Does Exercise Help with Neck Pain?

Have you ever experienced neck pain in which you do not know the cause of? This is called non-specific neck pain and is defined as pain in the cervical region that occurs without a direct injury or underlying condition such as a herniation, stenosis, or arthritis. This type of pain is a common health problem that is on the rise with individuals who work in an office setting. Computer workers are 2 to 3 times more likely to develop this type of injury when compared to individuals working other jobs. The percentage of individuals who work in an office setting that experience this injury ranges from 28.2% to 49% over a 1 year time period (Hush et al; Zungu et al;). With all of this pain, we need to figure out how to treat it.

Two recent systematic reviews took a look at the different proposed methods of treating non-specific neck pain. Both of the conclusions point to exercise being the answer.

“There is level II evidence recommending that clinicians include strengthening exercise to improve neck pain and QoL (Louw et al).”

“For treatment of neck pain, either muscle strengthening or endurance exercise is recommended, whereas for reduction of pain-related disability, muscle endurance exercise is suggested (Sihawong et al).”

With strengthening exercise being the focus to relieve pain, the question is where to begin. First, it found that a total amount of time over the course of the week that has to be put toward exercise for significant change is 1 hour. The exercise programs should consist of both concentric and eccentric activities of both the neck and shoulders. Both studies have found lacking evidence for programs that are based on stretching so this time does not count toward the total hour that is required. The exercises performed also should not cause increased pain. There is no definitive answer on a program effective for all individuals and that is most likely due to everyone’s symptoms being slightly different in each case.

Armed with this information, hopefully neck pain will be a thing of the past. If you are a person with neck pain who does not consistently exercise, a medical professional should be consulted to ensure further injury does not occur before beginning a program.

Works Cited

Hush J., Michaleff Z., Maher C. & Refshauge Z, 2009, ‘Individual, physical and psychological risk factors for neck pain in Australian office workers: A one year longitudinal study’, European Spine Journal 18, 1532–1540. 10.1007/s00586-009-1011-z

Louw S, Makwela S, Manas L, Meyer L, Terblanche D, Brink Y. Effectiveness of exercise in office workers with neck pain: A systematic review and meta-analysis. S Afr J Physiother. 2017;73(1):392. Published 2017 Nov 28. doi:10.4102/sajp.v73i1.392

Sihawong R, Janwantanakul P, Sitthipornvorakul E, Pensri P. Exercise therapy for office workers with nonspecific neck pain: a systematic review. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2011 Jan;34(1):62-71. doi: 10.1016/j.jmpt.2010.11.005. PMID: 21237409.

Zungu L. & Ndaba E, 2009, ‘Self-reported musculoskeletal disorders among office workers in a private hospital in South Africa: Prevalence and relation to physical demands of the work’, Occupational Health Southern Africa 1, 25–30.

Posted in: Neck

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