Exercise for Neck Pain
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Cervical Overview Group. Exercises for mechanical neck disorders.Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2015, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD004250. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD004250.pub5.
We reviewed the evidence about the effect of exercise therapy on pain, disability, patient satisfaction, and quality of life among people with neck pain.
Neck pain is common; it can limit a person’s ability to participate in normal activities and is costly. Exercise therapy is a widely used treatment for neck pain. This review includes active exercises (including specific neck and shoulder exercises, stretching, strengthening, postural, breathing, cognitive, functional, eye-fixation and proprioception exercises) prescribed or performed in the treatment of neck pain. Studies in which exercise therapy was given as part of a multidisciplinary treatment, multimodal treatment (along with other treatments such as manipulation or ultrasound), or exercises requiring application by a trained individual (such as hold-relax techniques, rhythmic stabilization, and passive techniques) were excluded.
The evidence is current to May 2014. We found 27 trials (with a total of 2485 participants) examining whether exercise can help reduce neck pain and disability; improve function, global perceived effect, patient satisfaction and/or quality of life. In these trials, exercise was compared to either a placebo treatment, or no treatment (waiting list), or exercise combined with another intervention was compared with that same intervention (which could include manipulation, education/advice, acupuncture, massage, heat or medications). Twenty-four of 27 trials evaluating neck pain reported on the duration of the disorder: 1 acute; 1 acute to chronic; 1 subacute; 4 subacute/chronic; and 16 chronic. One study reported on neck disorder with acute radiculopathy; two trials investigated subacute to chronic cervicogenic headache.
Results showed that exercise is safe, with temporary and benign side effects, although more than half of the trials did not report on adverse effects. An exercise classification system was used to ensure similarity between protocols when looking at the effects of different types of exercises. Some types of exercise did show an advantage over the other comparison groups. There appears to be a role for strengthening exercises in the treatment of chronic neck pain, cervicogenic headache and cervical radiculopathy if these exercises are focused on the neck, shoulder and shoulder blade region. Furthermore, the use of strengthening exercises, combined with endurance or stretching exercises has also been shown to be beneficial. There is some evidence to suggest the beneficial effects of specific exercises (e.g. sustained natural apophyseal glides) with cervicogenic headaches and mindfulness exercises (e.g. Qigong) for chronic mechanical neck pain. There appears to be minimal effect on neck pain and function when only stretching or endurance type exercises are used for the neck, shoulder and shoulder blade region.
Quality of the evidence
No high quality evidence was found, indicating that there is still uncertainty about the effectiveness of exercise for neck pain. Future research is likely to have an important impact on the effect estimate.There were a number of challenges with this review; for example, the number of participants in most trials was small, more than half of the included studies were either of low or very low quality and there was limited evidence on optimum dosage requirements.