The Outcomes of Manipulation or Mobilization Therapy Compared with Physical Therapy or Exercise for Neck Pain: A Systematic Review

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Abstract

Study Design

Systematic review.

Study Rationale

Neck pain is a prevalent condition. Spinal manipulation and mobilization procedures are becoming an accepted treatment for neck pain. However, data on the effectiveness of these treatments have not been summarized.

Objective

To compare manipulation or mobilization of the cervical spine to physical therapy or exercise for symptom improvement in patients with neck pain.

Methods

A systematic review of the literature was performed using PubMed, the National Guideline Clearinghouse Database, and bibliographies of key articles, which compared spinal manipulation or mobilization therapy with physical therapy or exercise in patients with neck pain. Articles were included based on predetermined criteria and were appraised using a predefined quality rating scheme.

Results

From 197 citations, 7 articles met all inclusion and exclusion criteria. There were no differences in pain improvement when comparing spinal manipulation to exercise, and there were inconsistent reports of pain improvement in subjects who underwent mobilization therapy versus physical therapy. No disability improvement was reported between treatment groups in studies of acute or chronic neck pain patients. No functional improvement was found with manipulation therapy compared with exercise treatment or mobilization therapy compared with physical therapy groups in patients with acute pain. In chronic neck pain subjects who underwent spinal manipulation therapy compared to exercise treatment, results for short-term functional improvement were inconsistent.

Conclusion

The data available suggest that there are minimal short- and long-term treatment differences in pain, disability, patient-rated treatment improvement, treatment satisfaction, health status, or functional improvement when comparing manipulation or mobilization therapy to physical therapy or exercise in patients with neck pain. This systematic review is limited by the variability of treatment interventions and lack of standardized outcomes to assess treatment benefit.

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