Intensive Training, Physiotherapy, or Manipulation for Patients With Chronic Neck Pain: A Prospective, Single-Blinded, Randomized Clinical Trial

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Abstract

Study Design.

A randomized, prospective clinical study was conducted that included 119 patients with chronic neck pain of greater than 3 months' duration.

Objectives.

To compare the relative effectiveness of intensive training of the cervical musculature, a physiotherapy treatment regimen, and chiropractic treatment on this patient group.

Summary of Background Data.

There are only a few studies involving chronic neck pain patients representative of those seeking care in primary health care centers. Mobilization techniques and intensive training have been shown to be useful, but cervical manipulation has not been assessed. Clinical results involving these commonly used therapies have not been compared.

Methods.

A total of 167 consecutive patients were screened. One hundred nineteen patients were admitted to the study and were randomized according to Taves' minimization principles. Primary outcome measures included self-reported pain, disability, medication use, patients' perceived effect, and physician's global assessment. Patients were assessed at enrollment and at completion of the study. Postal questionnaires were used to carry out 4- and 12-month follow-up assessments. Secondary outcome measures included active range of motion of the cervical spine as well as strength and endurance measurements of the cervical musculature. These measurements were carried out at enrollment and completion of the study.

Results.

A total of 88% of the patients completed the study. Of these, 97% completed the 4-month questionnaire and 93% the 12-month questionnaire. Patients from all three groups demonstrated significant improvements regarding self-reported pain and disability on completion of the study. Improvements were maintained throughout the follow-up period. Medication use was also significantly reduced in all groups. There was, however, no significant difference between groups at any assessment period. Physician's and patients' assessments were also positive, and again group scores were essentially equal. Patients who underwent intensive training demonstrated significantly greater endurance levels at the completion of treatment.

Conclusions.

There was no clinical difference between the three treatments. All three treatment interventions demonstrated meaningful improvement in all primary effect parameters. Improvements were maintained at 4- and 12-month follow-up. However, whether this was a result of the treatments or simply a result of time is unknown. Future studies will be necessary to delineate ideal treatment strategies.

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