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Exercises are helpful for neck pain

Strong evidence to support the use of these exercises is lacking

Neck pain ranks as one of the most common painful disorders out there. At least 15% of the population is affected by it, and it occurs more frequently in women than men and in middle-age individuals. Neck pain can restrict movement and interfere with normal activities, making it a burden to many of those affected by it. In some cases, problems with the neck can lead to what's called a cervicogenic headache, which means the neck issues need to be addressed to fix it. There are several different strategies for treating neck pain and other disorders, but most consist of various types of exercises to improve flexibility and increase strength in the region. Although these exercises are commonly used to treat neck pain, some recent studies have only found low-quality evidence to support their use. For this reason, stronger evidence is needed to more firmly recommend different types of exercise for neck disorders. Researchers, therefore, decided to conduct a Cochrane review on the topic. Cochrane reviews collect all the highest-quality research available in order to provide guidance for treatment, and this particular review focused on the effectiveness of different types of exercise for neck disorders.

Researchers identify 27 studies to use for the review

To conduct this review, researchers looked for studies that investigated the use of various exercises for neck disorders. They only accepted randomized-controlled trials (RCTs), which are the most powerful type of individual studies conducted, where patient are randomly assigned to different treatment groups to determine which is most effective. This search process led to a total of 27 RCTs being accepted for the review. The results of each RCT were graded based on the effect of each treatment studied as either small, medium or large. All studies were also assessed for their level of quality to determine how reliable the information they provided was.

Exercises that improve strength and endurance are found to be effective

On the whole, there was not much strong evidence to support the use of exercises as researchers had hoped to find. Nonetheless, they identified studies of moderate quality that showed how effective various exercises can be for neck disorders. In particular, they found moderate evidence that showed strengthening exercises and endurance training for the neck and surrounding muscles were effective for both neck pain and cervicogenic headaches. There was also low-quality evidence that using stretching exercises only was not very effective for neck disorders. Based on these findings, it appears that exercises that increase strength and endurance may be beneficial for patients with neck disorders. Since the overall quality of evidence in the review was low, researchers suggest that additional studies are conducted to investigate this topic further. While results from these studies are anticipated, patients with neck disorders should be encouraged to see a physical therapist for exercise recommendations and other guidance to properly address their condition.
-As reported in the August '16 issue of Manual Therapy

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