York, UK, answered a few questions:

Q: What led you and your team to this research?

A: There was a gap in the evidence base with regard to treatments with longer term benefits for chronic neck pain.

Q: How did you recruit patients?

A: We recruited patients from primary care by screening the practice database and then sending a questionnaire and consent form to those potentially eligible. This way we recruited patients who had consulted in primary care and who still were suffering with neck pain.

Q: Why did you specifically narrow the study down to neck pain? Do you plan to branch out to other pain syndromes?

A: Neck pain is under researched compared to low back pain. Now that we have completed the neck pain trial, the next step is to explore the mechanism by which Alexander Technique might work for low back pain.

Q: What do you hope your research and findings will lead to?

A: The ATLAS trial has contributed a valuable set of data to our knowledge about what treatments work for chronic neck pain.

Q: Do you foresee a time when acupuncture and/or the Alexander Technique will be more commonly utilized, even in a hospital setting?

A: These interventions fit much better into a primary care context, where treatments are at an earlier stage than when being treated in hospital.

Q: What do you think about the general state of pain management in the UK today?

A: The NHS is doing its best to treat painful conditions. The current recommendations are to use acupuncture for low back pain and headache/migraine. Our ATLAS trial focusing on neck pain may trigger a recommendation for acupuncture and Alexander Technique to be included as referral options. Some acupuncture is provided on the NHS, mostly in pain clinics and in hospital outpatient clinics.

Q: When you’re not working, how do you like to spend your time?

A: I am keen bee-keeper and gardener.

Q: What is a dream project you hope to work on?

A: I am still in the middle of dreaming.
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To read more about the Alexander Technique, click here.

To access the painweek.org library of information about acupuncture, click here.

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