The aim of this study was to compare the efficacy of electroacupuncture and sham acupuncture in the treatment of patients with chronic neck pain. 31 patients with chronic neck pain were included in a randomised, controlled trial. Electric stimulation was given for 30 minutes at low frequency (1-4Hz), pulse width of 200 mu s, interrupted wave form. Of the 29 patients who completed the therapy, 13 were assigned to conventional acupuncture and 16 to sham acupuncture groups, receiving 3 sessions a week for a total of 10 sessions, each lasting for 30 minutes. Patients were evaluated before and after therapy and 3 months later by Visual Analogue Scale (VAS) and the bodily pain subscale of the Short Form Health Survey-36 scale. The treating physician was different from the evaluating physician who, like the patient, was blinded. VAS scores in both groups significantly reduced after therapy and at 3 months post-therapy, but the difference between groups was not significant. In respect of bodily pain, there was a significant improvement in the acupuncture group after therapy (P<0.01). Stimulation of conventional acupuncture points was not generally superior to needling of nonspecific points on the neck, and both treatments were associated with improvement of symptoms. Needles inserted into the neck are likely to be an inappropriate sham control for acupuncture.