Neck pain is a common condition, affecting millions of Americans. In many cases, x-rays do not show anything visibly wrong with the neck, suggesting that the problem is a relatively subtle one involving soft tissues. (Conversely, x-rays of people without neck pain often show arthritis; this suggests that even when positive x-ray results are found in people with neck pain, they may be unrelated.) Subtle or not in origin, the discomfort of neck pain can be severe, and lead to real disability.

The cause of soft-tissue neck pain is not known. Symptoms may follow a whiplash injury, or simply arise, apparently, from bad posture or chronic tension.

NOTE: It is unclear that any conventional medicine intervention for neck pain or whiplash speeds recovery or produces any other long term benefit. 9-10,20

Proposed Natural Treatments

Although several alternative treatments for neck pain have shown promise, none possess meaningful scientific substantiation.


A 2006 review of the literature found ten controlled studies of acupuncture for chronic neck pain. 21 The pooled results suggest that acupuncture may be more effective than fake acupuncture, at least in the short term. However, overall the study quality was fairly low.

Interestingly, in a study of 177 people with chronic neck pain, fake acupuncture proved more effective than massage! 5 In a pilot study, 10 weeks of acupuncture combined with physical therapy appeared to be more effective than either acupuncture or physical therapy alone for chronic neck pain, at least over the short-term. 23

The most likely explanation for these contradictory reports is that acupuncture's effect on neck pain, if any, must be fairly modest.


Millions of Americans report that chiropractic spinal manipulation has relieved their neck pain, but there is as yet little scientific evidence supporting the use of spinal manipulation for this purpose. 1,2, 11-12 Most studies have found manipulation (with or without related therapies such as mobilization or massage ) to be no more effective than placebo or no treatment. One large study (almost 200 participants) found that a special exercise program called MedX was more effective than chiropractic spinal manipulation. 3 However, a study reported in 2006 found that a single high velocity, low-amplitude (e.g., chiropractic-style) manipulation of the neck was more effective than a single mobilization procedure, in improving range of motion and pain in people with neck pain. 19

Other Treatments

Osteopathic manipulation , a form of treatment often compared to chiropractic, is widely believed to help neck pain, but there is as yet no meaningful scientific evidence to support its use for this condition. 14 Many people with neck pain use massage therapy for relief, but, again, scientific support is lacking, and one study found fake laser acupuncture more effective than massage for neck pain. 5

A treatment called prolotherapy , as well as the herb white willow , have shown promise for back pain , and might be useful for neck pain as well.

In one study, an ambitious holistic treatment regimen for neck pain (including craniosacral osteopathy along with Rosen Bodywork and Gestalt Psychotherapy) failed to prove more effective than no treatment. 16

Other herbs and supplements sometimes recommended for neck pain, either on the basis of their use for related conditions, or because of their known medical properties, include boswellia , butterbur , chondroitin , ginger , glucosamine , proteolytic enzymes , and turmeric .

Qigong is an ancient Chinese practice involving various breathing exercises and physical postures, which are thought by its practitioners to enhance general health. In one study, Qigong was no more effective than conventional physical therapy exercise techniques in the treatment of chronic, nonspecific neck pain. 22

Biofeedback , hypnosis , and relaxation therapies may offer help for pain in general.