Therapy, Exercise and Education for Neck Pain

Nonspecific-chronic neck pain, neck pain that has been lasting for at least 12 weeks with no specific cause, is a common condition that can lead to high levels of pain and even disability. This may lead some patients to also experience other issues such as depression and anxiety. Popular treatments for Chronic Neck Pain (CNP), exercise and manipulations by physical therapists, have been shown to be effective.  It has also been suggested that patient education is needed to overcome the psychological issues.  A powerful study, published in the October 2015 issue of American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, was conducted to determine how effective a program that combined therapy, exercise and education was for Chronic Neck Pain patients.

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a woman applying cold pack on swollen hurting neck

Three Groups of Patients:

Patients with Nonspecific Chronic Neck Pain (CNP) were evaluated, and those who fit the criteria were randomly assigned to one of three groups. Over one month, all participants received two treatment sessions per week, for eight sessions total. The control group received various manual therapy techniques, in which the physical therapist performed movements and mobilizations of the neck. Experimental group 1 received the physical therapy treatment with the addition of two patient education sessions to improve patients’ beliefs about pain and disability, and to promote coping strategies and independence through activities. Experimental group 2 received the same treatment as group 1, but also was given a home exercise program for strengthening and stretching exercises for the neck.  All patients were evaluated for neck disability and other variables before the intervention and 16 weeks later.

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Largest improvements seen:

All groups improved immediately after treatment and at the 16-week follow-up; however, the patients in experimental group 2 (Physical therapy, Education, Home Exercises) experienced the greatest improvements. The improvements in experimental group 1 (Physical Therapy and Education) suggests that the addition of education did in fact lead to greater improvement. Experimental group 2’s superior overall performance shows that exercise is also a necessary component of treatment.

Physical Therapists are the specialists for human movement and exercise.  California law allows for patients to be seen directly by a physical therapist without the need to first see a physician.  Some limitations might be imposed by your insurance plan. 

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Andrew Vertson